There are many programs to watch these days on bachelors, dancers, singers, racers, survivors, and the like. But, there are none so compelling as those that dissect a little known malady known as hoarding.
I sometimes caught snippets of these shows, thinking things like "boy but for the grace" and counting my blessings that I didn't have to live in one of those houses. I knew of people who had the problem, but they were far away and no longer in my life.
Then, I had the opportunity to move back to the small Oregon Coast town where I had lived in the mid 70's, and with the people who were once shirt tale relatives of mine. They were elderly, and she was trying to come home after an extended stay at a convalescent center. I vaguely remembered the condition of her home, not having been there for over 28 years. Little did I know what I was about to encounter.
The first thing I want to say is that this is not a choice for the people who are victims of this disorder. Although her husband was not like her, he played a role in letting things get out of hand. His basis was love, and wanting to get along with his strong willed wife. But he too, developed a need to "use it up and wear it out" that so many frugal people live by. Over the next 50 years, the double wide mobile home literally became a tomb for the accumulation of food, tools, guns, cookbooks, electronics, furniture, and every thing that ever came into the house but never left it. Ever!
I want to depict the 5 months it took me to dig out and to hopefully express the need to stay frugal but not to go this far. I don't want anyone to be insulted or hurt, if this subject hits home. We will never meet, so I am going to be as gentle as I can without losing the message.
So, here goes.
The first thing you need to know is a bit of background for the couple. They met at 36, when both had been married, divorced and had children. He one, she five, but only two young ones living at home. Their social skills were adequate, they had friends, he worked and she kept the home and took as good a care of him as she could. Money was always tight, but they did fine. They had both lived through the depression, which I have been told makes people tend to keep the few things they had. However, the message I want to convey is that there is a difference between "making do" and the condition of the house in March of this year. So, instead of telling anyone how to live or what to do, I will just try and advise on what "not" to do.
I have been counseled that this article, while very long and laden with texts and subtexts, be presented in several smaller articles that deal with one or two things each. For this first one, I will deal with general "stuff". I hope this helps.
Hoarding is a problem of too much stuff. During the day to day shopping of things for the family, house, pets, kids, and more, we all have to deal with packaging. This includes things like envelopes, plastic and cardboard, paper bags, tins, boxes, mesh bags, Styrofoam, tubs, and all the ways we preserve, buy, and carry things home. None of these ever left the house. The mail was put back into envelopes, even though the sender's information was on the contents. This literally doubled the space it took to keep any and all bills and receipts, which dated all the way back to 1958, and were kept in any basket, box, tin, or other receptacle available. That is where the dust found and stayed on them, creating a breathing hazard.
I found rusty hair pins in the original cardboard sleeve that was so old it was pulp again. Tins stuffed with open bags of candy, mixed in with boxes of fabric and unfinished salad dressings. In one dresser, I found broken bread tabs and clothes pins, opened toothpick wraps, crayons, pencils that were 1 inch long, rusty spoons, twist ties that were just wire, and the list goes on.
Because of lack of room, energy, or motivation, everything in the house was covered in dust and soot and mold. There were encyclopedias from 1964, drivers manuals from 1987, 39 phone books, 234 cook books, 78 frying pans, 117 cups, 239 relish dishes, 97 butter tubs, and over 13 pounds of ring tops from beer cans. I found 12 boxes of foil, but only 3 with foil in them. There was soap that was too old and cracked to use, unfinished medicine from 1975, and rusty razor blades, all in the original boxes. I would find zip lock bags with a single folded paper towel in them. Enough Christmas cards from charity agencies to last 100 years if she sent them to everyone she knew. I found 78 purses, some with safe deposit box keys, money, un-cashed or unsent checks, and 35 year old breath mints and gum in them.
Knick-knacks were on any and every free surface, which was now gone because of them. While picking through the 15 sets of flatware, I would also find things like recipe cards too worn from age to read, bottle caps, broken thermometers, clock parts, wadded up tissues, great grandkid's photos, and more. When you opened a box or tub, you could expect to find anything from unused food that was 15 years old, to important papers from the 50's, to dead critters.
During the process, unbeknownst to the owner, I began weighing the things that were in the mobile home. Over the 5 months, I estimate that 3200 pounds were in there that did not need to be. That is almost 2 tons on a frame that should not have lasted past 1999. In the hall and the bedrooms, the floor underneath was gone, leaving, in some places, just the carpeting. I had to lie down a piece of plywood in my room for a solid surface to walk on.
The property had three storage units, both wood and metal. Most were full, but it was my responsibility to fill the newest metal one. It was essentially a Mersk transport unit, about 12X24 foot. I got that half filled by the time I left, and I was not allowed to do anything to the master bedroom, and didn't have time to do the "fruit room" that had 25 5-gallon buckets of dishes, plus two freezers full of old food, and more.
Next month, I will tell you about the food. But for now, I just have a few things to say about "stuff".
First off, I'll paraphrase the genius of George Carlin, who said "You ever notice that all your crap is stuff and everyone else's stuff is crap?" (Yes, I cleaned it up a bit). But it's true that what you have is of value, but everyone else's things don't have much. I would never think that, because I would not want anyone to think that about mine. Everyone has things that they love, cherish, value, and would be heartbroken if a fire or flood took them. Believe me, as a survivor of a fire I get that. But, what I would never want my friends or family to see is a house that has almost no where to walk, without a clean place to prepare or eat food, air that is unsafe to breath, multi-legged critters abounding, or cobwebs and 1/8 inch of dust on everything. So, as the experts now say is essential to good mental health, we need to find a balance.
Now as for me, when the mail comes, the envelopes go in recycling. I read the paper or magazines, I save and scan anything that is of value, and put the rest in the recycling too. When I have a box of crackers, the tubes go into a Pringles can and the box is added. If I find a sale on Shake-n-Bake, I put the envelopes in a zip lock and toss the box in, too. As does that package of hair pins, bread tabs, tea and cereal and stuffing mix boxes, the used margarine tubs, the clear tubs that muffins and cookies come in, the square cardboard that is used to keep calendars stiff, and anything that is recyclable goes in right away. You have just eliminated half of your "stuff".
As a crafter, I am always getting little things here and there to make someday. They go in zip lock bags where I can not only see them, but I binder-clip them to a hanger to keep them off shelves and the floor. If there is packaging, I put it in the recycling.
When I buy things to resell, I put them in a separate shelf and have an online sale once a month or put them in with others for a yard sale.
If you are a collector, and your items are small, either build or go to the Dollar Tree and get the little shadow boxes that hinge in the front, and display your wares. Not only are they cheap and perfect, but once they are up there, you don't have to dust them anymore (well, just the top of the box but that is easier).
If you find things in your closet that you don't even remember owning, off to the thrift store it should go! If it's fancy with cool buttons or fabric, cut it up for a craft project and then do it before it just becomes something that morphed from one clutter to another. Remember there are leagues that make homeless people quilts and baby blankets for hospitals, so that old pair of jeans might keep someone warm and that pair of flannel Scooby Do PJ's will do some baby some good.
Experts advise that for everything you bring into the house, something must go out. I love the concept, but the reality might not apply to you. If it does however, "Feel the Urge to Purge!" Does anyone need 15 pairs of black shoes? How about TV's in the garage that no one can even reach much less use? Would they make a nice planter, perhaps? But, they would do better being recycled at the local center rather than making little mousy homes.
So, as I end this first installment, I want to say that the five months I spent at this house taught me a great deal. I want to share it with all of you who might know someone close to this.
I sure hope this and the subsequent articles help.
Poor But Proud
By Sandi/Poor But Proud from Sweet Home, OR
Editor's Note: Here are links to the other Hoarding articles by Sandi/Poor But Proud:
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I have a sister who does q-tip cleaning. Now, the first time she mentioned that to me, I immediately thought of the world's tiniest feather duster, ready to take on a dusty q-tip.
In my last installment, as promised, I will talk about food. And again, I want to emphasize that I am not picking on anyone, so if you see yourself or someone you know in these articles, it is purely coincidental.
Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.
Does anyone know of a comprehensive guide about hoarding? This would include the steps needed to begin sorting, organizing, and methods of "recovery", ways to prevent recurrence of the problem.
A psychologist needs to get involved with the hoarder first and there's a whole big issue behind this.
A psychologist needs to be involved as there's a whole other issue behind hoarding.
There are several books on hoarding disorder and recovery. If you go to Amazon and search "hoarding" under "books" you'll see what's available.