Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Yup, you sure showed me

The spring weather today made me have a flashback to a Spring Break in high school that I spent organizing my mother's garage. Ha, you say. What teenage hubris inspired you to attempt to de-hoard a suburban, two-car garage filled solidly with junk stacked higher than you are tall? By yourself? In a week?

Well, I wouldn't say it was hubris so much as desperation. Also, that my mother kept hounding me about never helping my own family. ("Never helping" from her perspective translated, from mine, into being a sixteen-year-old girl trying to raise my younger brother, do the grocery shopping and the cooking, and generally keep my mother from making our lives more disastrous than they already were.) So for some reason, and ostensibly with my mother's blessing, I decided that I would spend my Spring Break week really helping. (Looking back, I suspect there was a good bit of "I'll show you!" teenager-ness about the decision. Little did I know how badly I was outclassed.)

My mother is mostly a hoarder of books and paper. I spent the better part of the week going through boxes upon boxes upon boxes.  The garage was filled with stacks of worthless papers, junk mail, magazines, newspapers, and thousands and thousands of discarded books. I sorted. I organized. I sneezed through the dust as I clambered over giant piles of garbage. I got the garage ready so that we could finally get rid of everything, so that we could finally be free.

And at the end of the week, when I proudly showed my mother my accomplishment -- Look! It's ready for us to go get that Dumpster we talked about! -- she did let me throw some of her things away.

She let me throw away one box. One. The rest of it she went through, piece by piece. She might need it someday, or was sentimental for her, or she hadn't had the chance to read it, or she was saving it for someone who needed it -- for every single item in the garage. All but that one lone box that went into the trash.

Looking back, it's kind of amazing that she let me get rid of anything at all. That was the day, though, that I realized that I cannot help her. I'm pretty sure that her garage is fuller now that it was then. I'm pretty sure that the house is filled as well. I'm not totally certain, though. She won't let me inside, Dumpster or not. So in the end, really, she showed me.


  1. Oh dear. All that work and then you only get to throw out one box?

    I'm not allowed to declutter my mom's house. Whenever I go into a hoarded room even to find something that's mine, she's suddenly there and stalks me until I leave empty-handed. I'm headed home next weekend while she's on vacation to try to pick some things up before her negligence destroys them. Argh. I feel your pain. I applaud your bravery for talking about it.

  2. I don't have much contact with my mother anymore- and our differences over this very thing is the reason why.

    As a teenager, I threw things away that were obvious trash (old bills, food containers, etc.) without her permission. I would organize the stuff that should be saved, and toss the rest. Broken things, used tissues, whatever. Of course, I had to do it when she was working. Then, later as an adult living next door to her and she retired-- when she was visiting relatives for a week. I'd go in and bail her out.

    By the time I was 30 and my mother 70, she moved in with me and I had a clean house with a "rec room" she could keep her piles in to an extent. A compromise I thought, where she could relax a little without falling and breaking her arm YET AGAIN. But she retaliated. She told all our relatives that I was stealing from her.

    They believed her because I kept the secret of her hoarding behavior, so by the time I could explain what was going on, they wouldn't believe me anyway. Now we barely speak.

    HOWEVER! If I could go back in time, as a teenager who had to live in the mess, I would do the same thing. Toss it and to hell with her angry reactions. I realized she wouldn't allow me to throw things away by the time I was 11 and so did it myself, and I'd do it again.

  3. Oh the craziness. I don't think my mother was quite as bad. But what about the voice in your own head of keeping stuff because "it might come in handy". I have one jar of rubber bands, and 6 glass jars and thats it. Today I threw out an old, stretched out grey tank top while the "voice" was saying "might cut out the placket and sew it into a crafty pencil case, cut the fabric into cleaning cloths, use it as a toy for the puppy". I have worked through my issues enough that the voice was weak and the item was too far gone to donate for resale and it did go in the bin. But still the energy of this hoarding mentality is so strong. I have worked through it by tough love through a period of unwanted unemployment and I have gone to swap mart and sold things for a grand total of $20-30 profit for a mornings work. I have made crafty things and tried to sell them. I have sold some of my mothers craft supplies on EBay for 20% of what she paid. I am "over" thinking that these things we buy at retail price, actually have a resale value more than what people are prepared to pay, which is very little. I went to a hoarders house to buy something and she had so much gorgeous stuff I stayed for an hour, after I'd stuck to my budget of $150 for the day I only took away far less than 0.1% of her hoard ( which was clean and organised and set up like a shop in a four bedroom house containing one 85+ year old woman)
    The other thing that makes my heart sink is when my mother says "oh I was a bit naughty I went and bought some new clothes today but I'm not sure if I like them" I say "well take them back for an exchange" " Oh its a bit bright but it was on sale and I might wear it under a coat". So she's 80 and still doesn't know what suits her, and happy to leave 100s or 1000s of dollars of unworn clothes in the wardrobe. Great. Thanks, Mother.