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The Hoarder

March 19, 2010

I knew how bad it was, I really did.  And I didn’t want to deal with it.  It makes my head hurt now, just thinking about it.  But, thankfully, I married a saint and I didn’t have to deal with the bulk of it.  Because it was bad.

My Dad was a hoarder.  A serious, full on, should have been on Oprah, needed an intervention, hoarder.  Outside of television, I’ve never seen anything that remotely compares. 

Thirteen lawn mowers lined up across the front of his smallish yard.  Four parking places that held three cars, two of which wouldn’t crank.  Every plant container, plastic pot, seed tray that he’d ever bought, planted with something, often looking suspiciously like weeds, growing haphazardly around his house.  You couldn’t take a step without landing on some of it. 

And that was before you walked inside. 

Every margarine container that he’d purchased in the last 10 years, ever milk jug, every newspaper, and stacks upon stacks of unopened mail.  Every box that Christmas, birthday, father’s day gifts had come in, slung carelessly from one end to the other.  VHS tapes of every ball game Clemson University had played in since the invention of the VCR.  A freezer packed to overflowing with meat, some of which was a decade old.  Disposable coffee cups that he got each morning when he had breakfast with his friends at Hardees, were never thrown away.  None of it.  Ever.  He kept it all. 

When I’d ask him to get rid of it, he’d claim he was going to mix fertilizer in the milk cartons, or start seeds in the cups.

He didn’t have room in his freezer for an ice-cube.  I wish I were kidding.  

He lived in a beach house with two floors, that were like full apartments.  We stayed in the top apartment.  That way, we could at least have a little separation from the mess.

I would look in at the mess and say, “Daddy, every time you buy milk, they are going to give you another carton.  Every single time.  It comes with the milk.  I promise.”  He’s respond with a playful(or not so playful)”Shut up, smart ass.”  Or something like that. 

Every blue moon, my husband and I would go to the beach and spend time cleaning for him, only to find him digging through the trash that we’d hauled to the road.  He’d return in such a huff, he swore we were throwing the nut and bolt away that was holding the world together.  It was so frustrating.  He would in the end be very happy with the results, and it would stay neat for about a day and a half.  He really was a people person, and it was the only time that he felt like he could have visitors.  Usually, if he had company he’d take them to our part of the house to visit.  Didn’t matter if it were July and the air hadn’t been on at all.  Didn’t matter if it were January and cold as ice.  His mess didn’t allow him to socialize normally.  He had a great personality and people loved spending time with him.  This really was an impairment to his happiness.  Though, he’d never let on.  He didn’t want to be criticized for his lifestyle.  And I could understand that.

Ultimately, we saw that it was an effort that wasn’t worth making.  I lived hours away, and he wouldn’t hire someone to help.  So, we kept our visiting separate.  He’d come upstairs and we never went in downstairs. 

So, the week he passed away was a pretty rough one for us.   We lost a baby the same week, and since I’m an only child, the funeral, the house, all of it was in my hands.  A couple of weeks later, the moment I’d dreaded as much as anything else came.  It was time to clean out the house.  My husband really is the most considerate man I know.  He decided to go and spend several days cleaning up before I came, just so I didn’t have one more thing to deal with.

The town brought him something like 11 of those green trash cans.  They had to empty them every day for almost a week.  I wish I had pictures, but it fills me with so much anxiety that I’m kind of glad I don’t.

I’ve often wondered what the hoarding was about.  I don’t know if he’d always been that way, but my mom kept it in check.  Though, it does seem to have gotten much worse as he aged.  I kind of think it had something to do with losing my mom.  She was the absolute love of his life.  He was never the same after her death.  He’d had no control over her cancer, no control over his grieving daughter, no control over his loneliness, but, by golly, he could control whether or not he threw the margarine container away.   

I loved him.  But, sometimes, when my house is a mess, I get scared that I’m turning into him.  It’s a legitimate fear, if you saw how he lived  and shared his DNA, you’d know what I mean.   I hate the out of control feeling I get when I get caught up in my own organization issues. 

I have a flaming case of ADD, and I wonder if maybe my dad was undiagnosed, but was the same way.  I wonder if he was like me and couldn’t seem to complete a task before moving on to another one.   Whatever it is, it’s sad.  And I want no part of it.  It makes me want to clean out my closet as I type this! 

I am so thankful to have a husband who would tackle my dad’s craziness for me.  And I’m sure he’s the reason I’m able to keep my quirks somewhat at bay.  At least the really negative ones.  I just hope and pray that if I lost the love of my life, like my dad did, that I won’t start seeing the value in keeping Cool Whip containers.

Have you ever dealt with this?  I wonder how common it is.  I wonder what the fix is.  Thank God for my husband!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2010 11:31 pm

    I actually have heard of hoarding. I remember watching something about it in a psychology class. I don’t remember what they said causes it, but it’s not the person’s fault. In fact, I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head when you said maybe he just felt like he needed to have control over SOMETHING. It’s great when someone (like your hubby) sticks by you in hard times – that’s when you know you can really trust someone, right? When they don’t run away during the hard times. : )

    • March 20, 2010 7:58 am

      Thank God for my husband! I don’t know how he didn’t tuck tail and run when he saw what he was up against with this. He’s my safety net, that’s for sure. The hoarding is the strangest thing to me, I think it would actually make me feel way more out of control.

  2. March 20, 2010 10:38 am

    This makes me really sad but your average pack-rat has the tendencies that turn into this type of disorder. Bless his heart – he probably just couldn’t recover from the loss of your mother. What likely started as a need to hold on to ‘her’ and all things of her turned into a compulsion to control his environment, good intentions to make use of things, and a basic feeling of being overwhelmed and not knowing where to start.

    It’s really important that we come to a place of being able to part with physical memories so that we do not end up like this. It happens all the time to good and decent people.

    p.s. Thanks for your comment on my blog – I did respond back. I almost always do so if you leave a blog comment you can check the box to be notified of future comments.

    • March 20, 2010 3:28 pm

      It makes me really sad too. I think of all he missed because he was so caught up in the stuff. He was still living when my first child was born and when we went to his house, I wouldn’t let my little boy go inside because I couldn’t be sure of what he’d get into. Very sad.

  3. March 21, 2010 2:29 pm

    Hi Lula Lola!

    Thanks for your kind words on my blog. I’m telling you, you will never, ever regret buying one of those ugly avocado eggs. The meats are succulent.

    This is a heartbreaking post. I am so sorry. My aunt is a hoarder. It’s funny how for all those years we just thought of her as an extreme packrat. Thank goodness this is now an acknowledged illness and there is help out there. Unfortunately, my aunt will probably never recover because of her myriad of other mental health issues and the enablers that surround her.

    You seem to have a healthy outlook on all this, understanding the source of your dad’s hoarding and the fact that it was something beyond his control. And in your case, I wouldn’t spend too much time fretting about yourself when it comes to hoarding. Just the fact alone that you are aware of the factors that caused this will certainly keep you away from that sort of mental state.

    Great husbands make life a sweet ride, don’t they?

    • March 23, 2010 8:18 am

      Joann, I love your blog. Joanna from The Casa turned me on to you and she said, you never disappoint, ever. So true. Your dog story is the funniest thing I’ve ever read.

      Looking back, I have no idea how you’d rehabilitate a person like my dad. It’s something that would have taken a professional. And he never would have gone with that.
      We went to Clemson University football games together on weekends. On the way out, I would have to all but trip him to get him to stop picking up all the plastic cups people were leaving.
      When we cleaned out his house, he had stacks of cups from the early eighties. He claimed he needed them so he’d have some to take on the beach. Mind you, if you walked in his house, you’d have been scared to have a drink. Whew! Drives me crazy just thinking about it.

      I am also a fan of the great husband. Makes for a good time!

  4. March 28, 2010 6:34 pm


    I would not worry about becoming a hoarder if I were you. Now if I were me… lol, well that’s another story. ;o) You would have exhibited some real tendencies by now.

    There is definitely a link between PTSD and hoarding.

    The need to acquire “useless” stuff reaches into the irrational but it does not necessarily start out there. While a few margarine containers can certainly be useful, all you ever encounter can not be (unless you are an art teacher). But where do you draw the line?

    I think that is one area where a hoarder gets stuck. He/she cannot decide so it stays.

    There is also often a desire to do things perfectly, not to waste and naturally the “what if I need it?” Plus the very valid perception that tossed things often cannot be replaced. That is certainly where grief plays a role.

    I saw the movie “Aviator” the other night. A long time ago I had read a biography of Howard Hughes. He was a hoarder and had horrible OCD but was portrayed very sympathetically. I think what comes across is that it really cannot be helped, particularly if untreated.

    And it is only very recently that this hoarding disorder has come to the forefront. There is a great deal about it that remains unknown. Experts are not even sure how to treat it.

    What comes across in these reality shows is that these people really need to be ready to start tackling it. Even if they are, it seems to take a very long time. Few seem to be there and that is often even when facing a crisis.

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