I have to admit that I am a little obsessed with the TV show Hoarders. There are a lot of crazy images and horror stories that have made a big impression on me. For example the old lady whose toilet broke and was wearing adult diapers and throwing them on the floor of her house for over a year. And another old lady who thought that there was nothing wrong with having a gigantic rotting pumpkin in the middle of her living room. But then there are other stories that have stayed with me. There was one woman whose small house was absolutely packed with boxes and boxes of stuff. You could only get through her house by navigating a narrow path. She was very religious and said that she wanted to clean up her house because the way it was right now if Jesus came to her door she wouldn’t even be able to open it to let him come inside.
We’ve got a bit of clutter around here too but it is at a much milder level then you see on that show. Our attic is bad though. I’ve got boxes that I packed up in 2001 that I have yet to go through. My husband is very interested in downsizing our life – moving to a smaller house and having less stuff and getting rid of the unnecessary clutter is the first step. I made some headway with some boxes of clothing up there (petite maternity clothes, anybody, anybody?) but we still have a long way to go. Many of the Hoarders describe how they lost control of their situations after experiencing a loss in their lives. Once they lost their parent/child/spouse they started to feel compelled to hold onto everything around them. Each object takes on greater meaning than it deserves and sometimes they lose the ability to differentiate between the precious and the worthless. I spoke with my sister-in-law a couple of months ago and she told me that she was trying to figure out what to do with all of my brother’s things she still has. She’s trying to move on in her life and isn’t sure how these objects from her deceased ex-husband will fit in. I on the other hand have very few things that belonged to my brother. She said that she’d send some stuff to me but I’m sure it will take her a while to go through it all. It’s not an easy job. I have a hard time giving away Piper’s baby clothes that we will never need again. We cannot use them anymore but still have great importance to me. There was a time that I was keeping them in the hopes that we’d need them again but that time is long gone now. It is especially hard for my sister-in-law to decide what to do with Mike’s stuff. They were separated at the time of his death and she is still trying to move on from that part of her life. She’s in a new relationship now and feels torn by needing to say goodbye and still wanting to hold on a little longer. I need more stuff in my house like I need a hole in my head but all I really have of my brother’s is a coffee mug with some cats on it. I use it everyday and whenever I leave it in the sink Glenn says he’s afraid to touch it because he’s afraid he’ll break it and it’s the last bit of my brother that I have. I also have a voicemail message that he left on my old cell phone. He just says, “Hi, it’s me” and “call me back”, nothing special but again, it’s the only thing I have. When I watch Hoarders I think about those people whose compulsion to save all that stuff goes beyond reason. They bury themselves in their things and their memories to the detriment of personal relationships and their health. I remember one lady who cried when she had to throw out an ancient, grubby teddy bear that had been buried in a corner of a room for years. This was while her adult daughters talked about how they felt long abandoned by their Mother. She had chosen her things and her garbage and her memories over her children. If I could return my brother to this world by holding onto a box of his things you couldn’t pry it from me but I know that is not possible. If I do end up getting a box of Mike’s things I’m sure the time will come when I’ll need to decide what I’m going to do with them but I can’t imagine that day right now. I remember when I was small and my brother was so much bigger I loved to wear his sweatshirts. They always faintly smelled of him and I was proud to have an older brother who seemed to know so much more about how to get along in the world. It was my way of putting on a little bit of his confidence and his cool.