after all, archaeologists *love* trash pits

January 15, 2010

oh, pamie. girl, I feel you. do I ever:

This would be a good segue to explain why I cannot watch the show Hoarders, because while all of you sit back and judge and cluck and wretch, I am breathless with anxiety, clutching my throat, thinking, “How can they just throw out that entire box of old onesies without asking which five are the most important?! They don’t even know why she saved them! There’s a reason!”*

so have you heard of this show, Hoarders? it’s about people who hoard. I’ve seen some ads for it, and it looks horrifying. like, cat corpses under the piles of newspaper horrifying. it’s bad, people, is what I’m saying here, and I absolutely cannot bring myself to watch it, and not just because I don’t particularly enjoy watching people in crisis as entertainment. no, this show horrifies me because I’ve been on both sides of the hoarding argument: I’ve had to force people to throw useless junk away, and I’ve had to learn to let go myself.

I come from a family of pack rats. my mom, my grandma, my great-grandma: the things they will save are insane. my grandma was even a full-on hoarder, with the carefully carved paths through the house and everything (a move, some forced cleaning, and some anti-depressants, and she’s much better). in the space of a year, I helped both my mom and my grandma move, and let me tell you, that had quite the dampening effect on my own tendencies towards keeping useless shit.

maybe this is an obvious statement, but the biggest problem with hoarding is that it tends to snowball. you just end up with more and more crap. my grandmother’s storage locker had stuff she’d brought from Colorado in the early 70s; stuff she’d inherited when her parents died in the late 70s (including an entire suitcase full of seashells and another of cheap motel ashtrays); stuff she’d inherited when her sister died in the 90s; miscellaneous crap her kids had been storing there for 30 years; clothes her children had worn in the 60s; relics of her own childhood. and that was just in the storage locker—the house was a whole other problem.

my mom, for her part, tends to keep things because there’s something specific she wants done with them, except she never gets around to it. when my brother and I helped her pack her place up, we acted out some variation of this scene about a million times:

brother: “what is this?”
mom: “I’m not sure.”
me: “wow, seriously, what is that?”
mom: “oh! that’s [noun]. this box must be stuff that didn’t get unpacked after we moved in here [in 1993].” OR “bank records from 1984.” OR “I have no idea.”
brother: “it’s going in the trash.”
mom: “NO!”
me: “yes.”
mom: “I need to just go through that whole box.” OR “I need to shred those.” OR “I need to figure out what that is, it might be important.”
me: “you haven’t missed it in 15 years, it’s obviously trash.” OR “fine, bring me the shredder.”
** OR “you haven’t missed it or used it in god knows how many years, so it’s trash.”
brother: [dumps object into trash]

fortunately (for us), my mom hurt her arm during the packing stage and couldn’t deter us from our mission as much as she wanted to.

so when I see the ads for this show, I see something that’s a little too close to home. I’m reminded far too much of how badly I want to clean whenever I visit my mother, how claustrophobic her house makes me, and how much utter crap my brother and I threw out when she moved.

the thing is, as someone who grew up in this environment and went on to be a historian, just learning to throw things away was a struggle for me. I see too much of my family in this show, yes, but I also see too much of myself, which is frightening. I used to save pretty much everything, and it was all laden with some sort of meaning. everything is an artifact for me, a tangible link to the past, a reminder of the person I used to be. I make fun of my mom and my grandma for the things they’ve kept, but I have found plenty of things in my own closets that make just as little sense. I have things that I can’t recall why I saved, but I hesitate to throw them out just in case I remember. and even when I remember, the reason is not always a good one. I’m pretty sure I have stuff that I knew was ridiculous when I saved it, knew it was even more ridiculous every time I saw it after that, and know it’s ridiculous now, but it’s become like an inside joke with myself, so I keep it. whoever inherits my stuff when I die is really going to wonder about some of this stuff.

three years ago, standing in my grandmother’s overflowing storage locker and staring aghast at the boxes and boxes of complete and utter crap, I turned to my aunt and said “diabetes, cancer, they don’t worry me too much. scientists will figure out a cure eventually. but this? there’s no cure for this.” since then, I’ve been actively fighting against my hoarder genes. every encounter with the back corner of my closet is a battle of wills, but I’ve forced myself to really only keep the things that matter, that are truly important to me, that I will use again, that I can remember the purpose of. at some point, I managed to convince myself that not every moment in life needs to be cataloged and remembered, that it’s alright to let some of it go. some things should be saved,*** but not everything is priceless. like bank statements from 1984. I mean, come on.

* sidenote: click through and read the whole post, which is not so much about hoarding as about rediscovering the things you’ve hoarded and laughing at past versions of yourself. 15-year-old pamie is actually very similar to 15-year-old slimlove, which is why I can neither reread my high school journal nor bring myself to throw it away.

** because if I let her do it, she would procrastinate another twenty years.

*** things I scored during the year o’ moves: 40 years worth of vintage fabric scraps; several hand-made vintage scarves; a book I’d been looking for; one of my great-grandmother’s bone china tea cups; my great-grandfather’s monogrammed suitcases. I’m pretty happy all that stuff got saved.


One comment

  1. “Salloway pointed out that patients with frontotemporal dementia seem especially prone to hoarding. He suspects, as do Anderson and colleagues, that hoarding arises when fronto-subcortical circuits that normally inhibit this behavior are interrupted.” (from http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/neurology/article/10168/54546?verify=0)

    Who knows, maybe it will be as curable as diabetes and cancer. Also, I hope these people are looking at meth-freak behavior.

    I can’t watch the show either.

    Congratulations on the vintage fabric scraps.

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