It Happened To Me Contest Entry: I Am The Child Of A Hoarder

Basically, every single thing that ever came into the house never came out of it. Whatever amount of stuff you may be imagining, double that. Actually, maybe triple it.
Publish date:
February 14, 2013
hoarding, hoarders, ihtm contest

[If you like this IHTM contest entry, comment to that effect below and that will help the writer win big money. Feel free to critique below too, so we can weigh that in our decision. -- Jane]

By Angela M.

I don't remember precisely when I began to realize that our house held more things than the average home. And I don't mean that in an extravagant, possibly enviable way. We were not rich.

The ocean of stuff in the house was not the result of having leftover funds. Rather, the house was, and still is, full of stuff that was bought whether it could be afforded or not. It was bought out of a simple need to acquire without regard for rationality.

I don't know when the possessions in the house first began to possess us. There are home videos of me as a baby where the house merely looks like it's at a relatively healthy level of untidiness. I have vague, hazy memories of being able to walk in to every room in the house and being able to see most of the floor in each room. None of that is possible anymore.

There are parts of my parents' house that I haven't seen in over a decade because the rooms are inaccessible due to piles upon piles of stuff. That's all I can call it, "stuff." The "stuff" is unidentifiable from a glance. No one knows what all of it is.

It is a vague mix of everything that was ever deemed worthy of purchase since the day my parents bought the house. No one ever organized it into orderly groups or categories. The baby clothes I wore 20-some years ago are mixed in with cooking utensils that were bought last week. There is no reason or methodology that can be ascertained from wading through the hoard.

But! I have gotten quite good at being able to tell what era a particular pile of stuff originated from. It would be a neat party trick if anyone could ever come into the house, ever.

It's difficult to describe the state of the house in a truly comprehensible way. Basically, every single thing that ever came into the house never came out of it. Whatever amount of stuff you may be imagining, double that. Actually, maybe triple it.

Thankfully, the house contains what is known as a "clean hoard", which means that it isn't one of those houses of horrors that is full of bugs, dead animals, or rotten food or anything terribly revolting. For that, I am grateful. Instead, it is full of objects that serve no purpose other than taking up space.

There is no open floor space in the house. There are only narrow paths going from room to room so that necessary appliances are accessible. When things were at their worst, climbing over piles of stuff to reach things was part of my daily life. Every single available surface is covered by stacks of forgotten objects.

As an only child living in a very remote area, this made my already isolated and awkward childhood a joy. No one outside of myself and my parents were allowed inside the house. To this day, I have never had a friend step foot in the house in my entire life. No one outside of close family members even knew where we live, because why should they? They would never be allowed to visit.

I remember telling people that they couldn't come to my house because it was "messy." They would assure me it couldn't be THAT bad and would insist that their houses were messy, too. Then I would see the inside of their houses and see that their idea of "messy" was having a shirt or two lying on the floor of their bedroom. I remember feeling a strange mix of shame and amusement every time I discovered a normal household's idea of what "messy" entailed.

I also remember being genuinely baffled when my peers or kids on TV shows would complain about being told to clean their rooms.

"Clean... their... room?", I would think to myself. What is this "cleaning" of which they speak? The kind of cleaning they were talking about was a foreign idea to me.

Probably the most frustrating aspect of entire situation, however, has to be my mother's indignant refusal to even acknowledge that the hoarding is a problem, or that it even exists. It's absolutely bizarre that she can seem entirely rational in almost every other aspect of life except for the state of the house. It's as if her mental capabilities end when it comes to assessing the value of objects. Any attempt made to communicate dissatisfaction with the way we lived was met with nothing but stony silence.

In fact, just a few weeks ago when I was at the house, my mom was telling my dad that when her mom eventually passes away, she is going to gather her SEVEN siblings and they will form a sort of chain gang from my grandmother's basement to a dumpster in order to get rid of her "junk."

My dad and I shared an incredulous glance, and he tentatively said, "You do realize that's what Angela is going to have to do with our house, except she's going to be doing it all by herself." We both held our breath for her response, because my mom was actually acknowledging, in a passive way, the issues that hoarding causes for others. If she could recognize this, then surely she could be forced to finally offer a logical response to the position she had placed myself and my father in.

It was too much to hope for.

My mother responded, "But this stuff isn't junk! It's valuable. At least Angela could sell it."

That sound you just heard was me facepalming all the way from the Midwest.

Apparently my hoarding mother can recognize the useless things that other people keep as "junk", but her junk? That shit is valuable! I'm basically inheriting a gold mine! That is, if that gold mine was kept in hundreds of unlabeled boxes and the rest was strewn about in piles, many of which are taller than me.

While I certainly became aware as a teenager that I wasn't living in an ideal environment, it wasn't until I moved out for college that I was able to fully grasp the idea that I did not owe anything to inanimate objects, that I wasn't making an eternal vow to keep things forever the moment I bought them, that I didn't have to sacrifice my happiness in order to keep items "safe" with me forever.

I realized that I didn't have to watch helplessly as more and more useless stuff was brought into the house and have to watch it be tossed onto a pile, never to be touched again. There are thousands of pounds of stuff that I will ultimately have to deal with at some point because my mother never could and never will.

I now get a small high from organizing spaces and throwing away things I do not want or need. It's a rush equivalent to the kind that you get when doing something mildly taboo. Trying to get rid of unwanted items in my parents' house was a punishable offense. Because while maybe I didn't want to keep a tacky 15-year-old plastic cup I found, my mother did.

As soon as something was deemed as valuable by her, attempting to throw it away became an act of defiance and disrespect. The problem is, everything is valuable to her, even when I know she will never use it or even see it again once it disappears into the hoard.

Attempts to clear the hoard have long been abandoned. It will never get better as long as my mother refuses to acknowledge it and only continues to add to it. Any small surface I manage to clear off or any small space I manage to uncover is back to its original hoard-engulfed state in a matter of days.

Even if my father and I took on attempting to organize the hoard as our full-time jobs, I estimate it would still take us at least a year to create any semblance of order in the house.

I know the hoard will fall to me to take care of eventually. When that time comes, I will try my best to find a way to get rid of all of it without having to waste more than a few days of my life dealing with it. The uncontrollable mountains of things I never wanted have affected enough of my years.