Why is there a Chainsaw in the Kitchen? (On loving a hoarder)

What’s better than 1 jar of Hooter’s Wing Sauce? FOUR Jars!

I love my father.  He is a wonderful man:  funny, thoughtful, and loving.

Also: He is a hoarder.  Yes, like the kind you see on cable tv, except not so bad as to have rat infestations or raw sewage flowing through the house.  No.  None of that.   Dad is the guy you see huddled over the dented can bin, loading up on .65 cent tomato sauce, kidney beans, spinach, and sauerkraut.

He sent my mother off the deep end when he got back from the Commissary with 35 cans of tomato paste.  “WHYYYYY?” she yelled.  “It’s  to make chilli.  When the weather is cold this winter, you’ll be glad.  I gotta good deal.  Guess how much I paid for this can?”   Then, he’d dump the bags next to the dining room table and forget about them.

“There’s no GODDAMN ROOM for ANY OF THIS SHIT.”

The kitchen cabinets overflowed with cans.  My mother and the three of us kids were tasked with finding space in the basement’s ‘sewing room,’ which was really a huge food pantry for Dad to fill with bulk deals like canned corn and boxes of mashed potato mix and packets of taco seasoning.  The room was packed.

Then Dad would come home with 10 or 11 more bags.  We tried to make room by getting rid of expired canned foods, but if you believe it’s that easy, you’ve never lived with a hoarder.  Dad monitored.  He watched where those bags were going and he remembered what he bought even if he never used it.  He checked the trash can outside.  According to Dad, expiration dates were nothing more than mere suggestion.

As kids, my siblings and I did as we were told.  Even though none of it made sense.  Even though the clutter was enough to drive you crazy.

Fast forward to 2013.   Bubba, Jamie, and myself are grown ups  living on our own, respectively.  Mom moved out of the house eight years ago following a spectacular mid-life crisis.  Dad is 71 years old. He lives by himself.   Naturally, the house looks like a Harriet Carter catalog exploded in the dented can aisle.

Sofa Side Table provides the perfect flat surface for piling mail, remote controls, or last week’s newspapers

Cluttering your life with useless shit since 1958.

There comes a point in life where one realizes their parents are only human.  And as the first born, I knew it was time.  Time to strong arm my siblings into a joint effort to clean Dad’s house.  On Sunday, January 14th, 2013,  the three of us embarked on an unforgettable journey.  The cleaning and UN-hoarding starting at 10AM.

“HOW MANY COMBS DOES ONE PERSON NEED?”

Welcome to your nightmare:  The basement. (featuring my sister Jamie)

It was good to tackle this as a team.  With a hoarder, the trick to getting anywhere is to overwhelm their ability to monitor the de-cluttering process.  As you probably know, hoarders don’t respond well to people throwing out their shit.  Why won’t they just do it themselves?   The reason is: Emotional attachment.  For each item, there is a feeling.   To dispose of or even organize  clutter, the hoarder must go through the feelings.  This is extremely uncomfortable. 

Think of it as how you may feel when cleaning out your closet.  Each article of clothing has a memory or feeling attached; may it be “I remember dancing all night in this dress a few summers ago,” to “These jeans were so cute when I actually fit in them.”  to “NOW IM NOTHING BUT A FATTY!!!????!”   Well, for a hoarder, I imagine it’s like this multiplied by 10.  Formulating a decision on whether to keep or let go …is a big fucking deal, as Vice President  Biden would say.

According to Not Just Clutter, compulsive hoarding is likely to be included as a new mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders or DSM-5.

The Dining Room

Moving forward.  We split the upstairs level up 3 ways:  Jamie:  Bathroom & Dining Room.  Bubba: Living Room

Not happy.

And I cleaned the most WTF room of the house: the kitchen.

JUST SHOOT ME.

Long story short,  it sucked, and we didn’t finish till almost 7pm.  That works out to roughly nine hours of insanity.  We bagged stuff to throw away.  Bagged stuff to donate.  Bagged stuff to recycle.  I’m not going to sugar coat it—loving a hoarder is hard flippin’ work.  Because where there’s hoarding, there’s a mess too.  Crumbs everywhere.  Filthy countertops.  Tiny food beetles that dined and died in the kitchen.

Dining room: almost finished
The Kitchen: AFTER

But I remember:   Hoarding is a mental disease and it’s filled with neglect.  When you neglect your living space, you neglect yourself.  And when you love somebody, you’ll go to hell and back cleaning up their mess.

For further reading, the diagnostic criteria for Hoarding Disorder is HERE.  NJC is an excellent website for those of us who love a hoarder.

And from another talented blogger:  “I’ve Cleaned Up After 2 Hoarders, Here’s How I Did It”

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Faith says:

    I popped over here today and saw this and was reminded of where I used to live. The photos are not shocking to me in the least bit because that is how the house looked where I lived BEFORE I took charge and kept it.
    Living with a hoarder is probably one of the most stressful things. You can’t think or move. The amount of filth in the house I used to live sounds very close to this and the monitoring and memory of each item sounds close too. I say close because I don’t know all of what you guys went through I just know what it feels like to live in filth as a child and to live in filth for 6 years with this hoarder. It is an impossible life. After taking so much (and living with mice) I, a non-family member and mere renter, had to put my foot down and take control. The landlord and friend also has Aspergers Syndrome so I needed to be very careful with what I was doing. My tackle was different than yours. I didn’t do an overhaul, I did it slowly but I got it done and I kept it up.
    I know how hard it was to over step your father and take control but I’m happy you did. For his quality of life and your own healing as an adult, it was necessary.
    And yes, an expiration date is just a suggestion. And no lie, yall have the same kitchen cabinets he had. If I find those photos (I kept them) then I will send them. He’s even got the same kitchen cabinets. LOL … OOO..MMMM….G!
    Faith

    1. MB says:

      Faith,
      Thank you so much for this comment. I am always hesitent to write about some topics, and my family is one of them. So thank you. It’s crazy you have been thru such similarities w/ your own hoarder. I enjoyed reading ur words…a LOT! I wanna see these cabinets lol

  2. The cousin of one of my best friends had to move out of his house and rent an apartment because there was no longer any room for him to stand there. He still owns the house and pays a mortgage but he can’t live there. That’s how much useless junk he had acquired which he couldn’t bear to part with. Now it appears his apartment will be soon to undergo the same fate.

    1. MB says:

      Wow…… Good comment NP and I’m glad to see u

  3. Oh my goodness, you all were saints to pitch in and clean your father’s house! I can’t imagine how hard it was for you and for him. Clutter makes me crazy, and I got dizzy looking at the pictures you posted. Has your dad been able to maintain the house in its new orderly state, or is he still hoarding?

    1. MB says:

      Hey Helena!
      THANK YOU. 🙂 Yeah it’s a pretty overwhelming feeling. It’s one thing having a complete wreck to clean and figure out- but dealing w/ the road blocks the hoarder presents adds another whole dimension of WTF.
      We’re doing Super Bowl Sunday together so l’ll see the status. May as well do a blog update too.

  4. Rae says:

    Thanks for the referral to my blog, Not Just Clutter! Yes, loving a compulsive hoarder is more than complicated. I’m very curious to know how your Dad reacted to your help. Did he know you were going to do this?

    1. MB says:

      Hi Rae!
      Sorry for the lateness in responding.
      He did know we were coming to clean, but we purposely didn’t focus on it via phone conversations prior to the clean day. Also, we gave him the job of sorting through his massive pile of mail. He still tried supervising everyone, but with 3 people it was easier on us since he could only be one place at a time. 😉

      PS. the house is already almost back to what it was before we cleaned. 😦

      1. Rae says:

        Ahhh, I wondered how long it would take to get back to “his” normal. I’m sorry you went through all that effort only to have that happen. You must feel like throwing your hands up in the air.

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