Two sad stories in real life

mommabirdJune 19, 2012

I've heard two heartbreaking stories of disorganization getting away from friends in the past few weeks.

1. A woman I've known about 10 years, the nicest, sweetest, most helpful person, always well groomed and very competient. She and her husband bought a new house about 6 or 7 years ago, and she has been telling me they are "working on the old house, getting it fixed up to sell" all those years. Her husband died suddenly recently. I found out that the reason they had two houses/mortgages is they are both hoarders and when one house got too full to live in, they bought the second. It is now almost too full to live in. This just breaks my heart. He was such a nice man, and now she has this heartbreaking mess in TWO houses to deal with after his unexpected death.

2. A friend confided in me she wants to leave her husband. They are also both hoarders. She said the mess is the biggest thing that keeps her there. Every time she starts sorting her stuff to take and leave, he burries it again under his stuff. I have been in their house and it is floor-to-ceiling hoarding in every room. So she is tied in to an unhappy relationship by STUFF.

Both of these stories have motivated me to attack my house with new gusto. I had done the major clean sweep about a year ago, but clutter is creeping back in. I've taken a vanload to the dump, two more vanloads to Goodwill and am working still.

I hope you can find similar inspiration in these stories.

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Those are indeed sad stories. I have a friend who has needed to sell her house (for financial reasons) for several years, but hasn't been able to tackle the job of getting her stuff out. As the years have passed, the house (which was already old and in need of repairs 20 years ago when she bought it) has continued to decay.

Her house is not cram packed with stuff--there is a lot of empty space in it, in fact. She's just overwhelmed with the stuff that is there, and immobilized.

Unfortunately, her husband is not a take-charge guy and while he complains about the loss of value, he does nothing to remedy the situation, either. So, two people driven halfway to the poor house by newspaper clippings and clothes for children who are now parents themselves...

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 7:11PM
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My parents were both hoarders, having lived thru both the 1930's Depressioin and WW2 rationing. They never threw anything away, even if it was broken. A tree fell over in their back yard, my sister's husband offered to cut it up and haul it away if he could have it for firewood. Dad said "No, why should I give him free firewood?" So the tree sat and rotted for 30 years. Mom hoarded food also. She had a basement full of ancient cake mixes, ketchup that had turned brown in the bottle, cans that rusted and burst. Can you imagine the smell down there? She had a cheap "hutch" in the kitchen. Someone gave her a nicer new one. I noticed the new one was up and in use. Did she throw out or donate the old one? No, she turned it on its' side and stored it in the living room. Her living room was further stuffed with three sets of furniture-her set she purchased new in the 1960's, a set my brother got after his divorce, plus a third set when a cousin died. Three couches, end tables and chairs every which way. In the kitchen, Mom had propped an old twin bed headboard against a wall because it had shelves, nooks and crannies she could stuff papers in. She saved all her bills, receipts from grocery stores, old Christmas cards,etc. Her house was a major mess. "Goat paths" in every room. After she died,my brother moved in to clean up the mess. That was January 2011. He's still there working on it. I will not leave a mess like that for my family to clean!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 8:37AM
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Mommabird, is there any possibility of getting these people to have even one visit to a therapist? It's not about "the stuff."

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 8:56AM
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Graywings, I have learned the hard way to tread lightly when suggesting therapy. Friend #2 is actually mad at me right now. I told my son he is welcome to have her son at our house, but I don't want him to visit their house any more. It is a very unhealthy environment both physically and emotionally right now. Well, son told her son that I won't let him come over, her son told her. So now I've got a "mess" of drama on my hands! I should have just told son NO every time he asked to go over, without telling him up front that he can't go any longer.

I hope someday I learn to just keep my fool mouth shut!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 5:48PM
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The thing I notice reading these is that I have never heard of any kind of story except a sad story relating to hoarding or even just lots of clutter that isn't at the hoarding level--even when the folks keeping the clutter themselves aren't sad because of the stuff, there is always someone else who is--the children who couldn't have friends over, the person left to sort through things, etc.

I wonder if anyone has ever said "I know this person whose house was chock full of stuff and she was just as happy as a clam and it was great!"

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 10:44PM
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Mommabird, don't feel bad and don't keep your mouth shut. This could be the beginning of a wake-up call for one or both parents. In fact, I think you should explain to your son what is going on at his friend's house - that his friend's parents have a psychological problem called hoarding and need to see a therapist. That poor boy living among all that stuff needs as much insight as you can relay to him through your son.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 8:59AM
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Leafy, you made me smile. I have never heard a happy hoarding story, either! I do know many, many people who are happy as minimalists though.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 6:10PM
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What a great insight-clutter doesn't make any one happy, it actually sucks the fun out of you! You can be very happy with very little. I think all Mother Theresa owned was one sari and a spoon. Yet she was considered a living saint among us.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2012 at 8:44AM
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If you dig behind the Mother Theresa myth it's not all beauty and grace either. I also know several people who are so clean and spare in their space that they make the people around them miserable, but for some reason there are no shows about them, and no threads about them on forums. Cleaning and clearing can be obsessions too, and at their extremes are no healthier than hoarding. There can also be deaths from cleaning chemicals and reaching from the ladder to wipe that final corner of the window. Yet we don't see calls for these people to get therapy.

Clutter is not automatically hoarding, so clearing house with a renewed vigor is likely not a healthy response or defense. A happy life is often cluttered - it can be the home of someone who is so busy with their people that they don't sweat the small stuff, for example.

I understand where you're coming from in feeling sorry for these people and being afraid of going down their path, but there are worse paths, trust me on this.

Karin L

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 1:34AM
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Karin, of course you're right that obsession with cleaning isn't any healthier than obsession with accumulating. Luckily, there is a lot of gray area in between those two poles and hopefully that's where we are all aiming to be.

A member of my extended family drove me nuts with his constant cleaning-up and putting-away. If you set your knife down after buttering your toast he would whisk it away to the sink!

But at the same time, he was always there for the people in his life and ready to lend a helping hand when needed. He had a workshop full of stuff he could use to make or repair just about anything, (and because it was organized, he *actually* could make or repair anything, not just theoretically--at my house I'd still be looking for the parts).

It is possible to stay on top of your possessions and be a sociable, helping and caring person.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 8:06PM
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Leafy, you are right that there is a grey area, but my point was that we never seen to talk about that. I think I was responding to the fact that we talk so much here about the problem with hoarding and seem to have an abhorrence of it, but no one talks about the abuse that can be inflicted by cleaning too much, to the extent that I sometimes think that someone who has such a mania might be enabled here.

I think I just wanted to put the concept of "a healthy amount of clutter" on the table here.

Karin L

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 1:56PM
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I think the reason we don't talk much here (or IRL, for that matter) about the dangers of cleaning too much is that there is no chance at all most of us can fall into that trap.

In my case, I have teenagers, a little kid, three dogs, a husband who doesn't like to throw out hole-y gym socks or rusted-out barbecues... even if I had superpowers I couldn't get this place scary clean.

I think what counts as "a healthy amount" of clutter varies from person to person. If the amount of stuff one has is supportive and not oppressive to mental and physical health of the folks who live in the house, that's healthy.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 5:45PM
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I have lived with both a hoarder and an OC cleaner. My mom is obsessive about cleaning. My folks' house is like a museum. I have seen her take the plate out from under my son's fork while he is still eating. There is not a newspaper out of place or a spec of dust in their house - EVER. It is exhausting for me to visit for the weekend. You just can't relax at their house and it is a house, not a home. My mom worked FT while raising 2 kids in this environment.

My exhusband is a hoarder - not jus messy but a true OCD hoarder like you'd see on tv. I lived with that for 23 years. I will take OCD clean over OCD hoarding any day!

Bottom line is - both are uncomfortable to live with. I have a little more than a healthy amount of clutter right now and am working steadily to reduce it. I have gotten rid of 100s of pounds of clutter since DH moved out. I will never attain the level of spotlessness of my mom but that's ok. I do dream of the day my kids are grown and off on their own and I can move to a teeny tiny house and own almost nothing. Other people dream of retiring to FL in style. I dream of retiring to the mountains to live in a Spartin cabin!

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 6:15AM
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Graywings has a point, Momma...
It made me think that perhaps your son's friend might actually be glad to tell his mother that he can't have his friend over -- to make her realize their living situation is affecting his social situation.

She might not want to change her ways for herself -- and I know it's not something you decide to do one morning and "POOF" everything's different. But when it's affecting her child, maybe that'll nudge her to take one step.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2012 at 12:01AM
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