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Stuffed

I have a friend who is a professional organizer.* She has an array of clients, and her firm’s website explains the work she does: “Being organized is about finding what you want when you want it. We provide solutions, systems, and strategies for creating an uncluttered, efficient, and stress-free home or office.”

Knowing she would find it interesting, I sent her a story** from today’s New York Times about how prime pieces of New York City real estate either are or have been the homes of hoarders. The story dealt largely with how these properties challenge buyers and sellers alike.

My friend's response to the story read, in part, that she “can coordinate cleanouts when necessary, especially when the hoarder is no longer on site. I've done that recently when two different people were moved to assisted or acute care facilities, never to return home again. THOSE situations are doable. It's when you have to work side by side with a hoarder that it becomes tediously slow and difficult work.”

My reply to her turned quite unexpectedly into a little piece of autobiography:

“Being obsessive-compulsive, I tend to hang on to things more than I should. Usually they're not big things, so I'm not at a point where they interfere with my life. My dad was no doubt obsessive-compulsive too, but his tendency to keep things probably related to the fact that he grew up (in his words) ‘piss poor’ and had to get multiple uses out of things.

“Out in my utility shed is a collection of hardware he collected: nut, bolts, screws and dozen of things that I don't know what they are. All of them have been used before. I won't use 1 percent of these items before I die, yet I can't bring myself to throw them away. I also kept his collection of nails: different sizes in different kinds of cans. On strips of masking tape on the side of the cans, he printed the type of nail each can contains. At least I use the nails on occasion.

“I keep telling myself that I don't need these things to remind myself of just how handy my dad was—how he saw home-building and home-repair problems with an engineer's mind, and how he used his organizational skills to help. When I think of my dad, I think of his personality. I don't think of a drawer full of secondhand hardware. But there it sits in my shed anyway.

"The same goes for things my mom has given me, especially neckties. They hang on the tie rack in my closet, and I make it a point to wear each of them once a year. (I have enough neckties that I only wear each once one day a year. I told you I was obsessive compulsive.)

"I have a shoebox full of things associated with my mother: a letter opener, an old word game that her mother ordered for me when I was a boy, a little book on stretching. When I think of my mother, I don't think of these things, but when I see these things, I think of her."

I suspect hoarders have the same kind of thoughts, only they're much more powerful and much more a part of their personalities.

* My friend's firm's website: http://www.homesolutionswny.com/
** The Times story: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/realestate/selling-a-hoarders-apartment.html?hp

Comments

( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
sahlah
Oct. 13th, 2013 09:43 pm (UTC)
Fascinating human condition - I'm not sure I could do the work with the hoarder along side... more power to Jamie and her colleagues for tackling this necessary work.
nodressrehersal
Oct. 13th, 2013 11:50 pm (UTC)
So often I help clients with figuring out the "why" behind the stuff they keep. If I had a dollar for every time a client asked if I have a degree in psychology, I'd have, well - I'd have a pile of dollars, that's for sure. Man...that just prompted an idea for another Home Solutions blog post. Nice goin' there, pjv, since I had set a goal of at least one a week and I'm already lagging behind. Let's see if I actually write them...
patrick_vecchio
Oct. 14th, 2013 02:00 am (UTC)
A **big** pile of dollars, no doubt.
(Anonymous)
Oct. 13th, 2013 11:56 pm (UTC)
I have a post card that Nana sent me from Long Island in...maybe 1966 or 7. I take it out every so often and look at the handwriting and think about how soft her cheeks were, and remember little things like the hairnet she wore that had little colored beads in it... memories that I don't want to fade away. I carry one of Dad's business cards in my wallet. I am really glad you have the screws and nails and nuts and bolts, because they are a tangible link to a trait that was very much a part of his essence. They keep you linked to him just as the business card does for me. Does that make sense to you or am I whacky? ( maybe both? Lol.)
But I save way too much stuff. I think it's borderline pathological.
t.c.
patrick_vecchio
Oct. 14th, 2013 01:58 am (UTC)
All of what you wrote makes sense.
(Anonymous)
Oct. 14th, 2013 11:08 am (UTC)
The only thing I have of your dads is his axe. The handle broke off an I put a new handle on it. I still have the old handle in my shed. I touch from time to time. It's smooth and fits my hands just right...efficiently ...like its' owner!
patrick_vecchio
Oct. 14th, 2013 01:57 pm (UTC)
I have a weird-looking hammer that I took from the garage. It wasn't until many years later that I realized it's a spike peen—a hammer used for driving railroad spikes—and that it belonged to my grandfather (whom I never met).

I swing that thing a half-dozen times and I have to stop and rest. I can't imagine what it was like to use that hammer for hours, day after day, week after week. All I can say for sure was that my grandfather must have been one tough mthrfkr.

(Anonymous)
Oct. 14th, 2013 05:28 pm (UTC)
Before they left here, your mom asked me to clean out the garage. Four days and 7 truck loads to the dump and as I moved through this task, I learned that what we take for OC behavior was to your dad, economy and efficiency. Each bent nail, shim, piece of cardboard had a use once and a reuse to it. I realized that all of those things represented survival of an impoverished youth and while he had financially escaped that life he could not do so mentally... All of the things he saved revealed who he was and the character he had developed over his lifetime. That character or better yet the characteristics he possessed, he passed on to his 5 children. Your dad was resilient, tenacious, dependable, and self reliant. The five of you are very different yet oh so similar. Like him you are all perfectionists, extremely professional, and all of the above mentioned characteristics. And here is the pay off. You once blogged about whether you had an impact on your students, if anything you did would affect them. This is your proof, everyday you walk into a classroom and through the course work you teach every student what your dad taught you. It does rub off, look at you.
Fathers and sons are a complex dynamic in which we all strive for our own path. A path that inevitably leads us back to our first teacher, a destiny of living what you have learned. You can learn a lot by cleaning out a man’s garage.
patrick_vecchio
Oct. 14th, 2013 10:38 pm (UTC)
Great last line, Holiday. Thanks.
nodressrehersal
Oct. 16th, 2013 04:40 pm (UTC)
Great observations/reflection - I hope you're hearing the positivity of it here, pjv.
patrick_vecchio
Oct. 16th, 2013 09:18 pm (UTC)
This is one of those topics that nearly everyone can relate to.
cougarfang
Oct. 15th, 2013 12:38 am (UTC)
My boyfriend and I have hoarding tendencies - him because he's a bloody cheapskate (and was effectively raised as one in a, shall we say, extremely thrifty family), me because I'm a packrat especially if it's got words on it (books/notebooks, receipts, informational pamphlets, etc.). When I want to orchestrate a cleanup of the back room of our apartment (actually a second bedroom that we use as a storage room) I make us watch a couple of episodes of "Hoarders" on Netflix to inspire us to cut out actual trash from the piles of STUFF. XD;; He has a bad habit of buying broken things on Ebay, always saying that he'll fix it up and either use or re-sell it, because he can never ever resist a "good deal"... except he never sells things on Ebay, and only occasionally actually ever finishes fixing up a thing into usable form. I've taken to being the annoying conscience on his shoulder, constantly reminding him of that...

Really I feel like the only thing that's saved us from tipping over the edge into outright hoarding is the fact that we're always moving every few years, which acts as a form of ecdysis in which we shed all the stuff we can't be arsed to pack and physically haul along with us XD;;
patrick_vecchio
Oct. 15th, 2013 12:58 am (UTC)
Maybe Albert could sell all of those unfixed things on eBay to people like him who think they can fix 'em.
nodressrehersal
Oct. 16th, 2013 04:45 pm (UTC)
In the hoard-laden apartment I just cleaned out, it was a lot of what you describe - bargains and things that were broken but that the hoarder thought maybe he could fix. 40 lamps, hundreds of cheap watches, eyeglasses, furniture held together with belts and bungee cords...and lots of new purchases but of clearance items he had no earthly use for, like king and queen sized bedsheets when he had a double bed. I'm sure he justified it in his mind as useful, frugal, and wise, but the reality was, he was nonetheless spending money on or junk picking crap he didn't need, couldn't use, and never fixed.
patrick_vecchio
Oct. 16th, 2013 09:19 pm (UTC)
I have things that I swear I'll get to "tomorrow," but as Mr. Byrne and Mr. Eno noted, "Everything that happens will happen today."
(Anonymous)
Oct. 16th, 2013 07:25 pm (UTC)
I am glad you have the cans. I have the crow bar. And I too have little things from my childhood from Nana and others. One is a beaded Indian style necklace that my big brother brought me when he went on a fishing trip with his uncles one year. I thought it was the coolest present I ever got.
patrick_vecchio
Oct. 16th, 2013 09:22 pm (UTC)
The crow bar! That was dad's version of heavy metal.
(Anonymous)
Oct. 17th, 2013 09:14 pm (UTC)
Sure was. Can you hear those nails screeching?
(Anonymous)
Oct. 18th, 2013 01:58 am (UTC)
Oh, yeah, I have my beaded necklace too. Another one of those things I can never part with.
tc
tsrensel
Oct. 18th, 2013 03:29 am (UTC)
You would fit in well in Alaska, where no one throws out anything, and most people I know go "shopping" at the dump on a weekly basis. My boss, having been born and raised in Alaska has a "shed" (his old outhouse) full of tires for cars that he hasn't owned in 15 years and won't fit anything that anyone he knows drives, but he insists on keeping them, as you never know when someone might need a tire and he'll have one that they could use. There is a thin line, even in Alaska, between keeping things that you can reuse, and just not throwing out your junk.
patrick_vecchio
Oct. 19th, 2013 12:33 am (UTC)
I can't imagine what it's like to live in a place where the nearest tire store might be 100 or more miles away.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

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