I parked across the street from a church garage sale and watched as this man worked to arrange his purchase – a half a mannequin – into his bike cart. He reminded me of my Aunt Kathleen. Last week, I wrote about the great time I had as a child, visiting her fun-filled home [Click Here] and, a half-mannequin would have been a great addition to her play room.
Somewhere along the line though, as I progressed into adulthood, the tons of items in her home went from amusing to annoying.
When Grandpa died and she had to move to town, I helped her pack up all the
junk treasures stacked in the rambling two story farm house so we could cram them into a tiny cottage she’d bought.
Every article had to be examined and evaluated for its worth and, as it turned out, everything was worth keeping. The only place we made progress was in the pantry where, with significant wheedling by my brother, Rick, and I, she agreed to part with the dusty jars of green beans that her mother had canned twenty years ago.
We also managed to toss out several things during the time Aunt Kathleen ran screaming from the house when we discovered at six-foot long black snake living in the pantry. Rick picked up the rusty shovel that was in the kitchen (you keep a shovel in your kitchen, right?”) and killed the snake, tossing it through the back door where Aunt Kathleen had stood moments before. I froze, a scream ready to erupt when Rick punched my shoulder. “Quick,” he whispered. “Start shoving stuff into these trash bags.” We managed to fill six bags before she returned.
Aunt Kathleen eyed them suspiciously. “Did I really agree to throw all that away?”
I ducked into the pantry while Rick dragged the bags out to the trash pile.
“Wait!” she cried and took a step to follow Rick out the door.
I held up a broom with a broken handle and said, “This can go in the trash, right?”
She gasped and snatched it from my hand. “Of course not. Mama used to use that to sweep off the front porch.”
That’s what I’ve learned about hoarders – each item has a strong emotional attachment, and to throw it away is akin to having one of their limbs cut off.
The fork with only three tines?
“Mama used to eat her pie with that fork.”
The moth-eaten military uniform?
“Your dad was wearing that when he came home from the war.”
And so it’s gone for the last thirty years. A broken television, kept because she’d bought it with her first paycheck, the new one placed on top of the old one. As she grew in girth, new clothes were hung on top of the smaller ones, which must be kept because she remembered where she’d gone in the outfit. The five hundred decorating magazines blocking the front door — filled with projects she planned to create with the broken dishes she’d been collecting for years.
And now she’s gone and I’m tasked with going through it all again. The family and I spent a weekend shoveling out and sorting through the first layer. A hundred plastic bags from the dollar store with her purchases still inside. Another hundred bags stuffed with only empty plastic bags. And a dozen stacks, from floor to ceiling, of puzzles.
As I worked through the pile of thousands of empty envelopes and junk mail I could hear my brothers and sister mumbling. “What the? Why would she keep…the plastic tabs removed from her insulin medicine/the empty containers of hand lotion/the expired food?
Our next clean out will be in the basement. I wandered through it the other day and without the layer of trash, I found myself reappraising what’s left.
“Why, here’s a perfectly good wooden clothes-drying rack.” That doesn’t count as hoarding because I’ve been wanting one of those.
“Here’s a cast iron skillet.” That doesn’t count because I can use it in my camper.
“Well, what do you know. There’s her old treadle sewing machine where she taught me to sew.” That’s not hoarding – that’s keeping a memory, right?