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I Come From a Land of Hoarders

October 12, 2014

This summer I took a 3 week trip to the U.S., much of which was spent staying with my family or my husband’s family. It was fun. It was a memorable trip. It was just swell.

But…

I think I’m finding it increasingly difficult to stay with family members for extended periods of time. On the one hand, I absolutely love it. You really can’t beat free lodging and free food—it makes traveling much easier. And I love both of our families, and I hate that most of the year we can only see each other via Skype.

But…

If I had to spend one more day in my in-laws house, I think I would have burst. It’s little things that I hardly notice at first, but that start to get on my nerves as the days and weeks pass. Things like that fact that their house stinks. Like, it noticeably smells. This has worsened in the past few months, and they’ve been trying to identify the source, but I think it’s just the inevitable decay of an old house that hasn’t been kept up well over the years. A house that happens to get partially flooded every year or two. So yeah, it smells musty and dank and occasionally you get a whiff of something worse, like burnt popcorn meets poopy diaper. Mmmmm…

Okay, it's not this bad. Yet.

Okay, it’s not this bad. Yet.

Now, the smell issue is not my in-laws’ fault, per se. But there are other lifestyle choices I find pretty off-putting, such as their propensity for hoarding. Here, sit back and relax while you enjoy a mental tour of their home: You walk in the door and inhale the stinky stank. You are in a mudroom mostly filled with shelves, all full of canned food or cleaning supplies. To your left is a garage, pretty much full to the brim with who-the-hell-knows-because-you-can’t-really-get-in-the-door. Probably tools and stuff. You walk in further and take a right, passing through the dining room. Aside from the expected dining room table, you notice a countertop, a desk, and a card table. On none of these is there any space to set your purse. This trend continues as you go through the rest of the house. Closets full to bursting, horizontal surfaces inevitably occupied with crap, and a desk in the office that is home to a 2+ foot mountain of papers. It’s this room, the office, which threatens to send me over the edge. Not a foot from this disgraceful paper mountain is a paper shredder absolutely begging for some action. Sometimes I actually fantasize about shredding all those papers, or just setting fire to the whole stack.

It’s actually kind of odd that I care so much, because my own parents aren’t much better. I grew up in a house that was too-often cluttered, with a garage that was never empty enough to hold a car. I’m also not all that organized myself. My room in high school and college was always a disaster zone, and I never color-code or actually file anything in filing cabinets. So, who am I to judge? Furthermore, in the case of both my parents’ and my in-laws’ messy houses, I am part of the problem. My husband and I have at least a closet and a half worth of childhood mementos, wedding gifts, clothing, and other assorted stuff at each house! And I appreciate that our family is willing to help us out with storage while we live abroad. But part of me also wouldn’t mind too much if they told us we had to go through it, get it out of their house, and start paying for a storage unit. Because that would mean they (and we) would be minimizing.

I like to hold on to things for sentimental reasons as much as the next girl, but more and more I’ve become enamored with the idea of minimalizing. While we were home this summer I went through two boxes at my parents’ house and a big bin full of shoes at my husband’s parents’ house. Not a huge accomplishment, but it felt so good to know a bag of stuff was on its way to Goodwill and there would be a little less of my clutter in this world. In my own house, we have recently run out of hangers for our clothes. One option would be to buy more hangers, but instead I just have the overwhelming urge to purge, to throw away or give away the clothes my husband and I rarely wear anymore.

While we were in the process of packing up for our flight back, my mother-in-law discovered that I had thrown away a cheap eye-mask provided by one of the airlines on our previous flights. She went into the kitchen and dug it out of the trash, to tuck away who-knows-where in her cluttery, nutty house.

I kind of wanted to punch her. Or just shout, “I already have six of those things in a drawer at home!” Which I do, sadly.

Maybe I am a bit too wasteful, too cavalier about throwing things away (especially when they aren’t actually mine) but I think I’ve become this way because I really, really don’t want to hoard things as much as my parents and in-laws do. I never want to own a storage unit. I want my home to have open spaces and horizontal surfaces that you can actually see once and a while. I don’t want my kids to have more toys than they can play with. I just want…simplicity. A house and a life that functions well. And I can’t have that if I’m weighed down by so. much. stuff.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 13, 2014 7:34 am

    great post! My mother has TONS of stuff too, but we have the space for it so it never seems out of control. Her problem is clothing mostly. I’ve taken after her too though, it’s hard to throw away things that have so much potential. But she’s taught me well in that we go through everything at least one time throughout the year so things stay organized and relevant. I threw out at least two garbage bags of trash in the last week just from my used craft supplies. You’re right, it feels so good to purge.

  2. thelittlemerskank permalink*
    October 13, 2014 10:47 am

    Ah, me too! I am right there with you, Cindy. Perhaps, it comes a bit from living abroad (which limits the amount of stuff I can own), but I have also become aware of the tendency to hoard in my family- and of my own desire to stop the trend. I wouldn’t really call my mom a hoarder, but some other people among my family and acquaintances definitely have that tendency. But I think it is a bad way to live, to be weighed down with so many things. I mean: if something just sits in your garage all year, do you really need to own it? I had a little bit of a hard time this summer when I was helping my cousin move and she had several boxes of stuff she was having us move to her new house that she had never even unpacked at her last place. I mean: if you didn’t even bother to unpack it, is it really stuff that is that important? But I had to reign myself in– in general, my cousin isn’t a hoarder, and really after all is completely her business what she wants to keep or not. But still… I agree with you: fewer things, a simpler life– that is what I want too.

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