Scratching the surface

How much stuff can be crammed into about 1,000 square feet?  We’re still not sure…  the archeology continues.

Mom was less snippy today.  Last week, when my niece DQ was throwing fuzzy, expired food away from the fridge, Mom said “I’ve had it! I’m going to bash someone in the face…”.  Definitely less theatrics today.  Since i’m just back home, after about 7 hours of excavations, i’m just gonna ‘hoark’ a bit…

Sainthood:  BJ, my niece’s husband, is a hero.  He was laid off from his construction job last week, and used his time off productively.  Spending at least 10 hours a day at the house, he has sorted, organized, hauled and manhandled at least 4,000 pounds of shit.  All the while, he has shown patience that the rest of us can’t muster with Mom.  Reassuring her that all boxes marked “keep” will be kept, and that we won’t throw away anything she needs…  He is a good human.

Hoarding:  i am not confused about this – it’s clearly a form of mental illness.  i remind myself “she can’t help it” when she tells me to “throw out those pickles, but save the jars” as i balance on a broken chair in the garage, up to my armpits in plastic yogurt containers from the 1980’s.  She’s verging on panic when we spread out in different rooms and she can’t watch every move we make.  She wants to touch each item.  Tell us what it is, why she saved it, why it’s valuable. “These newspapers are worth a lot of money – they’re from the start of the Iraq war…”.  Wondering if upping her Xanax might help…

The cost of chaos:  So far, we’ve found a dozen automotive ice scrapers.  She no longer drives.  Multiple boxes of plastic cutlery, some still in the grocery bags with receipts.  Paper napkins – THOUSANDS of decorative napkins – still wrapped, with the “75% off” tags intact.  Unopened cleaning supplies, purchased with the best of intentions, inaccessible under boxes and bags and buckets of ‘stuff’.  As we were working today, she said “I can’t afford to replace all this…”.  Made me sad.  If she’d have bought what she needed, as she needed it, or even FIND it amidst the rabble… But the result is a stockpile for Armegeddon.  She could have probably saved thousands of dollars over the past decade or so…

But of all the tales from the front, this one perhaps best captures the scale of the disaster area that is my mother’s house…

HazMat:  In the 1960’s, feeding a family of six on a tight budget required taking advantage of sales, and buying in bulk.  A chest freezer in the utility room was Mom’s best friend.  When all six of us were there, she was in and out of the freezer on a daily basis.  But as we moved out, and home cooked meals became smaller and less frequent?  It was an albatross.  But a fully loaded albatross. 

The last time we seriously tried to excavate the house – 10 years ago – we considered the logistics of getting the damn thing out of the house.  Not a small appliance – 4′ wide and 6′ long.  i took a stethoscope to it to see if it was still running – a gentle hum said the electrons were flowing, but we had no idea if it was cooling.  Those excavations aborted, the freezer sat for another decade.  Unopened.

Last week, BJ collected a crew of his biggest friends, and they took the side door off the house and hauled that thing out.  It was sloshing, so they knew there was nothing frozen inside.  As they lifted it to get it past a planter, a black, slimy sludge sloshed out – releasing a horrific odor.  One friend puked, another ran off.  Mom’s neighbor had been helping with the final push, and went home to grab a respirator.  He was able to get the freezer sealed up in plastic.  But not before the stench was released….

Now that it was out?  How do you get rid of it?  Can’t take it to a dump (freon), can’t have it picked up on bulk trash day (suffocation hazard).  Never mind that it was loaded with liquefied rancid animal flesh.  Craig’s List Curb Alert?  Why not!  It took a couple hours, but finally a truck showed up.  They wanted the scrap metal, perhaps worth $100.  They knew what was in it, and even spilled a bit of the goo loading it up.  But they took it… 

Un-fucking-believable to me that anyone would voluntarily take a 500 pound metal tank, full of festering rotted meat.  For free.  But this conclusively demonstrates the blessings of scavengers.  Here’s to the buzzards and dung beetles of the world…

We’re not done yet.  Far from it.  But there is access to every window in the house so that measurements can be taken for new windows.  A 20′ long flatbed trailer was filled with trash, to be taken to the dump tomorrow.  Progress…

25 thoughts on “Scratching the surface

  1. disgusting, dirty, possible health hazard but above all…Sad…it must break your heart to see her so anguished over losing stuff that is just junk in our minds. It all means something to her no matter how meaningless it is to us. For the older generation that went through the Great Depression it all means something. Memories that aren’t yours to have but to her are like her life is being thrown away.
    Patience, strength and understanding..

  2. i’m thinking you’re gonna find Jimmy Hoffa in there somewhere. maybe the Donner party. Oooo! a long lost brother or sister you never knew you had?

    hope you don’t have too many more days of this, or you’ll be a blithering idiot.

  3. I understand oh so well.

    Have done this once when my parents moved from semi-rural to small town, not looking forward to seeing it again when my mother (now solo after the death of my dad) passes on. I have to refuse food in her house – she has more than once tried to feed me something that’s well past its due date. I believe food poisoning will get her in the end, as she’s pretty much indestructible despite dibetes.

    Hold on there. Have you found dead vermin yet? I stopped counting after 25 dead rats and mice under furniture and in cupboards at the old place. Better dead than alive, I told myself.

  4. Urg. I feel all queasy and lightheaded just reading about it. You aren’t Catholic, are you? I’m just thinking about all those years you could knock off Purgatory…

  5. oh dear daisyfae… you need to drown your sorrows then go write a country song and perform it on youtube

    Thankfully you can laugh about it darlin’ coz it’s a sad situation

  6. hisqueen – yes, it is absolutely heart breaking. she’s trying to be brave, but it’s taking a toll on her. but she can’t stay on a bed in my nieces living room indefinitely, and she STILL refuses to look at an apartment in a senior community (i asked again yesterday if she wanted to go look)….

    gnu – we’re not even close to done. but there’s enough cleared out to storage that some of the renovations can begin, and with any luck, mom will get excited about her new apartment… no bodies uncovered. not yet.

    mine – dead vermin? i think that the spider-web encrusted ball of lint stuck in a mousetrap in the utility room had, at one point, been a mouse. i get numb quickly. it’s the spiders that get me… my guess is that there is a generation of us dealing with the issue of a parent-hoarder. i just found out there is a ‘reality’ show called “Hoarders”… wanna feel good about your life? watch an episode of this one… been watching this morning to see if there are insights on how to deal with it. Seems mostly ‘exploitation’ of the broken people so far, though…

    madcap – no, not catholic. this is all to fulfill a deathbed promise i made my father – that i’d take care of them all… never, ever make a deathbed promise. just a bad idea all around….

    nursemyra – oh, there are some laughs… we will occasionally find something particularly mind-blowing (good or bad) and have to run off to find each other for commentary… it breaks my heart to see her going through this, but there is no alternative… i can deal with some mouse poo and spiders. for now.

  7. oh my… as if the Freezer of Mystery wasn’t enough, the mental anguish of purging “stuff”.


    Sounds like your support team is decent though (have you considered renting out BJ?) and quirks aside, I can hope that Mom will be happier in a less cluttered home.

    You should be nominated for sainthood too.

  8. I need to apologize for how hard I laughed at the freezer story. It’s tragic, really. Here in the Garden State we have a service called We post the crap we don’t want/need on it and within :30 minutes, someone claims it. It’s amazing. It’s who you contact with the garage sale leftovers.

  9. My son in law is like your nephew in law. What a gem! Good luck in the cleaning, organizing, and dealing with your Mum and her “crap.” It must be very hard. (thegnukid is hilarious)

  10. Well at least you are scratching the surface with someone else’s help. My Mother, same songs different words….omg. When she died, we had to get a hauled in my semi truck dumpster dealie and threw two of those things full away. So I guess what I am telling you……I can relate. When I tried to help before she passed, she always accused me too of taking her treasures………….oooowe, yuck. Hang in there. Linda in New Mexico

  11. Remember my tale of the basement flooding?
    Well, in addition to losing all the papers, decorations, crap and shit, we also lost a working freezer that was stocked with a few hundred dollars worth of meat that I had just purchased.
    It was all rotted.
    The odor was the most vile smell I have ever subjected my poor nostrils to.

    I have much sympathy for the brave men who moved that freezer … and even more for the men who took it. Willingly.

    I wish you all the best in your continuing effort to clean up and downsize.

  12. stephanie – i’m no saint. i work in the utility room, garage, or living room to avoid sitting with mom as she opens EACH lipstick tube, and says to put the ones that are only half used into the ‘rummage sale’ box… (sigh)

    unbearable banishment – no need to apologize. we’re finding much dark humor along the way. we have freecycle, too. but craigs list is lower on the barrel, and that’s what we needed.

    s.le – i love high functioning ‘working men’. have always had a soft spot for folks who get it done. and yes, gnu has moments!

    savannah – oh, yeah. sister, s, niece, dq, and i are going through a bottle of tequila when this is done. i’ll give you a ring!

    sally – do i win? god, i don’t wanna know what the prize is…

    rob – more reasons i don’t write fiction. i don’t need to. the material just keeps coming…

    renalfailure – she was born in 1928, so she was a depression kid. but not all kids from the 30’s became hoarders. it’s a form of OCD. hard to treat, high failure rate. at least that’s what i heard on “Hoarders”….

    manuel – my guess is that it’s been dumped in a field, far away from humans…

    kono – that’s the most positive take i’ve heard… go coyotes….

    linda – thanks. i suspect there are a lot of us dealing with hoarding parents… its just so sad. and smelly….

    blazngscarlet – i was thankful NOT to be there. it is a smell that we are hard-wired to recoil from… rotted flesh. worst of the worst. i’ve encountered it once before, and will never forget it…

    girl unpinned – thank you. um…. i think 🙂

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