One generation to the next, we get attached to the things we surround ourselves with. If I had to call it out for why I would have to say it is because my family isn’t good at connecting to those around them. Generations of abuse and emotional distress around human connection have left many with only the ability to connect to things.
I have a nice collection of things. Admittedly I have many that I need to let go of. I wouldn’t say that I am a hoarder, but I have certainly created a backlog of things. Many of which have come from the professions I have tried out over the years. Ways of making money tend to leave you with the supplies and bits and pieces that make up the job.
Since I have lived in 42 homes in my life, (I only count the ones that I stayed in for 6 months or more), I have also learned how to let go of things. I am expert level when it comes to packing. I am also expert level when it comes to assisting others in letting go of unnecessary items. I do have to admit that I have held on to items that could have served someone else long ago. Yet I have spent decades letting go of items that I no longer need or use. My collection would be much larger if I were unable to do that from time to time. I usually try to assess what I want and need a couple of times a year. Each time I do hold on to things that I am yet undecided on.
I was the Dino Lady for over a dozen years. It was a name that I used and created a bit of a persona around. It started with a museum oriented towards children. Then it moved with me to the Seattle area and Dino Day Camps for extra income. I still have boxes of supplies just in case. In the last year I finally let go of the website domain and now I am ready to let go of the boxes.
I suppose that I had thought that I could always take the name up again if needed. I also thought that the supplies were something that I would share with my own children – but I never had any. The same with my Barbies. They have been saved for decades to share with the children I thought I would have. They are now ready for a new home too.
My family likes to call themselves packrats. We have those here in AZ. But we are those as well. In fact, some are more than that and do own the title of “hoarder”.
Since my childhood, my uncles have been collectors. One collected electronics, stereos and car parts. He was always working on something. I remember visiting him at his house and walking through the stacks of this and that that went from the floor to the ceiling. I could not have told you what any of it was. He was an eccentric who even assembled a full race car in his kitchen – only to have to dismantle it to reassemble it outside to be able to race it. The second uncle is a collector of another sort. He laughingly calls himself a junkman and admits that he is a hoarder. Most of what he owns are things that no one else would find value in. For him they are all things that he is attached to and he can probably tell you where most of it came from. He is also what I would call and OCD hoarder. Every collection is together and sorted, shelved, and stacked together. Making it easy to take inventory and keep track of each piece. Not quite the hoarding that you have come to expect watching all those reality TV shows.
My mother kept a collection of things that none of knew she had hidden away over the years. Every year for the last 20 years or so, as her children we would receive items from the collection as she passed them on for us to add to our collections. A few years ago, she did a big purge and let go of things that sometimes she now misses. Some of which she has had to replace, and some have proven unreplaceable. It will certainly make it easier on me when she passes. It also means that each of us has already received anything that we might value or that she specifically wants us to have.
My dad is an admitted packrat. As is my brother. Garages packed full. Sometimes storage units that have been paid for over many years hold items that no one seems to be able to find the time to go through.
Currently I am helping my uncle try - I emphasize try, to tidy and sort in the other uncle’s house. The eccentric one passed away several years ago. The house needed repair then and even more so now. The living uncle has been informed after renting a converted mechanic’s garage for 19 years now that the property has been sold and he will have to move. The only place he has to go is the deceased uncle’s house. With the roof leaking, the ceiling falling in, the house ransacked by thieves over the years no one has been in there and the hoarded items still in stacks through each room, there is much to be done. The living uncle has limited Social Security. So little by little we attack the space and sort and clean as we can. To fully clean it would have to be completely emptied which is unlikely to happen. The timeframe we must work in is short and the hoarding attachment to a family members collection runs deep. With each step I take in the house the now fifty-year-old, carpet sends up plumes of dust and powder as it disintegrates more with every day.
Dealing with what I call a double hoarding situation is frustrating. The living uncle is doing his best to work with me to let things go. But the going is tough. Knowing that we are trying to clear out one hoard for another seems insane. Yet it is not my home, not my stuff, and not my choice. It certainly has me thinking though…
Part of the work that I do in the world is around sustainability. Lately the focus has been more and more on zero waste. This makes me more and more conscious of my collection, and my purchases. It makes me want to have a couple of weeks to go though my house room by room, drawer by drawer, shelf by shelf, box by box and let things go. Knowing that my energy is going elsewhere but in helpful directions keeps me thinking but making little progress in my own situation. At least for now.
So, one more area of life in which to do my ancestral work is now in the realm of things. All the things we collect yet don’t actually need in this life. I will always have things and ways to create beauty. I will never be truly minimal as that just makes everything feel empty to me. But I can let go of lots of things and have a cleaner more meaningful space to inhabit and share. Any maybe, just maybe our family will not pass the hoarding gene on to the next generation.
Definition of Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.