Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Here's the thing: we learn what we are taught.

I don't really know how to clean. This is not to be wondered at, I suppose, given that I was never really taught it, growing up in this hoarder's house: it's difficult, after all, to get in the habit of hanging your clean clothes in the closet when all the closets are stuffed full of your father's shirts.

But it's not just that. Living here again in my childhood home, even though my hoarding father is no longer here, I find that there are things I won't clean. My own room, and my new studio room (which used to be the guest room), are one thing, and even though I'm truly just not a particularly neat person by nature, they stay reasonably clean—I get my laundry done and change the sheets regularly, I have been known to vacuum, that kind of thing. But when it comes to say, the living room, or the kitchen? I won't touch them.

I think it is because it is shared space. And what I was taught growing up was that shared space, though supposedly 'shared', wasn't. It always belonged to my father. Or, I suppose, my mother, as she vehemently fought for her own space to breathe in this house. But not mine. Never mine.

And so I feel it is just not my place to clean shared spaces. That, on some level, I don't actually have the right. You should see me in other people's, friend's, kitchens: I would never just get up and make myself some food, and I even hesitate to put a dirty dish in the sink or the dishwasher, though I know it is the polite thing to do. Because I don't live there, and the place is not mine.

And then I realized that underneath it all is fear. I am actually afraid to clean someone else's space. As odd as that sounds, it is true.

It makes sense. Hoarders not only tend to take over all the available space, they are famous for freaking out if anyone else touches their stuff. If anyone touched any of my dad's crap while he was there, well, there'd be absolute Hell to pay. You could argue until you were blue in the face, and all you'd get was stubbornness and screaming, with a big helping of invalidation to go with it, for he'd yell that it was HIS STUFF and no one had ANY RIGHT to touch it. It was HIS, and HE PAID FOR IT, so he could do what he wanted with it. Which extended to anything he paid for, by the way, including the food on the table and the clothes we children wore. No one else's needs were valid, never mind important.

Under these conditions, attempting to clean was the equivalent to starting a war.

Is it any wonder I am frightened of cleaning?

We learn what we are taught.


Anonymous said...

For all of the blood, sweat, and tears expended on cleaning up this mess, do either/both of still feel love for your father? My mom's a hoarder, too, and her emotional legacy to me on account of the hoard will not be good. I suspect my only memories of her will be the horror of cleaning out her hoard and the fact that she didn't care enough about me to leave this disaster for me to deal with.

Thalia said...

That's a hard question to answer.

Actually, no it isn't at all, but I'm afraid that the answer will make me sound like a horrible person.

Because I'd have to say, no, I don't love him, and don't think I ever have. There just was never anything to truly engage with in his personality.

It's not about cleaning up after him; for me that's okay. Because being able to finally clean up, though it's a major pain, is finally being able to do something about it. After all those years of having no power in the situation at all, it's a relief and a good thing.

What I'm angry about is how he treated us when we were kids and young adults, and how miserable he made everyone's life because it all had to be done his way. His literally crazy, personality-disorder informed way. He fucked us over but good, and it has taken, and will take years to unravel the damage and get to a place of normalcy, I think.

That's for me, anyway; obviously I can't speak for Tara.

nicknamehere said...

Thalia, this entry is beautiful. It really captures the dilemma of the hoarder's child. Growing up I remember so many conversations, arguments, yelling matches, that centered around STUFF. Material objects and who they belonged to and who could touch them. My mom essentially took over the entire house with her book hoard - the concept that HER stuff should go in HER room was entirely foreign to her. The communal living spaces became repositories for her collections.

To this day, she has "MISSING" lists posted up on the wall, stuff of hers that she can't find and which she assumes someone in the family stole or lost.

Her phrase "ALL RIGHT, WHO MOVED MY [insert crucial personal item she would store on the coffee table]!!!" still rings in my ears as I dejunk. I am thankful than time and age have mellowed her and made her more able to acknowledge that the house desperately needs dejunking if we are to live in it as a functional family.

Anonymous said...

Your honesty in commendable, Thalia. I love my mother, but I hate my 'hoarder mother'. Unfortunately, I can't really separate the two because the hoarding dominates her thought and action and makes it nearly impossible for me to relate to the lovable part of her. If she could understand the negative impact that her hoarding has upon the people that she would wish to have feelings of love for her, then maybe she could decide to take on this demon in some productive way.

Anonymous said...

Thalia, I loved this. My father was an alcoholic and my parents both have hoarding tendencies. The thing you've evoked most vividly that is true in both of those situations is that you, the child, are POWERLESS and hypervigilant to the mood of the tyrant. That's exactly how I felt growing up. Oh, and when my dad was drunk and misplaced his drink he used to accuse us of hiding it from him.