Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hard Enough

Yesterday and today I did a little cleaning of my own. I am in the process of converting my parents' old attic bedroom into an art studio/sewing room for myself, my bedroom being the other attic bedroom (there are two main rooms in the attic, as it's the usual old central-chimney New England colonial layout). Years ago, when I first moved out, my parents took what had been my childhood bedroom for their own. Which was, and is, fine, as it's on the first floor and meant at the time that my father (who was beginning to have some mobility issues) wouldn't have to climb so many stairs.

So in moving stuff into my new studio I've started going through some old stuff of my own in one of the attic closets, stuff that's been there only (and yes, in this house it really is 'only') ten years or so.

But I ran into a problem.

It has gotten more and more difficult to throw things away. I don't mean that in a personal pattern sort of way, either, as if the lessons my father taught me about how it's ALL GOOD and must always always be saved have been gaining some kind of ground in me of late. No, I mean it is actually more difficult to get rid of things these days.

Used to be, you just threw everything in a bag and brought it to the dump. Everything. Not now.

These days everything is recycled. Everything has to be sorted first, per order of the town. My town, in fact, just made it a requirement that everything you are to throw away must be in the official town bags, which cost $1.25 (for a small) or $2.50 (for a large) a pop.

I mean I get it. I consider myself an environmentalist, certainly, and, have, for example, committed to growing my garden organically. (Though I am also of the Derrick Jensen school of thought, and believe the focus on individual recycling is a red herring that lets the corporations—who do upwards of 90% of the polluting and environmental damage—off the hook while simultaneously passing all the blame on to the rest of us.) But they just don't think, sometimes, about the effects things like this have.

You could argue that everyone has to do it, and so that's fair. Right?

Ha. First of all there's this little thing about economic disparity. For poor people, that $1.25 a bag is a significantly larger proportion of their income than it is for non-poor people. That argument, I do believe, is what we in the activist community call coming from a position of privilege. So right off the bat, um no.

Now, for those of us who are poor (hello! I'd like to introduce myself) and who are cleaning up after a hoarder (which action the town has been on our backs about for years), this is actually not insignificant. It makes an already difficult job that much more so.

One might also argue that, well, this will train people to just use less. The less you use, the less you have to throw away, right? If you have to buy a lot of bags it's your own fault.

Which handily bypasses the bit about how the hoarded mess is not my fault. It is, in fact, no one's fault but that of the man in the nursing home down the street, who is now 87 and doesn't remember anyone's name. But it has to be cleaned, and so it falls on myself, and my sister, and my mother to clean up after him. People, incidentally, one could argue are the victims of his hoarding behavior. And remember, this is literally forty years worth of junk, some of it huge, impossible, and bewildering. Remember that giant horrible rubber life raft? How many little town bags would that have taken? At $1.25 a pop? You're telling me it's going to actually cost me money to clean up after the bastard who perpetuated this neglect and abuse on me?

Then there's the recycling itself. What prompted this post was finding a box of my old medications, stuff like cough medicine, aspirin, and supplements as well as some old prescriptions. I must have just shoved everything in a box when I moved, and then not touched it. Yesterday I looked into that box, incidentally filled with the leavings of mice, as it had been in the mousey old attic closet, and nearly despaired. Because the way the town has set up the rules, I cannot just pitch the whole damned thing into a bag. I had to go through it all, and make decisions about each little bottle, each individual thing, and then figure out what was the proper thing to do with it. I had to separate glass bottles from their plastic caps (non-recyclable, since they had no number on them), then empty and in some cases wash the bottles out before I could do anything with them.

Those of you familiar with hoarders may recognize this. It's remarkably similar in practice to any of the million excuses hoarders have for not throwing things away. Because they simply cannot do it, their brains come up with all these impossible conditions that must be fulfilled, like in a fairy tale where Our Heroine must first separate out all the dust from a huge mound of poppy seeds. If you try to throw something away that belongs to a hoarder (and it ALL belongs to the hoarder), they will tell you, NO, you must do this impossible task first. And when you do that? NO, you must also do this impossible task. And if you do that? NO! again, and on, and on and on and on. Because if it's impossible, it can't be done, and then their stuff doesn't get thrown away, which in a hoarder's mind cannot be borne.

So I am not surprised that I looked into that box and felt a paralyzing despair. It's already hard enough. It has always been hard enough. It has always been deliberately designed to be hard for us.

I mean I did it, though I had to put it off until the next day. I am capable of doing it, I know. But it's already hard enough just as it is.


Rosa said...

I wonder, if you ask around officialdom, if there's not a variance or sliding cost program for people dealing with hoards. Someone in the planning/zoning department at city hall, or a caseworker at your father's nursing home both might be good leads. You're not alone in having this problem, and the last thing the township wants is an abandoned hoard home.

I've had good luck, in dealing with other people's abandoned cats and other people's dumped trash, in finding little bits of help here and there - never enough to offset the extra work completely, but a little ease in the rules when after I talked to the people in charge about how exactly I came to be needing help cleaning up someone else's mess.

Thalia said...

I asked my mother the other day about how the old monthly trash fee compared to what it cost for the bags now. She said we had been paying about $2 a week for the fee. We probably put out 3 bags a week on average (that's just the household stuff, too, and does not included the hoard-cleaning), so that's like $4.50 or so. She also said that she found out after the fact that she had been getting an 'unofficial' discount in the weekly fees. So, someone in the town knows and is willing to cut us some slack.

So thank you, Rosa; that's definitely worth pursuing.

Dave said...

Are there no services that will drop off a dumpster and let you fill it to the brim and then take it away? What do they do at demolition sites? Or when people die and nobody is around to clean out there house?

There has to be a more efficient way to do what you're doing!

Anonymous said...

When I look at the complexity of recycling and garbage disposal rules these days, I sometimes think they're written by people with some type of obsessive-compulsive disorder, who've finally discovered a way to enforce their compulsions on the rest of the public.

Sean said...

Derrick Jensen is a favorite of mine too!!! My home's innards are no pretty site these days (prepping for end of days working up a sleep deficit for every weekend), but clearly "getting rid" of stuff has been a challenge in these parts for some time. Digging around my yard (permaculture stufff), I unearthed a few buried bags of garbage; a whole record collection in one. Maybe they were just forgotten decades ago, but it's also been a challenge going around my yard with a metal detector. It's like the whole yard has bits of metal everywhere. So far, only one tree was killed by planting it, and the chickens seem fine.

Very proud of you two from afar....