Wednesday, September 1, 2010


My father's hoarding was not of course merely confined to the yard. Sure, the yard is probably the worst (as hoarded junk cars sure do take up a lot of space); but that doesn't mean the house itself escaped, oh ho no. It was all his to fill up, by rights, after all. The rest of us didn't have any right to the space at all, in his personality-disordered brain. Any room we claimed we had to fight for.

He's not here now, and hasn't been here for more than four years; still, though we've made plenty of progress cleaning up inside the house, there are still things that either slip under the radar (because we are just so used to looking at them) or things we just haven't had the energy (emotional, mental, or physical) to deal with. This is one of those things.

Now, I am not myself a hoarder, though neither am I a neat freak (oh no not by any stretch of the imagination! Honestly, my tastes run to detail, color, and richness of a Victorian sort); but here's a problem I'm not sure how to solve. Or not sure, anyway, which to choose among the many options available.

This is the problem:

As you can see, it's that favorite magazine of hoarders, the one so seductively laid out with articles of genuine value and unique information, usually with stunning pictures to go along with it, the magazine so worthy of saving that even non-hoarders hoard the damned things: the infamous National Geographic.

I think part of its allure is that it didn't used to be available on the newsstand; back in the day you could only get it through subscription. This, I think, has added to its mystique, or its exclusivity, or the feeling that these magazines (and by extension, you, the subscriber) are special. And, I guess, part of my confusion over what to do with them is in large part due to this special mystique. They aren't just any magazines.

But. That's a lot of them, pretty pictures or no (the cases alone hold a good nine years worth!); but I don't know what to do with them, and this worries me a bit. Has my natural, Gods-given, inborn, birthright ability to throw things away been so crippled by living with a hoarder for several decades that I can't even face it? Can I be fixed? I don't know. Because when I look at them, my mouth hangs open and my eyes glaze over.

Pull yourself together, woman! (Insert movie slap-across-the-face to snap me out of it here!)

All right. Let's try to define down some options. I could:

1. Keep them all and leave them just where they are (that's three separate stashes, two in the living room, and one the piano room); this is the option of denial. Easy, and seductive, and oh-so-familiar.

2. I could sort through them and figure out which ones are duplicates, then just keep one set (rather a long process that I'm not sure I have the patience for), after which I could:
2a. Throw the extras out (satisfying, but guilt-inducing)
2b. Donate the things to Goodwill (nice, but kind of a pain in the ass, and all it does is enable some other hoarder)
2c. Let Tara pick through them and see if she's got any gaps in her collection she'd like to fill (sounds nice but it'll take her a while to get to it and I want a solution NOW)
2d. Keep the extras and use for collage (which sounds like finding a use for them; however, do I really want them? And, isn't it sacrilege to cut them up?)

3. Or I could burn them burn burn burn!! them all! ALL!!! Mwwahahahahaha!!!

(You will note I have never claimed I wasn't crazy myself.)

I just don't know what to do. What is reasonable, and what is hoarding? I don't honestly know what that looks like. Any ideas?


Michele said...

You could donate them all to a local elementary school for use in kid's project or whatever else.

If that's too problematic, burn them. There's no National Geographic god out there ready to come after you for disposing of them this way. Just the goddess of sweet relief.

Love the blog. You are both amazing.

Dariane said...

I'm also cleaning out my hoarding parents' house that both of them still live in and I often come across items that I don't know what to do with too. I can see the dilemma with the National Geographics.

I say, Yess! Burn them alllllll!!

Actually, while my parents didn't collect NGs, I used to subscribe to them as a kid. I've thrown away all the ones I've come across.

I guess you can look up which ones are rare (like the "Eyes" cover) and keep those, but that may be too much of a hassle. :\

Thalia said...

There's no National Geographic god out there ready to come after you for disposing of them this way. Just the goddess of sweet relief.

Bless you so very much Michele.

Dariane, I don't know how anyone can clean out a hoarder's house with the hoarder still in it. Just reading about other people's experiences with it makes me feel enraged, frustrated, and hopeless, and that's just from the memories it brings up, not the way reality is now. So, bless you too. :)

Mr. Shiny and New said...

I recently went through a similar situation when I moved out of my condo and into a house. For years I had been storing every magazine I ever bought. They were all organized by title and date. I fretted and fussed over their storage and I berated myself whenever an issue was damaged or lost.
But because I lived in a condo I had nowhere to put them so they were all in boxes. I kept them thinking "One day, I'll put them on bookcases. Then it will be awesome." The reality is that no normal house is meant to have a bookcase full of old magazines. Not even the IEEE magazines (which, like National Geographic, are only by subscription and ridiculously expensive).

My solution: put them all in the recycling bin.

It was hard to break with my old habits but the truth was they were just taking up space. I came to terms with the fact that I was never going to go back and read them and anything in them was either A) out of date or B) on the Internet. I still feel a bit sad about it when I think of it, but that's just silly. Those old magazines have no real value to me, just sentimental value. And I was not a serious collector... I just couldn't throw them away.

Therefore I recommend the same for your National Geographics. If you can't easily find someone who wants the whole stash, recycle them. Maybe burn one as a sacrificial offering but not the whole stash, it's bad for the environment. :)

Anonymous said...

My hoarding mom's NG collection dates back to the late 50's, so you can imagine how much space they occupy in her home. The fact that all back issues can be accessed one way or the other on computer (disc sets or on-line)makes them excellent candidates for permanent disposal, I believe. I recommended to my mother that she recycle them since her municipality has an excellent "red box" program and all she has to do is put them out at the end of her driveway in batches very two weeks -- and, presto! gone!. Of course, she has not acted on this advice since we all know that hoarders cannot bear the thought of disposing of anything. I suspected that she would do nothing, anyway, since her NG's have their own special shelf-shrine dedicated to their eternal existence in her home.

Thalia said...

Argh, I ran into a snag, one that I probably should have foreseen: my mother. Because when I asked her what to do with them she was all, Oh no! You can't get rid of them! How could you do that! They're not a problem! And then, all indignant and offended, You should read them! They're really good!

She's not the hoarder, but she does live here too, so, hmmm.

Michele said...

Do you live with your mom? If not, go ahead and "read" them - as you visit her, take one or two at a time when you leave, to "read" later (you know, when you're not doing all the clearing out), and never bring them back.

If you do live with your mom, then just stick one or two at a time in your bag as you run errands, and never bring them home.

Or you could plant some bugs (if they're not already there) in between some pages, to show the necessity in getting rid of them.

Does your MOM read them?

Just an aside here...My adult son was visiting recently, helping me go through years of stuff (outgrown kid's clothes, kid's games, odds and ends, etc). He told me that as he went through the basement, whenever he came across his dad's stuff that was not in perfect condition, but which served no purpose other than taking up space, he "broke" it so it would HAVE to be thrown out.

Just a thought...

Thalia said...

Oh yeah we used to break things on the sly. My dad would still save them, though, or pick them out of the trash even though they were broken.

I do live with my mother; she's 83. I think what I'm going to do is at least go through them and weed out the duplicates to donate or throw away.

Anonymous said...

If you have a particular interest in a certain event or year I'd save a few containing that event or time period, and pitch the rest.

copious_amounts said...

Before I actually READ the post and your line about NG being the favourite magazine of hoarders, I saw the pictures. And I thought to myself "WTF IS IT with hoarders and National Geographic???" Seriously. I doubt anyone even had to read the articles or cutlines to know what those horrid yellow things are.
I say toss them in the recycling if that's most convenient. But a bonfire would be much, much more fun, so my vote's for that if you want to see them burn.

copious_amounts said...

Just a P.S on my enthusiasm for burning them: my hoarder mother and father always had wood stoves in their houses. Wood stoves, in their dysfunctional minds, were good for both heating (who needs a furnace in the middle of winter?!?! Even if your kids are freezing...) and for hoarding stuff on top of in the warmer months.
Anyway, I figured out pretty young that if there was something that I wanted to actually throw out (and not have picked out of the garbage by my mother later on,) I could either take it to the park across the street or to school with me and throw it out there OR THROW IT IN THE WOOD STOVE.

Zhu said...

You are so right, Nation Geographic are hard to throw away!

We used to have a small Internet Café with travel books and one time, one of our customer brought us a huge pile of National Geographic. Looking back, it was a poisoned gift... when we closed the business, we just didn't know what to do with them. I bet we still have them in the basement!

Tonia said...

If you have Craigslist, list them under "Free Stuff." I've gotten rid of a lot of magazines that way.

Or Freecycle them.

I don't know why people want things, but I've always had people show up to take magazines away when I've listed them.

(Of course, this has to be okay with your mom. Maybe if she knows that they're going to someone who will use them and wants them.)

Confessions of a Closet Hoarder but you can call me Judy said...

Around here, the thrift stores won't accept donations of NG magazines. I know. I tried donating ours. LOL

Several years ago, someone gave us over 40 years' worth of them, and we went out and bought a book case on which to store them. Our oldest used a few of them, but I realized that they were not a good thing for us, so I put them up on Freecycle or Craigslist. A homeschooling family picked them up. I was very thankful that I was able to let them go so easily.

You are both amazing me with all you've done!

Violet Hour Muse said...

National Geographics = rich source of images for SoulCollage.

Thalia said...

Too bad! They're gone now! Gone gone gone!!!

I tried Soul Collage (I have the book, even), but I didn't like the collage part. The images were too much someone else's and not mine.

Anonymous said...

Freecycle and craigslist are your friends. Please don't bother to feel bad about adding to someone else's hoarding problem. You have your hands full already and are doing an amazing job. Your blog is like the best of therapy for me - I am still reading through the archives.
I was raised on these sentiments: "hang on to that, it'll be worth something someday", "hang on to that, you will want it when you are older", "hang on to that, it might be useful".
My upbringing + eBay led to a house through which I could barely navigate at the age of 30 and it felt TOTALLY NORMAL. I am still working through it - sold my childhood Cabbage Patch Kids on eBay this month. Turns out they totally were "worth something" $20 each and a lot of guilt for sending my childhood friends away. Mental illness is FUN. Good luck to you. Sharing this experience is very generous of you.