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Thursday
Mar272008

Foolishness & Mayhem

Somehow, I got addicted to Clean House on the Style network.

The show goes to houses owned by “Clutter Bugs” and cleans them out… making them low-budget showpieces with the money they make from the yard sale of many of their belongings. (The show matches the money made at the yard sale up to $1000. Plus, they paint and organize for free. They often “gift” the people who struggle with parting from their belongings.

Good god, do these people know what they look like on tv? Do they realize how deep their illness is? Many times, the homeowners and family members are downright compulsive hoarders, not clutter bugs.

The definition of a compulsive hoarder:

Compulsive hoarding (or pathological hoarding) is extreme hoarding behavior in humans. It involves the collection and/or failure to discard large numbers of objects even when their storage causes significant clutter and impairment to basic living activities such as moving around the house, cooking, cleaning, showering or sleeping.

Do they know how foolish they look keeping so much CRAP in their houses? Do they look at the tv show and think, “Egads, I am one sick puppy!” I have never heard so many adults whine over the smallest, ugliest, oldest things ever! They cling to tattered tee shirts, high school underwear, broken tools, baby toys when there’re no kids in the house… and the SHOES! My god, how can people have so many shoes?!

One woman “only” had 100 pairs of shoes. She was much better than her mom who had 300 pairs! She said her 8-year old daughter didn’t have her shoe fetish; she only owned 45 pairs.

People bring Clean House into their homes and then cry over their wanting to sell off their broken, old, collectible or multiple items. And I mean cry!

The show is campy as heck and some of the situations seem quite contrived, but in watching their outtakes, they aren’t as fake as I originally thought!

Parts of the show are sad, sad, sad because people cling to their dead loved ones’ belongings. Does that make their loved one proud? That after they die, their family members turn to pigs? Wouldn’t that loved one be happier if they got rid of the trash, old clothes… THINGS… and gave them to people who could benefit from the things? I’ve played out what I would do if my kids were gone… or Sarah. And I know I would keep some things as memories, but they would all be pissed at me if I stopped my life and never moved beyond the moment of their deaths. I kept several pieces of the kids' clothes from when they were little, but I wanted to make a quilt out of them. Meggie took the box home on the last trip here, saying she would get the quilt made.

I’m sure that at least part of the issue of not letting go of loved ones that have passed or are gone in our lives (including ex'es) comes from our society not teaching the skills of the mourning process. Dying is more hidden than birth used to be before television invaded the space. (It was surely seen as more normal and typical when we lived in tribes and saw birth and death as a regular part of the cycle of life. We don’t have that anymore.)

There’s nothing worse than an ex-smoker.

I used to “collect” (cough cough) books. I bought new and used books like I was stocking a library. I collected cookbooks – loving old cookbooks! I collected birth books and kids’ books. I have a phenomenal collection of vintage lesbian books (from the 60’s and 70’s) that were given to me by another bibliophile. I couldn’t get rid of books for anything. And then, when I had over 3000, my house was a hot mess and it was time to start purging. I could only let them go if I found them good homes; used bookstores were not an option. Once I started giving them away, I began to feel less clingy. Over the years, I have hoarded, then purged thousands of books. I am in a purging place.

I gave away all but the oldest midwifery/nursing texts to a bibliophile former client who wants to be a midwife in the distant future, took the vintage cookbooks to the used bookstore where the owners drooled over the books. I knew they would be well-loved. My son-out-law is going to sell the dyke books on eBay for me.

And then there’s Disney.

When I gathered all my own Disney paraphernalia (memorabilia!) together, it filled a large plastic box thingie. Hopefully, it’s being sold on eBay as we speak. Dozens of pins and buttons, watches… do I have watches! I have 6 for sale and at least 10 more that I wore within an inch of their lives. While that certainly isn’t a huge collection, how many watches does one wrist need?

I also have a pretty big collection of earrings, though I’ve given some to Aimee. I also purge those now, whereas I used to keep every pair, no matter what they looked like or if they’d lost their match. Why? I don’t know.

One of the things hoarders seem to say a lot is, “I want to keep it in case I need it in the future,” but it seems many are also compulsive shoppers and could buy what they need when they need it! One girl kept every piece of homework she’d had since junior high. She was in college! She said she might need those papers she wrote, use the references. But, for goodness sake, there’s the Internet! It isn’t like we have to schlep to the library anymore; at least for most mundane papers.

There are hoarders in my life. Family members have family members whose houses are so filled with eBay items they can’t even pee without moving the tv off the toilet. That is just so sad. Mostly because they can’t even see anything wrong with it.

I wonder if hoarding is a throw-back to an earlier time when it was imperative to grab and keep food for our survival. Instead of hoarding food, “things” get hoarded… in case it’s an empty winter.

As I continue purging things from my life, I find deeper and deeper thoughts and activities to spend my time and energy on. When I see a beautiful Disney watch I’d like, I put it on, but take it right off and hand it back to the salesperson. If I want something in a store, I’ll sometimes carry it around during the whole shopping trip and then give it to the checker as something to put back. By the time I’ve gotten to the cash register, I am done wanting it.

I go to Barnes & Noble and read books now that I want. Or I read the synopsis on the Net and decide then if I want to own it. I should go to the library more.

I think once I’m done watching all the episodes of Clean House, I will have abandoned the voyeuristic, judgmental part of why I watch. And then I can move on to another show.

I wonder what it will be?

Reader Comments (14)

years before i was ever born my parents were poor. not dirt poor, they could buy beans and they lived in a fifth wheel in a campground.\

they had just moved to texas from colorado, my dad hoping to become a pastor. somehow his application was "lost" by the college and they were stuck. they were struggling until he finally became trained and certified as a paramedic. he's been one now for the last 27 years.

my point in mentioning this is because my parents are serious pack rats. I think there may be a correlation from going from having nothing.. and now not wanting to throw anything away because it may have future value.

kind of like how homeless people hoard things away in a shopping cart and carry it around with them.

they've contained their "pack rattiness" to two rooms, but still. it's bad.

March 27, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermommymichael

Hoarding is a really sad illness. My friend's parents are major hoarders. Well, it's her dad really, and her mom has given up trying to get rid of the crap. I really worry about my friend having to deal with the STUFF when her parents die since she is an only child.

Watching those shows usually leads me to purging my closets, and after discovering I once owned 40 pairs of shows I got rid of half them. Now if I want to buy a new pair I have to get rid of an old pair.

March 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

One of my favorite shows for a while was Clean Sweep, which is a similar show. I love Peter Walsh because he actually tries to get to the root cause of the "hoarding," but I often wonder, what are these homes going to look like a year from now? Is all this purging really going to change these people?
I know I have issues with holding on to things, but I can say with a sarcastically judgmental air that I am NOT like those people they put on these shows! At least not anymore!

I also recently read an article that said that people who hoard are often very overweight or vice versa--and that the two can be connected in some strange way. Hoarding really is a psychological disease, and it kind of makes me sad how the tv shows don't really address THAT issue. Or they make it a side show.

March 27, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbetweenbabies

My mom is a compulsive hoarder. She will keep anything (including wrappers, newspapers etc) because she "needs" them now or later. She sees a psychiatrist but it's a disorder just like any other. When feeling judgmental, please think about how much it must suck to live like that.

March 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I used to hoard plants. I still hoard books. But in the course of my misspent life, I moved around a lot, and eventually had to decide that it was just too much bother to collect so much stuff. I hope that when I finally settle down, I can keep up the austerity.

March 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBeach Bum

I could write a novel...oh my! I have someone in my life who goes so far beyond hoarding, I'm not even sure what to call it. Sad doesn't begin to describe it. Tragic, perhaps. And yes, she is also overweight. She acknowledges the weight problem (ironically, she's a nurse), but will actually say out loud, "I shouldn't be eating this," as she stuffs the last bite of chocolate cake in her mouth. And she's allergic to chocolate / caffeine to boot!

But the hoarding, oh the hoarding! I once tried to help clean a targeted area in her house - the kitchen and dining area. I found old coupons that had expired 3 years - 3 YEARS!! - prior. When I tried to recycle them, she insisted upon looking at each one to make sure she didn't "need" it. I felt so helpless!

I could go on and on recounting how I've watched her piles grow and grow over the years. For a while, there was at least a pathway to walk through the house, but eventually there were entire rooms you couldn't get to.

After 20 years of living in the same house, she recently moved. The idea was that she could purge all the "stuff" before the movers came. Well, what actually happened is that the movers ended up packing 415 boxes. That's not a typo. *415* boxes!!!

It was many years ago that I realized what a horrible illness she is struck with. It absolutely breaks my heart. I've thought over and over of ways to try to help. I want to stage an intervention, kick her out of her own house for a week, and go through everything for her. But I just don't know where to start, truly.

I too have watched Clean Sweep, and thought how sad it is for people to be in that place. And I have wanted so much for one of those shows to chance going back a year later to see the state of the houses they worked so hard to clean.

It truly is a sickness. It's nothing to laugh at. I suppose all that's left is to pray.

March 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSDCulinarian

Clean House *does* go back a year later and so far, I have just seen clean houses in the shows. They look a tad contrived since the whole family answers the door at the same time and I don't know anyone who ever does that... and they are always dressed. When I was a stay-at-home mom with little kids, I lived in pj-looking sweats and extra-huge shirts to hide the rolls and fat. Not something I'd want to be seen in on tv.

But, they really do look like they have kept the places clean even a year later. And Niecy gives them a huge gift if their house IS clean.

But, we've cleaned houses (and cars) for friends and family and within months, the places are just as bad as they were when we started.

Once, in Orlando, when someone was in an accident, we had to go pick them up and since the car was totaled, we had to get everything out of the car. We FILLED *8* huge lawn garbage bags with trash, clothes with tags on them, CASES of alcohol in the trunk and receipts like nobody's business.

I can *sort* of understand how people would/could hide their filth in their homes, but people can see IN your car, for goodness sake! I used to park next to this one car at school and I just shook my head in disgust every time I looked inside the poor vehicle. Don't people SEE what their car looks like?

And I have a LOT of crap in my car, but I clean out the garbage at every gas stop... and baby wipe it down before I get back in the car. Even the carpet. When I bring anyone other than myself and a front passenger, I have to move something to the far back area. I carry my LIFE in that car, along with all the birth equipment that takes up most of the room.

I have clothes, shoes, scrubs, extra food, vitamins and more in the car. And I've down-sized!

CLEAN YOUR CARS OUT! I might have to sit in it tomorrow. *laughingwink*

And I do understand the sadness and DO feel sorry for people who are afflicted with this issue. But, I can't help but wonder if those around them were less tolerant of the mess, they might snap awake to their disease.

One can hope anyway.

March 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Navelgazer, I've wanted so badly to confront this person, and to help. But I've always been afraid it would be at the expense of the relationship - and that is an unacceptable outcome b/c of how we're related. Advice??

March 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSDCulinarian

"There's this show that comes and cleans your house for you... would you be interested in my nominating you?"

"I am so concerned about the health of your children/you living in this much STUFF. For awhile, you seemed to have a handle on it, but lately, it just seems it might have taken on a life of its own!"

"I watched a show on compulsive hoarding and I think you might be experiencing that issue. Have you thought about maybe getting help? It really is not healthy living like this - emotionally or physically."

"You know I love you, right? I am just so concerned about your hoarding so much stuff. It seems to be getting worse and worse... where will it end?"

"What happens if you die? Who's going to clean this place up for you? Are there things in here you don't want someone you love to see?"

"You do understand that people don't live like this, right?"

"It is painful for me to come over here and see you living like this. I don't want to stop coming over - I love you so much - but I am really afraid for my health when I am here. And I am terrified for yours!"

"Sweetie, you need help. Bad."

In reading more and more about hoarding, it is a type of OCD, but medication doesn't seem to help because the compulsion and actions are relieved constantly because of their surroundings being how they created them. With something like handwashing or checking the stove, the distress comes over and over and is difficult to resolve if the person isn't able to perform the actions. Medication helps that type of OCD.

Instead, the hoarder HAS to be motivated to change. Therapy seems to be THE way to change the behaviors, but since most hoarders see nothing wrong with how they live, it's really hard to get them help.

I encourage reading about compulsive hoarding. It was enlightening to me!

The more I learn, the more I see Clean House as observing OCD in action... and that is, indeed, sad. I still hope that people who see themselves will find help. It is so unhealthy to live that way. One study found 81% of hoarders live in unhealthy houses.

I fear for the kids in these homes, mostly. Health-wise and because hoarding seems to run in families. If SOMEONE gets help, then they all have hope.

And, it seems one way to get hoarders to "wake up" is to ask them if they want their kids to live this way, too. Do they want them to grow up and have the same issue? From what I've read and seen, the answer is a resounding, "NO!"

You are so loving that you want to help. It IS distressing to see those we love living this way. It's much like watching an alcoholic kill themselves with alcohol. What do you say that isn't going to make them want to do the behavior even more?

It is a fine line - and I am certainly not perfect at addressing it either... but sometimes, we might have to be brave and say something. I'll try if you try!

March 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Excellent post. So many of us are drowning in the chaos of our posessions and clutter and it just sucks the joy right out of life. I'm constantly fighting cluttter, and one thing I did was to I get a library card for the first time since I was 10 years old (I'm 38.) I adore books, but I long ago exceeded the capacity of the two bookshelves in my house and it got to the point where the books I bought were burdens to be gotten rid of after they were read, rather than cherished posessions. Now, I love perusing the library's website and ordering books I want to read (to be sent to my local branch to pick up.) I know that after I read them, all I have to do is drop them off and they will be available for someone else to read. I still love Barnes & Noble, but there is something so wonderful about a good old fashioned library book that others have read before you, and others will read after you.

March 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

You totally stole my post! What I mean is that I too have been addicted to Clean House and have had the same thoughts you wrote about and kept thinking "I should write a post about that show!"

Have you seen the show where they cleaned the "Messiest House in America"? Holy Smokes! I think those people truly were in need of help and counseling. They threw away 9 dumpsters of TRASH and broken things. It was so sad and horrible to watch.

But, I have to give props to Niecy. I think when she goes to have her little chat with folks that she does a good job getting to some of the issues. I often wonder how the clean up crew does it week after week. Perhaps they are full of compassion. Which they should be.

The show inspires me to clean up my own house and to pass on things I don't use. It feels good to let go of the things I don't need.

I often find myself reflecting on the verses in the Bible that say "Life does not exist in the abundance of things" and "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven". It has been good for my own soul to watch that show in a lot of ways.

I try not to be judgemental as I watch the show because I too am sometimes reluctant to let go of things and realize that I could just as easily end up like that!

March 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteramelia

I have watched that one show and it was so, so sad, my heart breaks for people so addicted to their things as they are. I also saw the back story and saw that they called the charity truck the next day and asked that their trash be brought back to the house. And they had over *250* HUGE bins of things stored that they wouldn't get rid of. The back story also said they had a HUGE rat problem in the house, too. That is so, so sick (all three of them!) that they really are in major need of medication and help.

I like seeing the back story (on the "Clean House Comes Clean" shows), but I so so so want to know what people think when they see themselves on tv. Do they see themselves like us? Or like they are still inside their delusions.

Just so painful to watch sometimes.

I also wonder if people have had this for eons or is it just since the Depression. It's so bizarre being able to see into people's lives with television now.

March 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

I just caught the end of the Clean House Comes Clean on that show and I missed the rat problem. That is so gross!

I wonder too what people think when they see themselves on tv. Did you see the one where they went to Niecy's mom's house?! That was interesting because Niecy had a bunch of stuff from high school and young adulthood stored there and she had a hard time getting rid of it and found herself saying some of the same thing others way when they are on the show!

My husband's grandmother lives with a woman who is a hoarder. Thankfully she only keeps it contained in a few rooms in the house but it has been a big topic of conversation amongst the family because we all worry about the health issues that can come with hoarding.

March 31, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteramelia

I'm not a hoarder to the extreme that these people are, but I do have a hard time letting go of things. I know that it comes from my time as a foster kid, having grown up with all my worldly belongings in a suitcase. "Home" to me now is represented by STUFF and a full refrigerator/pantry. (I moved back to CA from KS last Summer; I had to sell about 90% of my belongings to do so, and had panic attacks almost daily because of it. What if I was never able to replace them? What if we never had "home" again?) Even all these years removed from my upbringing, it's HARD to get past. I'm not so quick to be harsh with people who have hoarding issues, because I know that my own issues could quickly get out of control if I wasn't careful about it.

April 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterShylah

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