lLet's take a tour of our house...
February 8, 2004 12:18 PM   Subscribe

"My mother is insane. Like, one of those ladies-you-see-on-the-local-news insane. Since it's inevitably going to come up I'll get out of the way that I am too, but at least I take a full dose of my medication... Anyway, let's take a tour of our house."
posted by tranquileye (74 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you have the time read through the entire thread the author "Knormal" answers questions, scan for the snake head image is easiest. Really a great thread.
posted by stbalbach at 12:23 PM on February 8, 2004

Magnificent. I mean, I'm decorating my house at the moment, there's stuff everywhere, but oh my god, not even 1% as bad as that.

posted by BigCalm at 12:25 PM on February 8, 2004

Hmm. Looks like my sister's shack.
posted by adamgreenfield at 12:42 PM on February 8, 2004

Oh my lords. I just have no words for how strange that is. How do the neighbors not notice?
posted by FunkyHelix at 12:57 PM on February 8, 2004

I knew someone with this problem. Really scary.
posted by Tholian at 1:05 PM on February 8, 2004

His mom obviously suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. And, as with many OCDers, she doesn't think anything's wrong.

Mocking or nagging by her son or other family members isn't going to change anything. In her mind she's justified for her actions....buying stuff from Ebay-surely she'll be able to sell it for more, as soon as she gets around to it. Saving junk mail and magazines-can't let the prisoners get her address. It all makes sense to her. It will take some sort of catastophic event, like the paramedics having to get inside to save someone, to instigate any sort of change.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:08 PM on February 8, 2004

sweet mother of pearl, i started having trouble breathing about half way thru' those photos. that poor kid, i hope he moves into his grandma's and gets laid soon (something he thinks will never happen).
posted by t r a c y at 1:14 PM on February 8, 2004

Wow. The pile of boxes and junk in my apartment that have been there for 4 months don't seem at all bad. I can still count them.
posted by Foosnark at 1:24 PM on February 8, 2004

What gets me is how the bookshelves are immaculately organized. While the woman's house is a diorganized warehouse of boxes, the bookshelves are very neat, with the books and knick-knacks lined up quite nicely. By contrast, my shelves are a jumble of books that I've collected over the year with a vague sort of order by subject, but no comparable neatness.
posted by deanc at 1:26 PM on February 8, 2004

When I was about ten, a friend of mine from school went on a two-week vacation and asked me to cover his paper route for him. When they returned from vacation I went to his house to collect my money, and these pictures are just about what the inside of his house looked like.

Being ten and having no sense of propriety, I immediately piped up with something along the lines of "Holy crap, what's with the mess?"

He insisted it was perfectly normal, as his family only cleaned up once a year.

The smell of the five-foot-high stack of unwashed dishes still haunts my dreams.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:26 PM on February 8, 2004

I was actually struck by how clean it looked - I mean, it's not like there were dirty dishes or garbage or animal leavings all over the place... It's just a lot of boxes (OK, a lot of boxes). Doesn't really make it any more livable for the kid, but still, I guess it could be worse.
posted by JollyWanker at 1:32 PM on February 8, 2004

My best friend's mother's house is exactly like this. When my friend got married and moved out, her mother gave her an old 7-piece bedroom set that my friend didn't even know they owned, that had always sat *in the middle of the living room*. It was just hiding beneath all the other boxes. Strange stuff.
posted by gatorae at 1:37 PM on February 8, 2004

A++++++, would read this thread again.

posted by angry modem at 1:42 PM on February 8, 2004

How did these people break into my mother in laws house?
posted by AVandalay at 1:44 PM on February 8, 2004

I don't feel so bad anymore about my collection of Rubbermaid bins (in like twelve different colors). Though I, like this guy's mom, sleep in the living room.
posted by beth at 1:45 PM on February 8, 2004

Am I the only one experiencing this strong, sudden urge to throw out stuff?
posted by oneiros at 1:55 PM on February 8, 2004

Am I the only one experiencing this strong, sudden urge to throw out stuff?

I've been meaning to clean the apartment today, and this just made me decide to do it, for sure. So, no, you're not.
posted by angry modem at 1:57 PM on February 8, 2004

DAMMIT! Now I know who has been sniping me on Ebay!!
posted by crunchland at 2:00 PM on February 8, 2004

I used to work with this guy who was pushing 50 and still lived at home with his crazy mother. She never got rid of anything; lived in the same house for 60 years or so. She had 5 washing machines in the basement, years-past christmas trees piled in the back yard in various states of rot, it was unbelievable.

The most fascinating thing was the location of their house. They lived on a block that GO Transit (large bus/train company in Canada) wanted to put a station on. So GO bought all the houses to turn into a station and parking lot. However, the woman wouldn't sell. So they bought every other house and then put a giant fence around everything except their property. It's the most bizarre looking place.
posted by dobbs at 2:18 PM on February 8, 2004

Jesus. Kill it with fire.

The thread makes for amusing reading as well.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:21 PM on February 8, 2004

My favorite remark -- not!:

"No way, I think you just kept using the same Xerox, HP, and American Express boxes over and over again. Granted it was a good hoax (I mean really, the fridge was excellent) but too many repeated boxes.

"However, if I am indeed talking out of my ass and your mom really is batshit crazy, then by all means shoot her in the head."

Gotta love the 'Net.
posted by alumshubby at 2:21 PM on February 8, 2004

*colorful expletive* I guess he couldn't try to slowly slowly sell or dispose of some of that stuff ? Does her mother actually remember where is what and what she does have ?

Found this detailed related article on OCD and collecting stuff

On preview: alumshubby: then by all means shoot her in the head ..guess he's a Social Darwinist or just a freak. Gotta love the net indeed.
posted by elpapacito at 2:51 PM on February 8, 2004

I cleaned my spare room yesterday... and I was really ashamed of the mess in there (and, yes, the stack of never-looked-at Ebay stuff). Now, I feel positively normal. Hey, I wonder if this lady will end up with some of the spare-room stuff I'll be selling? Sometimes Ebay is a creepy place.
posted by vorfeed at 2:54 PM on February 8, 2004

How can you not look at ebay stuff? Don't you want to confirm that what you received is what you ordered? And that it arrived intact? /boggle
posted by rushmc at 3:10 PM on February 8, 2004

Mental diseases are the white males of the medical world: it still safe to mock them. Similarly unfair, counterproductive and dumb.
posted by squirrel at 5:39 PM on February 8, 2004

I got sick of reading the SA forums, come here and the first link I click on sends me back. Aaaaaaah!
posted by ODiV at 5:45 PM on February 8, 2004

I knew a woman in her thirties who was well on her way to this state of affairs.

She hit the stores a minimum of five days a week. She had a regular cycle of stores she would work through. She wouldn't visit just one Target, oh no; she had to visit every Target in the county, because there might be one that carried an item the others didn't have.

All vacations and trips to the movies or the theatre were planned around shopping.

She kept everything that she bought. Forever. To suggest that she part with anything provoked an anxiety attack, because someday she might need the item, and who knew if she'd ever find another one like it?

Boxes and boxes of candles, miscellaneous hardware, "collectible" figurines, sets of plates and flatware, partially used cans of paint, swatches of cloth and other materials were stored, unused and largely inaccessible in crates that filled her garage and "utility" room from floor to ceiling. Her refrigerator, freezer and kitchen cabinets were crammed with foods that she didn't like and would never eat, purchased simply because they were on sale.

Weirdly, her mother was exactly the same way. Was it genetic? Was it a behavior learned at mother's knee? Who knows? And how do you lead someone out of a madness that she cannot and will not acknowledge?
posted by SPrintF at 5:47 PM on February 8, 2004

Andy Warhol's 610 sealed boxes :

"Intrigued by American commercial culture, Warhol was an avid collector of all things. His collections were sometimes grandiose, other times small, often lewd, and in general, mind-boggling. Some say he even collected people, in the way that he painted, photographed and videotaped certain individuals, as if their personalities, not the film or the canvases, were his medium. In 1974, the artist began boxing his collections and labeling them as time capsules. Material dates from the 1950s to the time of his death in February 1987, at 58, of a heart attack following gall bladder surgery. Warhol's handwriting, in black ink marker, can be seen on the exterior of some of the cardboard boxes. As the collection grew, Warhol kept empty boxes close to his desk in which to deposit material. [As of 2000,] only about 100 of the boxes have been opened so far, and the diversity of items found inside them sheds light on the Warhol's eclectic tastes. Party invitations, unopened mail, art gallery advertisements, newspaper clippings, a slice of pizza, even a mummified foot, have been uncovered."
posted by crunchland at 5:52 PM on February 8, 2004

Am I the only one experiencing this strong, sudden urge to throw out stuff?

Oh yeah. I'm a packrat, I admit it...but that kinda spooked me...must simplify...must simplify!
posted by dejah420 at 6:21 PM on February 8, 2004

I'm no shrink, and I agree that this is certainly OCD, but doesn't the "convicts stealing my identity"-thingy suggest a hint of paranoid schizophrenia?

Are the two diseases related?

And I can't help but suspect that this is an elaborate trick to force her adult son to move out.
posted by spazzm at 6:43 PM on February 8, 2004

From the comments I gather that her parents and grandparents had the same disorder, so I guess they are test subjects for an improved american consumer gene.
posted by spazzm at 6:53 PM on February 8, 2004

What squirrel said. This is sad.
posted by stonerose at 6:53 PM on February 8, 2004

I am terrified of ending up like this, because it seems that my whole family has the inability to get rid of anything "just in case it comes in handy one day". As a result, anything at my place that is not in current use (current use = used within the past couple of weeks) is at a high risk of getting thrown out. Sure, I throw out some things that, in fact, would have come in handy later, but the alternative to having to re-buy something that only costs a couple of dollars in unbearable. Still, this kid could be doing something a bit more constructive to help his mother than mocking her on the Internet. Can you say "respect"?
posted by dg at 6:57 PM on February 8, 2004

Can you say "respect"?

Maybe one can get that on a prescription, too.
posted by spazzm at 7:08 PM on February 8, 2004

dg - what can he do, really?

Call the firemarshall and somehow have her declared insane and institutionalized? She probably needs it, but I'm not sure if it's really possible for him to do that. She's still her own solvent person, and she's obviously not going to go to a therapist because, as a crazy person, she doesn't think she's crazy.

So what is he supposed to do?
posted by kavasa at 7:10 PM on February 8, 2004

My bedroom looks a little like those pics. I'm sure, given another decade or so, it will end up looking very much like that. I'm always pretty embarrassed about it, and I've tried many times to clean it up. But these photos definitely made me want to go in there with a few dozen trash bags and just empty the whole place out. Tomorrow.
posted by elf_baby at 7:12 PM on February 8, 2004

Oh yeah. I'm a packrat, I admit it...but that kinda spooked me...must simplify...must simplify!

You know, that is probably why seeing that thread was so disturbing to me. Both my wife and I are quite the packrats, so I can feel the dark seed within me that could lead to this. I would hope that long before it got anywhere near that level (like 1/100th) one of us would change things around.

As it is, we went through this massive purge not too long ago; anything that we hadn't used for a while, weren't about to use for a while, and in fact, had no reason for ever using again was thrown out/donated/sold. We ended up having to take two trips to the library to donate the mountains of books we were never going to read again. And there is still a lot of stuff around us that we feel must go.

So yes, that is a mantra which we both repeat to ourselves quite often. Must simplify, must simplify.
posted by oneiros at 7:12 PM on February 8, 2004

I remember this SA thread (yes, I drink and lurk around there once in a while, when I'm in the mood) when it first appeared a couple of years back.

Odd that it should emerge from the depths of goonland so much later...
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:16 PM on February 8, 2004

I have hoarded on a small scale regularly for my entire adult life. For the most part, it's just amusing--we will find little mini-stashes of stuff I've collected whenever we clean out closets or move and we always have a good laugh over it. It's always mundane things: ziploc bags (collected over two years), band-aids (6 mos), light bulbs (3 mos), batteries (?). The items are boring everyday necessity-type stuff and I usually forget having bought them, even if it was just last week. Then I put them away without noticing the previous purchases. So actually, I'm not sure if it really counts as hoarding.

I asked a shrink about it once, though. She asked why I stockpile this stuff. After thinking about it, I said "it makes me feel prepared." "For what?" she asked. "I don't know," I said.

... doesn't the "convicts stealing my identity"-thingy suggest a hint of paranoid schizophrenia?

Folks with OCD are sometimes plagued by irrational, sometimes paranoid thoughts.
posted by whatnot at 7:20 PM on February 8, 2004

mad consumer disease.
posted by quonsar at 7:35 PM on February 8, 2004

So what is he supposed to do?
Admittedly, it is a difficult situation to do anything that will result in any resolution to the problem. Posting pictures on the Internet and mocking his mother publicly is about as far from helping as you can get, though.
posted by dg at 7:41 PM on February 8, 2004

my mother is an OCD hoarder. she also has eight or ten cats to her tiny apartment. i feel terrible, but when i visit home i have to meet her outside because i just can't breathe in there.

it's a disease, and hopefully this kid will understand that and separate the behavior from the person.
posted by moonbird at 7:44 PM on February 8, 2004

The best cure for this disease is moving.
posted by stbalbach at 8:13 PM on February 8, 2004

My mom painted their front door purple and covered it with yellow magnetic pokadots... but suddenly I'm kinda thankful she's as normal as she is.
posted by KnitWit at 8:13 PM on February 8, 2004

Yikes! My bedroom is quite a sty, but it ALMOST pales in comparison. Still, that makes me want to purge a bunch of things, stat. At least I can sleep on my bed.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:11 PM on February 8, 2004

I dunno. His mom is never going to see that, and the posting might serve some therapeutic service for him. I don't see it as making anything worse, so hey, might as well.
posted by kavasa at 10:34 PM on February 8, 2004

Well, this certainly made the wife feel a whole hell of a lot better about our (mostly outgrown) apartment...
posted by Samizdata at 10:50 PM on February 8, 2004

How can you not look at ebay stuff? Don't you want to confirm that what you received is what you ordered? And that it arrived intact? /boggle

Well, not that kind of not-looked-at. More like the "opened, checked, and then dumped in the spare room, only to make me wonder two years later why I ever even bought it" kind of not-looked-at.
posted by vorfeed at 11:04 PM on February 8, 2004

unbelievable. the thread itself is an interesting read, especially his the kid's answers.

this has made me want to clean my room.

i have saved a bag or two of used batteries... maybe i should buy a charger for all of them. i think thats the only thing i have ever hoarded. that and fhm/maxim mags... but i gave the lot of them to my friend recently.

I would *NEVER* be able to buy something that I know I wont use. Especially on ebay... wow. The crazy world we live in.
posted by spidre at 12:41 AM on February 9, 2004

My mothers house is exactly like this.

Every room is filled with items that she has purchased throughout her lifetime. Nothing is thrown away.

In the living room alone, there are two sofas, three armchairs, three or four dining tables, two TVs and crates full of books piled all over the place. There are two PCs running in this room too (I think) although there are piles of boxes full of sundry PC parts lying around that could be used to build at least two more. There are books and boxes of photos everywhere.

In another room (I like to think of it as "the laundry") there are two washing machines, three tumble dryers (all the same model), two microwaves, an oven, two vacuum cleaners and loads of other stuff piled high (hedge trimmers, books, god knows what else). About a third of the floor space is visible in the room.

All the hallways were stacked with boxes of books, but I think they all got moved in to what used to be "my" room fairly recently (I moved out 13 years ago).

In my mum's study, there are several PCs in differing states of repair, 3 Commodore 64s (possibly a 16 too, can't remember) two famicoms, loads of old redundant printers, modems and scanners (at least 2 of each) and shelves, shelves and more shelves full of books, maps and sundry stuff.

I could go on, the list is pretty phenominal. Pictures would explain better, which I am sure is what motivated this man to post, since saying "my mum's house is full of junk" would not normally conjure up these images.

My mum bought most of the junk buying job-lots at auction (real face to face auctions, not ebay). As yet, she has not bought anything from ebay. She knows about ebay, but myself, my brother and my sister have so far put her off buying stuff from it by saying it isn't secure (yes, I know it is secure, we lie to her - its worth it, even though I hate myself for doing it).

Seeing this post has made me feel a lot better about her, especialy reading that other people who posted on the forum have had similar experiences.

I'm off to call my sister. She still lives at home with all this stuff and it makes her really sad and angry at my mum. My brother and I are past worrying about it (we have the luxury of our own places of residence) although it takes my brother about 6 weeks to recover from a visit as he has chronic asthma and theres a lot of dust in the junk.

This (and that) thread will cheer my sister right up.
posted by davehat at 2:02 AM on February 9, 2004

Hoarding like this is environmentaly quite friendly, although it only postpones the inevitable mass dumping.
I reccon it would take almost as long to go through this collection and extracate any objects of use as it did to accumulate.
She is not a great consumer, as she doesn't buy new, and doesn't throw out old. Actually. ; >
Life Laundry springs to my media suturated mind. Take the quiz yourself!
posted by asok at 2:22 AM on February 9, 2004

Occasionally, I render down my floor to make soup stock.
posted by Opus Dark at 3:10 AM on February 9, 2004

My mind is just boggled by all that crap. Where does she get them money! I think I have the opposite of this condition. It takes me about a week to make up my mind to buy socks.

What these people need (aside from medication) is to go backpacking for an extended period of time.
posted by maggie at 7:06 AM on February 9, 2004

good idea, maggie - that gives you a whole different perspective on Stuff.

I think the medication needs to come first, though.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:02 AM on February 9, 2004


A contrarian opinion on hoarding, stuff, and mess.

My basement and backyard are far, far worse than this. Some of it is from mad hoarding, some of it is from stinginess and environmental concern, and most of it now is from a business enterprise which I really need a warehouse space for. I'm in the process of cleaning it up, but I took some video footage of it first so that by spring, when the mess is gone, I can post the footage as a mpeg and get somebody here to link to it. It's a mess on an impressive scale, believe me.

The difference, however, is that I know it's nutty - and also for the fact that the behavior is fed by, besides OCD-ish tendencies (for more on hoarding, see my recent December 31, 2001 Metafilter post, Are you a Collyer?), more positive inclinations.

I'm rather surprised that no one has seen fit to mention that this lady's house grounds look like innumerable yards I have seen in poor, rural America - where people hang on to "junk" as an economic strategy because 1) Things often can be fixed, later, as needed 2) Raw materials are kept for home/farm use - construction, repair, etc. 3) It takes time to take stuff to the dump. My next-door neighbor has a hidden dump for scrap metal junk in his forested over back yard. There's a whole car rusting into the ground, as well as a swing set, old washing machines and all sorts of random metal debris.

I hoard anything related to home repair and - guess what - I make far, far fewer trips to the hardware store as a result. So - for me - hoarding these tools and materials has a direct economic payoff and also reduces environmental pollution in a number of ways : 1) Fewer cars trips to buy home repair/improvement stuff, 2) Less stuff thrown away, to be burnt at my local incinerator, and 3) Less stuff bought.

There was a time, in America, when people consumed very, very little - in terms of manufactured goods - compared to the present level. Broken items were - as a matter of course - repaired if at all possible and people's skills of improvisational repair have little current counterpart - except in Cuba and especially on the part of the Cuban mechanics who keep the 1950's vintage cars there running despite a lack of many spare parts.

I'd have to guess that this bygone era is largely foreign to the predominantly urban Metafilter demographic - for the uniform opinion, among commentators here, that the woman in question is obviously crazy. She is a bit whacked sure - for the obsessive Ebay purchasing at the very least.

But there is another quality to the comments here, of shocked disapproval at the woman's messiness - and refusal to throw things away - itself.

Anyone here who bothers to investigate the "Secret life" of stuff - where it comes from, and where it goes to when it is thrown away - might end up feeling rather differently about the subject for the fact that the "neat", "disposal oriented" style of consumerism (in which anything broken or unwanted is summarily chucked, to wind up in landfills and to be burnt in incinerators) which currently characterizes American consumerism is rapidly consuming - and laying waste to - all nonhuman biological life on the planet, to the Biosphere at large.

The denial of the reality of this extends, even, to a denial of immediate health risks to American children resulting from laziness in separating batteries and other mercury containing items from the general waste stream. For this, that denial is very nearly psychotic :

The area I grew up in, The Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts, now has rather high real estate values (though, growing up, my family was close to being poor) and people - as usual in American consumer society - produce a huge amount of garbage. Quite normal, so far, for America.

But there's a rather bizarre discontinuity in the area - the demographic is predominantly (and ever more so) upper middle class and highly educated, but people are utterly unaware that they are living in one of the top ten (and even in one of the top three) airborne mercury "hotspots" in the US. A lot of this mercury comes from the profusion of old trash incinerators in the area. So people throw lots of stuff away, it gets burnt, and the resulting mercury wafts down and is breathed in by their otherwise rather overprotected children, to damage their childhood development. Mercury is quite toxic. It bio-accumulates and impairs development of the human central nervous system (among the many types of biological havoc mercury wreaks).

That's one very small piece of the secret history of stuff and trash - on the disposal end.

This said, I'd agree that American society is obsessed with stuff - especially with buying new stuff. Americans would be happier with less stuff, buying less and doing (and experiencing) more.

But we are also obsessed with cleanliness, with neatness - and we are largely in denial about the consequences of the insane torrents of stuff we throw away each year : in denial about the environmental consequences to the planet, and even in denial of the health consequences for our own children.
posted by troutfishing at 8:46 AM on February 9, 2004

So there.
posted by troutfishing at 8:50 AM on February 9, 2004

One's life energies can come to be dominated by mess, clutter, and hoarding as well. It is a perilous path, the path of hoarding, which requires strong organizational skills and also great judiciousness - to separate the truly useful from that excess which can lead to madness.

Despite my hoarding behaviors, I take pains to keep my actual living save very spare and uncluttered. I know from hard experience that visual clutter makes me depressed and even hinders my ability to think straight.

Amidst visual clutter, I feel as if the sheer visual complexity colonizes some of my brain's working attentional space, some of the RAM of my consciousness as it were. I'm convinced that there is a real biological, instinctual basis to this effect.

I believe that visual clutter makes me anxious and hinders my brain's efficiency because - at a subconscious level - I'm actually scanning all of that visual clutter for signs of an advancing predator, a tiger creeping through the jungle and getting ready to pounce.
posted by troutfishing at 9:02 AM on February 9, 2004

*adds troutfishing to the list*
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:29 AM on February 9, 2004

I'm a minor packrat, or at least *was*. The wife and I finally decided it was time to purge ourselves of a two car garage full of junk and old 1960s and 70s DEC/PDP documentation (dont worry, only commonly-available stuff was thrown out; the rare/useful stuff was given or sold to other collectors) and just pain trash/crap.

here's the result after a week. That's a 40-cubic-yard construction dumpster sitting in our driveway.

Two more closets to go through, a 19-inch-rack of obsolete 5.25" RAID arrays, one fiberglass pool slide, and some torn-down fencing, and we'll be done.
posted by mrbill at 9:44 AM on February 9, 2004

crash - which/whose list would that be?
posted by troutfishing at 10:00 AM on February 9, 2004

I do think behaviors like this could be attributed to the environment in which you grew up. My binge-and-purge approach to messes is directly related to the fact my family moved around so much when I was a kid. It was okay to "nest" a bit, as my mom put it, but you had to give your space a regular scouring clean because you were going to have to pay someone else to box and move all the crap you kept (that, and my maternal grandmother's visits were preceeded by weeks of terrified cleanliness).

My father's personal axiom was that any box with more than two different colors of packing stickers on it (meaning it had gone through 2 moves without being opened) was carted away unopened. His figured if we haven't needed whatever was in that box badly enough to go looking for it in x amount of time, we must not need it at all. Yet, I don't think that we're a wasteful family, we recycle/compost and take the unwanted but still useable stuff to Goodwill. I would say we're minimalists when it comes to buying in the first place.

As a final note, I wouldn't say I find this woman's living habits distasteful (as stated previously, its not filthy in a dirty/rotten sort of way) so much as incomprehensible. What could be so important about so much stuff?
posted by nelleish at 10:09 AM on February 9, 2004

troutfishing, I almost brought up the mercury connection last night, but in a very different context. Metal poisoning as a potential cause of disorders like OCD, schizophrenia and autism.
posted by Feisty at 10:13 AM on February 9, 2004

if we can get the obsessive cleaners and the obsessive hoarders together , then maybe we can solve this.
posted by sgt.serenity at 10:14 AM on February 9, 2004

"crash - which/whose list would that be?"

You don't keep a list?

Forget I said anything, then.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:19 AM on February 9, 2004

I had my suspicions about you troutfishing.

In the UK it is not unusual for people of GenX vintage to have had contact with those who lived through the war and the continued rationing that fillowed. They would approve of your hoarding, I think.
When I knew him, my paternal grandfather would consume butter, sugar and meat 'like it was going out of style', but he would also fix everything, build things himself and hoard everything he thought would be useful. I am still using things he carefully categorised and kept to this day. Same on the maternal side, but with lathes.
Grandma only ever used bleach, bicarb and vinegar to clean the house. She re-cycled everything, including washing and re-using tinfoil (not as a hat). I thought that was quite funny until I realised that I could never make tinfoil, ever. It is disposable in our culture at the moment, but it is also a highly polluting substance from mining to land fill, which requires a continuous process of production (I believe). Soon we will be mining the land fills.
The UK population had a better diet during the war than at any other time. More fresh veg and fruit than ever. The general environmental impact of the lifestyle was less damaging as well.
Tell that to the kids these days and they wont believe you. ; )

People often say I should throw out things if i haven't used them for 6 months. I disagree. I mean winter clothes, for example. If I had followed this path I would not have had the 6 foot of polypipe floating around the garage that I used to unblock the sewer (after minor adaptations) the other week, when it was overflowing into my yard.

However, it is clear that Knormal's mother is not just hoarding things that might be useful. I'd say this though; If her worst problem is the clutter in her house, she is better balanced than many of the people I see in the mainstream press. She is a functioning member of society.
posted by asok at 11:19 AM on February 9, 2004

Speaking of ingenious Cubans...
posted by aaronscool at 12:48 PM on February 9, 2004

if we can get the obsessive cleaners and the obsessive hoarders together , then maybe we can solve this.

Meet my life, err, wife, the obsessive cleaner. She even cleans the programs off of the TiVo because she likes it when the program list is empty. I definately have obsessive hoarding tendencies. I can't deny it, and there's a drawer full of empty altoid tins behind me that can testify.

If you've seen American Splendor, the scene where Joyce tries to get Harvey to clean up his records, that's us. It would be spooky, if it wasn't so funny.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:45 PM on February 9, 2004

asok - Of course. I am insane. I can repair and rebuild antique cars (I did this for a few years as a business), washing machines and dryers (also as a business), electrical and plumbing systems, and computers. These talents may be a curse, and I have many more still. Musical, aesthetic... But I prefer to write.

I collect certain things as well, and for several different reasons : 1) A bit of OCD, 2) environmental concerns, 3) an inherited "depression era" mentality, 4) practical reasons - I actually wind up using, in the end, most of the stuff I horde.

For all this, I still think I am rather ignorant - and certainly for my ability to engage with the material world. I haven't even begun to confront the most important sphere of self-sufficiency - food production.

The plants will outlast we humans. They are in this for the long haul.
posted by troutfishing at 9:23 PM on February 9, 2004

InpHilltr8r - American Splendour is a superb movie.

But what do I know? I'm just some kid from the neighborhood.
posted by troutfishing at 9:25 PM on February 9, 2004

aaronscool - a fine, absurd picture. That floating 1959 Buick just seems so improbable.

And it is.
posted by troutfishing at 9:29 PM on February 9, 2004


"Usefulness" is certainly the key to my mother's hoarding. It is almost impossible for my mum to throw things away as they may be useful in the future. This combined with an inherent need to buy things that she perceives as a bargain leads to a mountain of what seems to an outsider (and I include myself in this term) to be worthless.

Now, with a bit of help from my partner (fresh set of eyes on the situation and all), I can actually see the positive side of what she has been doing.

We recently bought a house and had a baby. These are the two most expensive things that have ever happened to us. The list of stuff that we needed was daunting. We had lived in rented accommodation for years and had bits and bobs, but none of the essentials needed for the house and absolutely zip for the baby.

All of a sudden, we started getting regular calls from mum asking whether we had "x" doodad or "y" thingumee, little things and big things and useful things. Then my mum turns up at the house about a week after we moved in with stacks of stuff for the house. She brought a clothes dryer, a counter top stove, a baby monitor, pots, pans, every book I had read or been read as a child (how cool is that?) and loads of other stuff I can't remember. It was great and saved us a fortune. It was also just about the sweetest thing my mum has ever done. Hours of thought had gone in to looking at what she had and what we might find useful.

I don't think people who hoarde in such a manner are odd in the slightest. I think people who crave empty living spaces are the weirdos.

If you want uncluttered lives, go live in a sanatorium :p
posted by davehat at 2:01 AM on February 10, 2004

davehat - It's true, your mother had an eye towards your future needs and proved to be an astute hoarder.

There's a way to look at this behavior analytically. Unfortunately, my hoarding (or whatever) is more problematic for the sheer range of things I collect like : most of the machinery for a wood shop, (and good quality pieces of hardwood when I encounter them being thrown away), bicycles, some high quality - which I can rebuild and resell, or donate to charity. Large appliances (I won't even go into that one), good cast iron or steel fencing (the older, fancier, heavy kind - for my house), good quality double pane windows and larger (3 X 7 or so) double pane glass panels, for a planned greenhouse and/or sunroom modification. Old computers (200-300 mhz), stereo junk.......

I could go on. The problem is that, unlike your mother (I imagine), I can fix, or rebuild most common appliances and household items. And I do all the work on my house, which requires raw materials........

The madness of it, for me, lies in the fact that 1) I accumulated stuff to the point that it made all projects - and even passage through my basement - impossible. 2) The sheer volume of stuff to be managed threatens to turn that into a full time job. 3) Most importantly, many of the categories don't stand up to the cost-benefit analysis which asks - how much money will the category save/earn, based on the time input spent moving about, storing, fixing, adapting or rehabilitating it?

I've started to view my junk collection in that light, and it clarifies the subject. Some categories afford, per hour, far better than an average American middle class income. Others pay starvation wages.

I've come up with several viable business plans (adapted from several existent, successful working models) based on recycling/reuse concepts, but I may be too deathly tired of junk to implement any of them.

In the background of all of this, though, is my appreciation of the analysis that - if humanity cannot soon implement far greater efficiencies in the use of energy and material inputs - on the order of at least X4 but probably more like X10 - we're looking at, in short order, the collapse of our civilization.

So on a visceral level, waste appalls me. But, unfortunately, it is impossible - with the energy of one human body and mind - to reduce the current torrent of waste by even a tiny fraction. This I could better do with my mind, through ideas.

It's not a simple disease, this hoarding - it's both rational and crazy at the same time and, as such, probably merely my own idiosyncratic expression of the schizophrenia running through modern culture at large.


The core of my impulse - the reduction of waste - will emerge (if we are lucky) as the driving economic engine for the most successful economies of the first half of the 21st Century.
posted by troutfishing at 10:14 AM on February 10, 2004

She even cleans the programs off of the TiVo because she likes it when the program list is empty.

Doesn't everyone??
posted by rushmc at 10:28 AM on February 10, 2004

No, I like knowing there are things to watch (again) if needed.
posted by agregoli at 5:04 PM on February 18, 2004

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