Monday, May 17, 2010

Something for Everyone

My new favorite T.V. show is "Hoarding: Buried Alive," or, as my son calls it, "Mom's Future if She's Ever Left Alone for More than a Week."

The show is all about these people who acquire lots of things but never get rid of other things, which is sort of the way I do bulimia. Binging, we get. It's the purge we can't figure out.

As a result, their homes, yards, cars, and kids are all stuffed to the gills with tons of paraphernalia none of us would think of keeping, at least not in bulk. Which I suppose is sort of the point. It’s really about a form of OCD, and I don’t mean to be unkind, although I’m not sure how sensitive the producers or even the participants are to the whole ‘mental illness’ side of things.

The show is on the "Traveling Circus Network," at home on a broadcasting schedule full of midget bakers and mutant procreators whose piety doesn't extend to making a few bucks off their thirty or forty kids.

These folks (the hoarders, not the mutant procreators) live surrounded by vertical acres of clothes, or trash, or Rubbermaid Salad Spinners - whatever they habitually gather, name, and store. The mess is often six or seven feet tall, and sometimes there's no actual path through the forest of collectibles.

The most exciting part of every episode is when a relative who hasn't visited for a decade grabs a whip and an Indiana Jones hat and drops in for tea. There's lots of "what th -?" and invocations of their deity of choice as they machete their way through the living room, according to the ancient Aztec map, anyway.

Invariably, the relative in question says, "I had no idea it had gotten this bad," like they hadn't clued in when their sister missed eight consecutive Thanksgivings because she got lost on her way to the garage.

I wish I could say I watch this show for the message of redemption that emerges around the 37 minute mark. The psychiatrist is called: they assess the situation - concluding that an insurance fire is out of the question now that the whole shebang is on television - and then they bring in a professional organizer who picks up a birthday candle and says, "Let's start with this. Do you think you could part with this?"

And then the client bursts into tears and puts their hand over the camera lens, wailing that it's all too much, too soon.

However, in the last ninety seconds, while the credits run, you see the clients three months later, and behold! They do in fact have a kitchen, complete with table and, in the fancier houses, a floor. So there's always a happy ending.

But being the wicked soul that I am, I confess I watch the show for the same reason I watch "The 900 Pound Tax Accountant" or "There Were Birds Nesting in my Beard: One Woman's Struggle With Hormone Imbalances:"

It makes me feel a little better about myself.

I have known for some time now that I have an unhealthy tolerance for clutter. And I am absolutely notorious for acting on the phrase "I might need that some day."

Rifle through my drawers and you'll find plastic straws intended to fit the lids of long deceased sports bottles; flimsy knife-shaped utensils with the words 'champion pumpkin carver' on the handles; chargers for cell phones who died tragically in the Great Tomato Soup Deluge of '09; and the defunct cell phones themselves, fused and mummified in the starchy paste you get when the soup includes a couple dozen saltines.

Not a single useful item in the whole lot, but I know that as soon as I throw anything away, I'm going to need it.

Someone will show up at the door, wringing their hands and gasping that Somalian pirates are holding their grandmother and she'll walk the plank if they don't have an assortment of reindeer-shaped cookie cutters by sundown. And I'll have to tell them, "I'm so sorry. If only you'd come by yesterday..."

I have a good fifty thousand photocopies of musical arrangements I've done, all boxed up in the bonus room and stored against the day that there is a sudden, desperate need for "Winter Wonderland" in four parts with optional kazoo chorus.

And when the crisis comes, I'll be ready.

Elbowing my way through the frantic crowd, distributing stapled pages to the singers and handing out kazoos, I'll finally be honored for my brilliant never-throwing-anything-away skills. The Real 'Miracle Worker.' The Helen Keller of Keeping Stuff. That's what they'll call me.

In this rare photograph, Helen Keller's teacher Anne Sullivan asks her,
"Helen, how many pizza boxes does one girl really need?" 
And according to witness reports, Helen replies, "Beats me. How many you got?" 

And yet, in that tiny, rarely visited, sane corner of my psyche, I know that the odds of that happening are, like, three-to-one. Maybe even five-to-one.

I know that I probably should toss out most of that music, that I could safely empty my cupboards of the mason jars and metal lids that speak to a domesticity that never was and never will be, that there would be no harm in dumping my 1986 edition of "Microcomputers in the Classroom" which I held on to because I believed my professor when he said that programmers would be the only employable survivors in the new millennium.

And occasionally, I actually do it. Purge whole bookcases of paperbacks. Give away scores of videos and action figures. Offload entire wardrobes of skirts and jeans and holiday sweaters that were embarrassing my kids fifteen years ago.

I achieve 'empty,' and it feels great.

Not only that, I can honestly tell myself that no matter how cluttered things get, no matter how many of my rooms and closets devolve into small appliance graveyards and the places where everything else in my house goes to die, it will never be bad enough to qualify for a reality show.

That's a comforting thought, particularly since I don't know how I'd squeeze it in. I've got to get ready for my annual trip to the coast, where I put on a bikini and parade up and down the beach, basking in the collective "Whew!" from all the other sunbathers who suddenly don't feel quite so bad about that box of cookies hidden under the towel.

After the good vibes I get off the HBA stars, it's my way of giving something back.


Katherine said...

Too funny. But only because it's true. I keep so much crap I don't really need, because I'm sure I'll be able to find a use for it someday. My biggest problem is that I keep my kids' artwork. All of it. We have books and boxes full of it. Partially because I have the fear they'll come home from college and ask about that masterpiece of the multicolored train tracks they made when they were three, and I will have thrown it away, and I won't be able to afford the therapy that ensues.

Wendy Ramer said...

Yes, purging the clutter is definitely cleansing, like freeing of yourself of a burden you didn't even know you had. We do this about once/year, and I temporarily feel more Zen about life...for about 2 days until reality sets in.

becca said...

*snicker* rifling through the drawers *snort*

Isn't it CRAZY (i know, I should know better than to use that word) how a simple habit can turn into a full-blown condition? What's the reality TV version fo snark?

Garden of Egan said...

Hilarious. What time is dinner cuz I'm ready for some entertainment. Oh, did I forget to tell you? Oops, my bad. The producers of Hoarders are coming over to see if you pass inspection. I wanna watch.

Rebecca said...

Oh my gosh. I so identify with this post. Completely.

I don't even know what else to say but "Thank you". So, thank you.

JoLynne Lyon said...

My husband would relate to this post. I clean out a shelf only to have him fill it up again with more important stuff, like 2-quart mason jars. Of course, the things I can't part with don't qualify as hoarding because they're really useful, like that journal from high school that I'm gonna burn right before I die.

MarieC said...

Yay! Glad you reposted. I loved it the first time. My word verification for this comment is "retrips." How appropriate!

Living the Scream said...

Also glad you reposted, it's a good post. I really enjoy the way you write. )

Jess said...

Oh you should get that electronic organizer thingy.... you could scan all your music and other papers and save them to your computer.... for those days when the pirates knock on the door... but not have the physical stuff building up around you.... =)

Great post.... Can so relate...Reminds me I need to go through my storage unit soon.. =)

L.T. Elliot said...

Hello, my name is L.T. and I'm a clutter-aholic. I have pots and pans in a closet that I never use (both the closet and the pots). I have gadgets and gizmos that have long since become extinct. I, too, have straws to abandoned sippy cups (my kids are eight). I'm trying to get sober...can I keep the token for it?

Charlotte said...

This is the same reason I watch Toddlers and Tiaras. At least I know I'm not the worst mom out there. I will add hoarders to my list of reality TV that makes me feel better about myself.

Lani Woodland said...

I LOVED this post. I'm a clutter junkie too. I'm so afraid to throw things away. It's good to know I'm not alone.

Kazzy said...

When we were redoing our den it was empty for a few days and I would just stand in there and breath deep. "Empty" feels really good sometimes.

I am glad you reposted this. :)

InkMom said...

I saw one episode of "Hoarders" a few months ago and it was the most disturbing thing I have ever seen -- I'm talking they found dead cats -- plural! more than one! -- flattened by piles of stuff and then petrified. I'm talking cat carcasses, years old, that looked like a Flat Daddy for Felix. Disturbing, I tell you!

And that's just another reason I don't have pets. They might get lost in my pen drawer.

Cheeseboy said...

Didn't I already comment on this. I did, but I forgot to tell you my favorite part: Definitely Indiana Jones dropping in for tea.

The Atomic Mom said...

I acutally struggle with clutter (thanks Dad!). However, I manage to keep my melee in one room of the house. And when I am able to get rid of stuff I do find it rather liberating.

The Crash Test Dummy said...

hahahaha that is so darn true. I wish I was less cluttered. I love that show too.

Hey, I'm back. Sorry I've been absent for a while. Missed ya.

I got by bizness cards. YAY! Can't wait for the conference.

I'm reading Mennonite in A Little Black Dress and it's so cute. It reminds me of your style a bit.

Hey, your verifier says prized. COOL!

tammy said...

I know who I'm calling when I need that special musical arrangement.

My Mom is so bad at hoarding stuff and has clutter everywhere. My mom-in-law on the other hand, is an organized hoarder. She keeps all the crap, but it's all organized and put away. I don't know how she remembers where she puts it.

seashmore said...

It's still hard for me to appreciate spring cleaning. This helps. So does finally throwing away (or at least setting in a box to be thrown away when the box is full) notes from classes I never even wanted to take.

And I'd say hold on to that 1986 "Microcomputers in the Classroom." It only takes something 25 years to be antique, and you've held on to it this long. You're almost there!!

Lynne's Somewhat Invented Life said...

You said it all, I have a car full of books that should go to DI but I want to go through them one more time or maybe take them to Pioneer Books and see if he wants to give me 25 cents for something I paid $18.95 for. And as soon as they are donated or sold... you will say you need a book on creative 3-D card making and I will have just donated/sold the very book and I will feel bad that I can't contribute to your life. sigh

JennyMac said...

Only you my fab friend could do Winter Wonderland on a kazoo. LOL. AND teach it to everyone else.

Kimberly said...

I've gone from a rather disturbing (if not reality tv show worthy) level of clutter to something approaching what I'm GUESSING might be almost maybe normal.

Probably is I'm married to someone who hasn't. I'm about to go all Wilma Flinstone on him and chuck his stuff out when he's not looking. Okay, so I wouldn't do that despite being sorely tempted.

Except for the stack of receipts from the local convenience store. Potato chips are NOT at tax dedcution, dear.

You make me laugh. And you make me love you to bits. Mwah!

wendy said...

I can't really see you as a "hoarder" of sorts.
You seem so "together"
I try to keep things at a minimum. Like when I moved up here, I came with some bare bones things. BUT, there have been many days since when I have said "I wish I would have brought....."
I would like to have it now.
So it is a fine balance, what to keep and what to throw away.

Amber Lynae said...

I may be a bit of a hoarder and it annoys my husband to no end. But all of my piles are under 2 feet high. lol

Your reality tv habits remind me of why I always love the first half of the Biggest Loser season and dread the second half.

AS Amber said...

How have I not commented here, yet? I freaking LOVE that show! And now that I'm done with the entire Cheers series, I have room on my DVR to record Hoarders. Yay!

The only thing I might hoard is my kids' school stuff. I have a whole cupboard full of it. I need to go through & organize it for them. Their kids will want to see it some day. I'm just sure of it.

Love you! said...

I used to move often which was always a great opportunity for purging. But since I bought my place in 2005, I've just been steadily acquiring. Hopefully, I'll get it together before A&E comes calling.

Selena said...

hahahahahaha! I was laughing so hard at the birthday candle thing that my three year old came running in and tripped and fell trying to see what I was laughing at.

I wish I had found this blog months ago. I am in need of a good laugh!

Marie said...

I have occasionally stumbled upon that show too, but can't go more than a minute without getting the creeps in what they discover....There is a reason my hubby calls me "Mrs. Hughes".

misssrobin said...

I'm married to a recovering hoarder (for real, that's not a line). I remember how painful it was for him to get rid of a few of the thirty or forty baseball caps he had when we got married. Let's not even talk about the out-of-date computer pieces that fill the room.

Now, if only I could kick my kids and husband out for a while I could get it all cleaned up and orderly. It should only take about a year.

Mrs. Mootz said...

You're hilarious! I fully admit though that every time I watch "Clean House" I'm like, well my house isn't THAT bad and I feel just a little bit better about myself :)

Kristi said...

I love the tone and rhythm of your writing. And, of course, you're humorous spin. Thanks for the fun read!

Karen V. said...

Lord, help me! I need to clean out my drawers! I don't consider myself a hoarder (maybe I'm in denial) but I have been looking for that perfect arrangement of Winter Wonderland for a flash mob choir.

Very funny and well written humor. You have the gift, for sure. Thanks for sharing.

The Lovely One said...

I love Hoarders too, for the same reason. I love to watch it and say, "Well, at least my kitchen doesn't look like THAT!"