Monday, December 31, 2012


by atomicity via Flickr
“Each of us has the power and responsibility to heal ourselves, to be our own medicine man or woman. Awakening our innate powers of being, loving, knowing, seeing, and healing involves ongoing work at all levels and in all dimensions of our self. Exploring the range of rhythms and emotions, achieving insights into our conditioning and ego, moving through the energy levels of spirit – these are all activities to be integrated into our daily lives.” -Gabrielle Roth from Maps to Ecstasy: A Healing Journey for the Untamed Spirit

Friday, December 28, 2012

Life happenings

by oxherder via Flickr
December was an interesting month for me. I managed to find an apartment at the last minute despite having a less than stellar visit to California. Jess and I have been busy planning our cross country road trip while I've also been getting all my ducks in a row to wrap up my life on the east coast. There's been some family drama, as per the usual. I've also been falling fast for a guy friend, in case, you know, there wasn't enough going on.

I'm currently spending an extended holiday stay with my brother, sister in law, and nephew to soak in some extra family time before I head out to the west coast.

Okay, enough about me! Here are some entertaining links I've come across:

Don't tell me what to do!

A fake British PSA on global warming.

Twas the night before Christmas mouse.

My favorite holiday Grumpy Cat.

I hope your December has been great and the new year ahead holds some wonderful opportunities for you!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


by jbuc via Flickr
"Creation is a better means of self-expression than possession; it is through creating, not possessing, that life is revealed." -Vida Dutton Scrudder, The Privilege of Age

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy holidays

by jmsmith000 via Flickr
I want to wish all of my readers a very Merry Chrismakwanzika/Festivus. I know that this time can be stressful, trying, and or downright depressing for COH, so I just wanted to encourage you all to seek peace this season and to try to stay positive.

If there is something you can do to make your holidays better, I would recommend that you do it. Place a time limit for visiting your HP, find a neutral place (not in the hoard) to celebrate the holiday, limit the amount of gifts exchanged. I know that my Christmases became much more enjoyable when I started to stay with my brother and his wife rather than stay at my grandma's with my mother while I was visiting for the holiday. Focus on what you are thankful for and let everything else melt away.

Hugs to you all!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Free or inexpensive things to do in a city

by ecstaticist via Flickr
I originally wrote this post years ago for a now defunct blog. As Jess and I are starting to plan our cross country roadtrip, I thought back on this post for ideas for things to see and do in new cities. 

Watching your pennies doesn't always mean that you have to stay home all day, everyday. I live in Richmond, Virginia and the River City offers plenty of opportunities to get out and have fun without blowing your budget. I've broadened these categories so that they can be applied to most cities or larger towns in America. These ideas would also be a good starting point for inexpensive things to do while visiting another city. Always remember: it's not the amount of money you spend, but having a good, positive attitude that makes going out anywhere enjoyable.

Budget movie theatres. Never got around to seeing that big flick a few months ago? Check your local movie listings to see if a budget theatre picked it up. For a buck or two you can get a second chance to see it on the big screen.

Museums. Art, science, and history museums often have free admissions on certain days- usually Sundays. Also, if you get there a few hours or less before closing, they may waive the admission fee. Keep in mind there are a good number of well funded museums that always offer free admission. And of course, if you are a student or a member of a certain organization, you can often get free or reduced admission.

Local music scene. Shows for local bands at bars, restaurants, and venues often don't have a cover charge, or if they do, it's only a few bucks since they want to encourage as many people to come as possible. Local bands are always eager to see a few new faces at shows to help spread the word about their music. You might just be pleasantly surprised at how good some of the bands really are!

Festivals. Every city and its surrounding area usually have at least a few free festivals every summer, if not during the rest of the year as well. Whether it's a festival revolving around food, ethnicity, or a special event, you are sure to expand your world view for very little cost.

Art openings. Once a month, there is usually a designated day of the week that all art galleries in a certain area of a city stay open later than normal (for example, the first Friday or third Thursday of every month). Most of these galleries have free, light refreshments that you can munch on while you check out artwork and wander from gallery to gallery.

College speakers. Colleges and universities bring in a wide array of speakers throughout the school year to enhance the intellectual environment on their campuses. Many times, these events are open to the public and are free. Check the college's website or newsletter for announcements.

Rush tickets at theater productions. Many theatres offer a reduced ticket price, or rush tickets, for theatre goers who purchase their tickets (with no reservations) 5-10 minutes before a show begins. A cut in profit is better than a seat remaining empty. Also, high school and college's theatre productions are usually a fraction of the cost of a "professional" theatre's production.

Factory tours. Companies are usually all too eager to have present and potential customers take a tour through their factories. They should have a schedule of their tours posted on their website or recorded on their answering machine. Free samples are usually distributed at the end of the tour (especially at breweries, wineries, and factories that produce food).

Stroll through an interesting neighborhood. Whether it's for the architecture, the window shopping, or all around vibe, sometimes just hitting the street on a beautiful day can offer plenty of eye candy and entertainment.

Bodies of water. Lakes, oceans, and rivers usually have an abundance of things to do around them. Canal walks, islands, beaches, nature trails, swimming, boating, fishing... you name it, you can do it, and usually cheaply or for free.

Public parks and estates. When owners of vast estates pass away, some of them donate their property to the city and the city, in turn, converts them into museums and or public parks. A tour of the house itself may be a few bucks, but you can usually visit their gardens for free. If none of the estates are budget friendly, regular public parks are a nice escape as well. You can pick up a few items from a local market and enjoy a picnic watching kids fly kites or romp on the jungle gym. State or national parks are also good, frugal choices if they're nearby.

Dog parks. If you, a friend, or a family member owns a dog, see if there are any public dog parks in the area. Your dog will get some much needed exercise while you get to meet nice, interesting people who live in your city and share your love of dogs.

Historic landmarks. Monuments, memorials, cemeteries, battlefields, settlements, and birthplaces (just to name a few historic places) are usually free for the public to peruse. What better way to brush up on American history than to see it face to face?

Parades and marathons. Make sure you get to the route early so that you can pick a good spot to see all the action. Bring some drinks and maybe a few light snacks as these types of things seem to last a long time. Parades and marathons are even better if you know anyone who's going to be participating.

Book signings/readings and open mic nights. Independent bookstores often have local author readings and signings while chain stores usually attract more popular authors. Check bars, cafes, and even bookstores for listings of open mic nights.

Visit thrift stores and or used bookstores. Sometimes you just never know what you're going to find at an amazing price or what interesting characters you'll meet.

Volunteering. If you really want to attend a pricey event, see if they need any volunteers to usher, help set up or break down, or tend the refreshment stand. Chances are, they'll let you see/attend the event for free in exchange for your assistance. If you want more than just an excuse to get out of the house, volunteering on a regular basis for an organization or cause that you feel strongly about will not only have you rubbing shoulders with like minded people, but will also give you the opportunity to spend your time more productively than you would on any kind of entertainment.

Did I miss anything? What are your tips for exploring an area without spending a fortune?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Day to day

by lalalaleeuh via Flickr
“It is only possible to live happily ever after on a daily basis." -Margaret Bonanno

Monday, December 17, 2012


by kaderli via Flickr
If you've been keeping up with my blog lately, you know that life's kind of been kicking me in the pants the last few months. There are way too many things going on to begin with, but then add in some people who are really stressing me out and I'm just about maxed out.

One of the things that I kind of just glossed over was the fact that I broke up with my boyfriend a few weeks ago. I don't think this bit of news was surprising to most people in real life because there were problems from the beginning. The impending cross country move was a catalyst to figure out how things really stood and when I took an honest look at what I really want out of a life partner, he simply came up short. He's a great guy and we had good times together, but in the long run, we weren't going to make each other happy. He wasn't ready for a big commitment and my gut reaction to marrying him was a big, fat no.

I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you that, despite being bummed about ending a relationship, it has opened up opportunities that I would not have been able to pursue otherwise. Specifically, I have a guy friend whom I've known for 5 years. We had an instant connection when we met, but it's quite comical at how poor our timing has been. We managed to have a few romantic encounters a few years ago when we were both single, but living in two different states always put a damper on things. Regardless of what's been going on though, we've stayed in contact for the vast majority of the last 5 years. During my break up, we both realized that we should probably try to figure out what kind of potential we have before I move cross country. We've been making time to see each other and, let me tell you, it's been pretty great. Since we already know each other pretty well, it's like we've just naturally fallen into a rhythm.

At the end of the day, I'm still moving cross country in a little over two weeks, so I'm trying to keep my expectations in check. In this moment though, moving to California is the last thing I want to do.

Friday, December 14, 2012

It's the journey, not the destination

"You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life." -Albert Camus via Free People

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Just breathe

from Office Space
Dear self,

I know that you are hurt right now. I know that what she said to you and how she said it was unfair and it made you feel so hurt and so small. But guess what? You are bigger and better than her misconceptions. What matters is that Dad loves you and things are fine with him. You are moving soon, a mere three weeks, and you will no longer have to see her, no longer have to deal with her. She is nothing, no one, and will continue to be nothing to you. Just hang on. You have had to deal with much worse for a much longer amount of time. This can be done.


P.S. The truth always wins out. It may not be revealed or realized immediately, but it is there and it is unwavering.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Someday is Today: Cross country road trip!

Guys, this is a big one. As a travel lover, I've always wanted to do the quintessential cross country road trip and, as my regular readers know, I am moving to San Francisco in January for an awesome library job. So naturally, I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity to actually get in the car and drive across the country!

Luckily, my doll of a college roommate, Jess of Animated Cardigan, has agreed to embark on this trip with me and my two cats (poor babies). We've been on a few road trips together in the past and she's a great travel companion, so I'm super psyched for her to be my accomplice. 

We don't have all the details hammered out yet, but it looks like I'll be joining her in South Carolina shortly after the new year and then we'll predominately follow 40 through the mid-west, stopping to see the sights and ticking off lots of states, then hop on the Pacific Coast Highway once we're in California and land in San Francisco a few days before I have to start work.

As important as it is to take care of the goals in life that make us more responsible, healthy, and put together people, it's just as important to make headway towards goals that are fun and expose you to new experiences. Right? Right.

Have you ever taken a cross country road trip? Do you have any tips or suggested stops for us?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Launch yourself on every wave

by mikeyskatie via Flickr
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” - Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Woe is me

by a_ninjamonkey via Flickr
If you are having a rough day, just think of me having very little luck apartment hunting in a city where I know next to no one while I'm sick with a cold and cough.

Happy Wednesday, all.

Monday, December 3, 2012

From the archives: teenage exuberance

by kaysha via Flickr
Sometimes, especially when I feel down, I like to go back and read things I wrote when I was a teenager. This entry I wrote in 2005 made me smile and remember that life is fleeting, so you better fucking live.

Oh the possibilities, the endless possibilities. Germany, Switzerland, Fiji. Fucking Fiji. Life is so abundant, I want to be filled with its wonderment. I love these moments, when my seemingly dead soul is revived. A phoenix from the flames. Moving, living, breathing. Really fucking living. Laughter from the inside. The tickling of my heart. My ticklish heart. I wish to never fake a laugh, a chuckle, the plastic manufactured emotions. Cut it off, sever, snip snip, no wounds because it never really was a part of you. Effervescence. Inhale the contentment, exhale the charisma. Exfoliate the calluses. Let your new skin be caressed. Conventions don't have a hold on me. Break down the barriers and really make something of worth. Cut the cookie cutter crap, bring on some reality. Oh life, take me where I want to go. Allow me to pose and capture the picture. Compose the story and read its glory. Radiate and feel the sun's warmth. Expose the life that is living inside. Energy. Tiptoe down this high wire and enjoy the view. Trip and allow the clouds to catch your fall. Keep on going down that line and build momentum. Reach your destination at a full sprint and laugh your head off when you get there, choking on the simultaneous inhale and exhale. Collapse on the grass and just die. Oh, it'll make a great story for your grandchildren. They'll love you and your cookies. Wings. The ones you always wanted and never could convince gravity to defy with. Keep yourself grounded. Bored and safe. Crawl into bed and dream of all the things you never had the guts to do and achieve. Slice your skin open with the edge of regrets. Fear, so irrational. Live, love, and be loved. Welcome the pain along the way, it means you're learning and trying and that you're still alive. Alive. Live. Life.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Life happenings

by capecodcyclist via Flickr
I'm not going to lie: November was a rough month for me, guys. Hurricane Sandy was the catalyst for me telling my grandma the truth about my mother, her hoarding, and our relationship. I had a bad Thanksgiving break that involved a reminder that my family is incredibly screwed up and, while I think it's normal, it's far from it; some tummy trouble; and my dad's girlfriend either blatantly ignoring me or being incredibly rude (like waking me up at 3 AM rude). As if these things (and trying to prepare myself for a cross country move!) weren't enough, I broke up with my boyfriend this week after some big thinks about how what we want and where we are in life are different. It just didn't seem like we were going to make each other happy in the long run. While I know I did the right thing, I feel sad to see it end and I feel awful for hurting him.

I'm in danger of bumming you all out, so here are some entertaining links to round out this post:

Don't settle for just fine.

An amazing example of how change in a community doesn't have to be overthought. 

GoldieBlox instead of Barbies for all the young girls in your life!

There's not enough quiet in our daily lives. Defend it!

"Kiss Me Again" by Jessica Lea Mayfield is my sad jam these days.

If you like a good play on words, how about this Freudian slip mug or some Freudian slippers?

I hope November was more gentle on you than it was on me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


by sophiadphotography via Flickr
"If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it." -Mary Engelbreit

Monday, November 26, 2012

Delayed gratitude

This Thanksgiving was mostly pretty awful for me. Lots of stress and family drama. But before I recount my tale of the Thanksgiving from hell in a future post, I want to take a moment to remember this quotation: "It is not happy people who are thankful; it is thankful people who are happy."

It's so easy to complain, complain, complain and fail to see the good in our lives. While this Thanksgiving was not one for storybooks, I did get to spend quality time playing with my ever growing nephew, travel safely to and from my brother's house, and have my health and the health of my loved ones mainly intact. No matter how hard it can be, choosing gratitude will always add some perspective and happiness to your life.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Let go

via Free People
“You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.” -C. JoyBell C.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Interview series: Diane

Next up for my children of hoarders interview series is Diane. The floor is yours!

I am 40 years old and going through my midlife crisis, husband supported. I play video games/board games and spend time geeking out with a friend of mine doing math. We even took the mensa test for fun at one point. I am a full blown computer nerd. Capital N. I don’t have pets or kids because I hate having someone or something depending on me. My mother always depended on me.

Which parent hoards? My mother. It was only her and I growing up.

Do you have any hoarding tendencies? Hmm. No, not really, though I lived messy for quite some time. I thought it was normal to live that way and clean up for company.

Is there a history of hoarding in your family? If so, who else hoards? I am not sure but I think my grandparents did. They had a huge attic that was full of things. And one bedroom that was stuffed as well. It didn’t take over the whole house though.

What are your hoarding parent (HP)’s favorite things to hoard? This is a hard one. She liked to save everything. Mail/papers, food, collectibles, clothing, cat litter (used and new) and.. well basically if you can name it, she kept it. She loved shopping and had 80k in debt at one point and had to declare bankruptcy.

How is your relationship with your HP? Feb 2009 we broke contact. I have had little contact since then. She faked a stroke (at least, we believe she did) but has since had a real stroke and memory loss, though she is good at not paying attention so we still aren’t 100% sure about how realistic it is. She faked the first I believe to stop working and come live with us. I found out when we went to her house to get her pets how bad the house was. Dog had to be put down, cat came to live with us but was starving and living in filth there. She had also used money I had given her for her mortgage payment to purchase more exercise equipment. This was the final straw for me.

Do you still live at home? If not, when did you move out? No. I am 40 now but I went away to college at 18, came home for summers for two years, then took a year off and moved out. So I was 21.

Does anyone besides your HP currently live in the hoard? If so, who and how are they handling it? No. My mother actually doesn’t live in the hoard anymore. After the second stroke they moved her into new housing and wouldn’t bring the hoard.

Who else, if anyone, knows about your HP’s hoard? My family and friends know. I haven’t kept it a secret once I found out how bad it was. I try to use it as a way to explain some of my weirdness.

When did you first realize that your HP’s behavior was abnormal? After I started leaving and coming home from school. That was the first time. It would be a mess and Prior to that the mess was contained in a few rooms and the garage. But I would come home, and suddenly it was everywhere. She was always cluttered, but I don’t believe hoarded until I completely moved out.

When, if ever, were you able to disassociate yourself from the shame of hoarding and begin opening up about it? So, I had this experience where my then boyfriend (now husband) and my best friend came to my house and kept offering to help me clean up. I wasn’t hoarded, just messy. I would clean for company but they surprised me a couple of times. It was then that I started opening up about it.

Have you ever sought any kind of therapy for dealing with your HP and living in a hoard? Therapy yes, but not for the hoard. More for the narcissistic mother I had.

Do you have any hope that your HP will eventually stop hoarding? Why or why not? Like I said above, I think she was forced out of it by the second (or real) stroke. Now other people are managing her care, and they won’t allow it. She is bad enough that she doesn’t fight them. Or doesn’t remember.

What is the most disgusting or interesting thing you encountered in the hoard? Oh man… when we first discovered how bad the hoard had gotten (she hadn’t let me in for a few years) we took video in case we had to involuntarily commit her. On rewatching the video, I saw poise pads everywhere. Her toilet in her bathroom didn’t work, but there were two others in the house, however, I believe she was using the poise pads to pee instead of the toilet. They were EVERYWHERE. Bags and bags and bags of poise pads (new) I didn’t see any used, but honestly I didn’t look that hard either. Also the cat litter. She would put used cat litter into bags and stack it up in this large box (think 4 ft x 4 ft) and just keep piling and piling. It was almost to the ceiling. Yuck.

What is at least one positive thing you were able to glean from living in a hoard and dealing with your HP? I know how unimportant things are. I know that memories are more important. I take pictures of myself with anything I think of as a memory piece and unless I can display it in some way normally, I donate it. Get the junk out of my house! :-)

What are some ways you coped with living in a hoard? When it is all you know you sort of get used to it. It wasn’t as bad when I was young. It really took a downhill turn when my mothers mother died when I was 16. Then I moved partially out at 18. Then my mom lost her cat (this weird, symbiotic relationship where they would talk to each other) when I was about 21. Then she pretty much went full on hoard where you could barely walk through the house and had a few goat trails. It was bad in parts of the house before (2 car garage full of stuff, office you couldn’t open the door to, bedroom closet that couldn’t be used) but it really went off the rails after the cat died.

Do you have any advice for others currently living in a hoard or trying to cope with their HP? My only advice: get out asap. Learn to keep a clean home so you feel normal. Use any method that works for you. Realize you are never going to be more important than the hoard. It is sad, but true.

Thank you, Diane, for sharing your experiences! If you are a child of a hoarder and are interested in being interviewed over email, please shoot me a message!

Monday, November 19, 2012

When it rains, it pours

by ccho via Flickr
"That secret that you know, but don't know how to tell / It fucks with your honor and it teases your head / But you know that it's good girl / 'Cause its running you with red"
-Bon Iver, "Blood Bank"

Hurricane Sandy was not only an awful storm for the east coast. It was the catalyst for me finally revealing my real childhood to my grandmother, a secret I have guarded tightly and intentionally from her for nearly two decades.

My family did not sustain any terrible damage from the storm, but my grandma did lose power for four days. My brother and sister in law contacted my grandmother and mother before the storm hit to let them know that they were available to help them if they needed it. They didn't hear from them and so they assumed everything was fine once the storm hit. My great aunt, my grandma's sister, contacted my sister in law over Facebook three days after the storm because she was concerned about my grandma since she hadn't heard from her since before the storm. My brother was able to get ahold of my mother that evening and found out the situation.

They had lost power shortly after the storm hit and my mother had only been able to charge her cell phone that evening my brother called because she went to a nearby church for a free meal. When my brother had related the news to me, my heart sank to my stomach and I instantly burned with anger. So many whys ran through my head: why wasn't her phone charged before the storm, why did it take her so long to find somewhere to charge it, why didn't she try to tell anyone that they didn't have power, why why why? I was concerned for my 92 year old grandma and her health. My fury sprouted from the fear that my mother was neglecting my grandmother's basic needs just like she had neglected mine when I lived with her.

My anger made me bold and I called my mother after I spoke to my brother. After I confirmed the details I had heard from my brother, I just went off. My mother, of course, did not take the criticism well and kept passing the phone to my grandmother in hopes of shutting me up. The conversation kept going in circles and I finally had enough. I told my mother that our relationship is now nothing more than us calling each other when a family member dies. Is that what she really wanted? I reminded her that the ball has been in her court for three years and she has done nothing to show me that she was genuinely sorry for what she put me through.

They wound up getting their power back the next day. Over a week passed. Then I got an email from my grandmother, chastising me for talking to my mother the way that I did. I have gotten flak from her before about the way I speak to my mother sometimes, but nothing like this. After nearly 20 years, I was sick of taking bullet after bullet for my mother. This hit was one that I was not going to take lying down. It was time for my grandmother to know the truth.

Hi Grandma,


Based on the things that you mentioned in your email, I have a feeling that Mom did not tell you the whole conversation that we had nor explained why I was so upset. In fact, over the years, you have been given a primarily one sided account of the relationship that Mom and I have and why it is the way it is. You no doubt have noticed that Mom's and my relationship has been strained for a long time and that it has continued to get worse instead of better. While it is unfortunate what happened because of Sandy, that was not the real reason I called Mom and spoke to her the way that I did. The real issue at hand is much, much more involved.

You have issues with the way that I speak to Mom. You’ve stated that plainly in the email and have said as much in the past. I think you know me well enough to know that the way I sometimes speak to and treat Mom is not indicative of my true personality and nature. I do not speak to or treat anyone else the way that I do with Mom.

I have never told you why I speak to and treat Mom that way and I have never told you why I am so upset with Mom. I never told you over the years because the truth is upsetting and I didn't want to upset you unnecessarily. When I was young, I also thought that it was my fault for the way things were and I was ashamed to tell anyone about it. I thought that Mom and I would move past this and I wouldn't have to say anything. It could simply be forgotten. I see now that that is not going to happen. You are clearly already upset about the situation and so you deserve to know the truth and I am no longer afraid to tell you.

Quite simply, I speak to and treat Mom the way that I do because no one else has treated me the way Mom has treated me. Mom is a hoarder. By hoarder, I do not mean that she simply has a messy, cluttered house. While it’s true that she has a tendency to collect clothing and food for the less fortunate, I am referring to a condition that is much more serious... The details are unpleasant, but you need to know in order to understand my distress... To put it plainly, if anyone really knew the conditions I was living in, I would have been taken away from her in a heartbeat and she would have been charged with child neglect.

As a child and then a teenager, growing up like this was incredibly upsetting. I did not understand why Mom was allowing our house to get worse and worse... I blamed myself for the way things were. I thought I did not deserve to live in a clean home and that’s why Mom did not throw things away or clean. I was sick all of the time because of all of the bacteria, mold, mildew, and feces around me (I've rarely been sick since I moved out of the house). I went through bouts of depression because I felt unworthy of everything and I thought that Mom simply did not love me. I became fearful that people would find out about our situation and so developed anxiety. The incredible hurt that I felt from our living situation would cause me, and continues to cause me, to lash out at her and speak to her and treat her the way that I did and do.

I didn’t fully understand the situation that I grew up in until I went away for college. By then, the damage was already done to my mental and emotional health as well as Mom’s and my relationship. It pains me to admit this to you, Grandma, but the intense anguish I felt drove me to the brink of suicide. I sought therapy and attempted to find peace with the situation. You might remember that a few years ago, Mom and I fought for over 3 hours on Christmas day. This was shortly after I hit my lowest low. We were talking about her hoarding and how it affected me. I confronted her about how damaging it was to me.

[My brother] knows about the past partially because he was there and partially because I’ve told him the details. He has talked to Mom multiple times about her hoarding and has tried to help her. He convinced her to apologize to me. When she apologized, I accepted her apology, but I told her that in order for any change to take place, I needed to see some action so that I knew she was genuine. I placed the ball in her court and I have seen no action. She has since distanced herself from [my brother] as well.

I have tried to talk to her and reason with her. I have tried to make her understand how hurt I was and continue to be. While I am still so hurt, that anger is going to come out and lash out at her. I am not proud of this and I would like nothing more than to change it, but I cannot change if Mom is not willing to help heal the wounds that she caused.

The reason I was so upset when I called after Sandy is because, over the last three years (since I asked to see action from her), I only get a call from Mom if someone in the family dies. She does not communicate things with me or with [my brother]. This is the part of the conversation I don’t think Mom told you about. While I understand that there were barriers in place, communication in these situations is necessary. More importantly though, the fact that Mom is assisting in your care touched a raw nerve with me. When I lived with her, Mom neglected my basic needs and did not seek help in our situation. I do not wish that or the hopeless feeling I felt then on anyone. I was concerned that you were also being neglected and not being helped. My trust in Mom has been broken for quite some time and I want you to be in capable hands.

No doubt, if she is confronted about this or if she reads this email, she will have excuses and will be in denial, but these things are facts and this is the way that I felt and continue to feel. These things are my past and she has not taken responsibility for what happened to me when I was a child. She was the parent and she let these things happen to me.

She might have issue with the term “hoarder” and she might want to continue to blame her thyroid disease on the situation despite there being zero medical evidence, but that does not change the fact that these things happened, that she did nothing to stop them, and that they affected me profoundly in physical, mental, and emotional ways.

I’m sorry if this email is upsetting and shocking to you. I hoped so much that this would blow over and be forgotten. Instead, it haunts me every day. I have many demons because of the conditions I grew up in and the relationship that I have with Mom. The way I speak to her is just one of these demons. I fight hard against it, but it will still rear its ugly head until I can find ultimate peace with this situation.

I love and care about you deeply, Grandma. Your house has always been a safe haven for me... I hope that Mom and I can one day get past this. Until she is fully on board though, I honestly doubt that is possible.

My grandma could have taken that email so many different ways. I was ready for her not to believe what I told her. I was prepared for my mother to call me in a fit of rage. I got a response from my grandma the day after I sent her the email telling me that she was disturbed by what I told her, but that she's not going to get involved. It's between my mother and me. My mother is a good daughter to her and I should try to be more considerate. She hopes I can put the past behind me and is deleting my email so that my mother won't see it.

In someways, I feel relieved for finally saying what needed to be said for years. In others, I feel as though I stuck my neck out only for it to be buried in the sand again by someone else. I can't blame my grandma for just wanting to pretend like she doesn't know and for not turning against her daughter, but, ultimately, she's only enabling my mother to continue her hurtful behavior.

In the end, all I really want is closure. Instead, the door keeps getting stuck hanging ajar.

Friday, November 16, 2012


I try my hardest to post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday here on my blog in order to appeal to my readers' desire for regularity. I must admit that, today, I have nothing to give to you besides this brief update. I have been dealing with some family turmoil these past few weeks and it has finally come to a head. I am honestly too tired to sit down and write a pleasant post for you all. I plan to write at length about what is going on with my mother very soon, but right now, it is just too raw. I can tell you that her secret will no longer be kept from some key players in my family after today.

Any kind words and thoughts are greatly appreciated and I hope to have some much more compelling content to share next week.

Take care and have a restful weekend.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Be not the slave of your own past

"Be not the slave of your own past. Plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep and swim far, so you shall come back with self-respect, with new power, with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old." -Ralph Waldo Emerson via Free People

Monday, November 12, 2012

Someday is Today: Baby steps

Here's some real life honesty for you guys: I've decided not to give myself a new goal to work on this month because I've barely made any headway on my last goal. No use piling on a new goal when I'm already struggling.

Some of you may be wondering what in the world is the big deal about me applying lotion. It's not hard to do and it can be done in seconds. I don't really have an answer to that question. It's something I simply forget to do all.of.the.time. I'm also good at talking myself out of needing lotion. As I've mentioned before, this is complete crap since I suffer from severely dry skin and eczema. It also doesn't help that the weather lately as been a roller coaster and I rarely have dry skin when it's warm, giving me more excuses not to apply lotion.

In order to try to remember to apply lotion more often, I've placed my bottle of lotion on my nightstand so I see it frequently. I'm also getting low on lotion, so I'm going to buy a new bottle tomorrow and hope that the newness of the item will also grab my attention and entice me to try it out.

I know that all of this sounds straight up dumb, but applying lotion is a habit I really need to work on since my skin can become incredibly itchy incredibly quickly. I could easily become covered it eczema spots if I'm not diligent and that is the last thing I want. So! I'm going to try harder this month and hopefully not have to dwell on applying lotion much longer on this blog.

In addition to lotion, I want to also focus in on my blackheads much more and see if I can figure out how to unclog my pores more consistently. It looks like November is going to be full of skincare!

As far as exercise, water, and sass go, I'm continuing to chug along and stay pretty consistant with my progress on those goals.

How have your goals been going? Have you been able to form new habits?

Friday, November 9, 2012


by stoner1 via Flickr
“When you experience uncertainty, you are on the right path – so don’t give it up. You don’t need to have a complete and rigid idea of what you’ll be doing next week or next year, because if you have a very clear idea of what’s going to happen and you get rigidly attached to it, then you shut out the whole range of possibilities.”
- Deepak Chopra

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

November podcast

I am super excited to be sharing my first podcast with you today. Below is a conversation my brother and I had about growing up with our hoarding mother and how our experiences differed. Please take a listen and offer up your suggestions and questions!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Grad school prioritizing

by hockadilly via Flickr
My best friend, Lynn, is currently in a PhD program (which I'm insanely proud of her for!) and asked me for some advice recently regarding prioritizing and how to get everything done in grad school: "How did you organize yourself when you were doing grad school? How did you decide what to work on first? I'm just so paralyzed by the list that I haven't started DOING anything. Any advice would be really appreciated."

Since some of you might be in this same boat, I decided to share my short answer here to spread the love:

You've got a million things that are all important and need to get done and you feel paralyzed because you don't know where to start. I think you should just start somewhere. Don't overthink it. It's all important, so I don't think you can make a wrong move or choice regarding where to start. Start and then when that task is done, move on to the next. Knowing what to do next will stop you from being paralyzed again. Just kind of string it all together so that once you're finished with one thing, you just slide into the next. It's more of a mental thing than anything else and building up momentum really helps. Of course, keep an eye on due dates and work accordingly. It's also helpful to break the big things into smaller chunks and then space them out so that it gets done by the deadline and you don't have to rush around trying to get it all done at the last minute.

Need some more advice about grad school? I've written about how to survive working full-time while going to school full-time (part one and part two) and how to decide if you should work while in school. Have any more questions? Feel free to ask!

Friday, November 2, 2012


"And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it." -Roald Dahl

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Life happenings

by kimonomania via Flickr
If you can believe it, October is almost over! I hope it's been a good month for you; it's certainly been a busy one for me. I realized that sometimes I can get caught up with sharing so many other things with my readers that I neglect to share what's really going on in my life (example: not posting about my nephew's birthday party until almost two months after the fact!). I'm going to attempt to fix that by giving you all life updates about once a month.

My biggest news to share is that I got the librarian job in San Francisco! As you can imagine, this is huge for me and I have been feeling very overwhelmed by all of the details involved. I won't be starting the job until January, so I have a good amount of time to get my ducks in a row. Be prepared for plenty of cross country road trip posts!

The beautiful bride and me
A good college friend/former roommate of mine got married a few weeks ago and my boyfriend and I were fortunate enough to attend the ceremony. Originally, I wasn't sure if I were going to be able to make it because of my job search and interviewing, but things worked out and we could go. It was so wonderful to see her so happy.

A Richmond tradition
In smaller news, I went to the annual Richmond Folk Festival to get my fill of Indian food and listen to some zydeco and kosher gospel (yes, that's a thing and it's awesome). I had a cavity free visit at the dentist and attended a library conference to network my face off.

On a somber note, I was incredibly sad last week to hear about the passing of Sidney Patrick, a children of hoarders advocate. Sidney was a regular reader of my blog and I had hoped to form a friendship with her and include her in my interview series. My thoughts go out to her family and loved ones.

Richmond was very lucky and managed to emerge from Hurricane Sandy largely unscathed. Aside from acquiring a touch of cabin fever and a migraine, I weathered the storm just fine.

Books read: I'm continuing my book purge and so my choice of books is a little odd. I finished reading The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers (I would not recommend it. Read the earlier books in the series instead) and The Da Vinci Code (also not recommended. Sure, the ideas are intriguing, but the writing is awful). I am currently reading The Winter of Our Discontent and am enjoying it so far despite my past dislike for Steinbeck.

Movies and TV series watched: I watched a short British TV series, The Book Group, on Netflix streaming and enjoyed it overall despite it having an unsatisfying ending. I also watched a German film, The Princess and the Warrior that I've been wanting to watch for a long time. There were a few points that bugged me about the movie, but I liked it quite a bit. I'm currently watching the second season of The League and could not recommend the show enough. I don't like sports, let alone fantasy sports, but I find the show to be simply hilarious.

Internet finds:
"The impossible courage of 'I love you, but no'" reminded me of my time dating a guy who is bipolar.

Being firm does not equal being a bitch: it's okay to be assertive. Really.

My boyfriend, a huge fellow thrifter, showed me this not safe for sensitive ears rap about thrift stores:

I can be terribly behind on pop culture and this month I finally discovered the grumpy cat and brushie brushie brushie memes (my favorite is Captain Picard).

I am not a fan of Katy Perry, but I am a fan of Katy Perry doing a duet with a girl who has autism. The video will make you tear up, guaranteed.

I posted last week about Crystal Paine's newest ebook, 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life. While the $.99 sale is over, it's still available for only $4.99 if you haven't ordered a copy yet.

Here's to a great start to November!

Monday, October 29, 2012

That one time my mother went to a birthday party and didn't talk to her family

Party animal
My nephew turned one in September and I recently realized that I failed to mention my trip to Pennsylvania for his birthday party on this here blog- whoops! While it was great to see my brother, sister in law, grandma, and nephew (and witness his first steps!), my mother provided her usual damper to the occasion.

Shortly before my nephew was born, my brother tried to talk to my mother about her hoarding and how she needs to change. He was attempting to help her and, unsurprisingly, she lied and pushed him away instead of accepting the offer. Ever since, my mother has been very distant from my brother and very uninvolved with his son. We all think this is an incredible shame and know that she will ultimately regret missing her grandson grow up, but you can't help someone who doesn't want it.

We were half expecting my mother to just not show up to the birthday party, but she did come... and then promptly ignored us. She barely talked to my brother, sister in law, and me and barely interacted with my nephew, the birthday boy and reason for the party, while she was there. She mostly talked to my sister in law's mom and aunt. An incident involving the grill, my brother, and singed hair didn't even elicit a reaction from her and she just continued to sit and chat as if nothing had happened.

As if her cold demeanor weren't enough, while saying good bye to me, she half heartedly wished me luck with my job interview and told me that if it didn't work out I should keep applying for jobs. Umm thanks for your vote of confidence. I feel like that's something you tell someone after they interviewed and they don't feel like it went well, not something you say to someone before they've even had the interview.

My expectations for my mother are so low that her behavior barely even surprises me any more.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A reader's life

Since I'm currently at a library conference, I thought that this quotation was appropriate to post: "A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one." -George RR Martin

Enjoy your weekend and may you work on your one thousand lives!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Interview series: Fury

A reader who would like to go by the name Fury was kind enough to answer some questions about his experiences being a child of a hoarder as part of my children of hoarders interview series. Take it away, sir!

I am a software engineer, with a background in System Administration/QA, working at a Financial Services company. I am into video games, weightlifting, and keeping my own hoarding tendencies in check. I struggle to keep the balance, but have a great fiancée who helps keep me in check and level-headed. She's very understanding and helpful in the process of rationalizing interactions I have with my HP, when you can actually apply logic/reason to the situation. That's probably the hardest part to most of the interactions is that logic/reason don't apply in any way/shape/form. Sometimes I wish you could force a HP to seek out help, especially if they can't see the problem!

Which parent hoards? Mother

Do you have any hoarding tendencies? I think I have the tendencies, but under control for the time being. There's the ever-present "need to acquire new things" temptation that I fight with a lot. It's an ongoing struggle, but at least I'm fighting it/seeking help for it.

Is there a history of hoarding in your family? If so, who else hoards? I would definitely say yes to a family history of hoarding, I can think of at least a few aunt's that have a lot of "stuff," and can remember them "collecting" various things beyond any sort of normal means. In a couple instances it's probably more the traditional definition of hoarding, where the rooms aren't usable for their intended purpose, whereas others just have a lot of stuff/large areas to store it so it's not as detrimental in that regard, but probably still in the financial aspect.

What are your hoarding parent (HP)’s favorite things to hoard? Household products, clothing, "gifts" for every friend/person she knows, but they never make it to the person. Kitchen supplies, food, and anything she finds at a discounted/bargain rate.

How is your relationship with your HP? What relationship? There hasn't been one in over a decade, at least. I maintained contact while I was still paying off some of my student loans in her name, but now she'll call every few months when she realizes she hasn't heard from me in a while. I'd say people/family hasn't been her focus for nearly 20 years now, at least. It's frustrating having to be the adult in the relationship from such an early age.

Do you still live at home? If not, when did you move out? No, I moved out for college at 18, never looked back.

Does anyone besides your HP currently live in the hoard? If so, who and how are they handling it? Yes, my sister (who moved out/back in at some point), step-dad, and nephew. They seem to be enablers for it, and I'd even go as far to say my sister will continue the hoard long after my mother is gone. The shopaholic tendencies, poor decision making, "thrill" of getting something new, and inability to get rid of things are a perfect storm for the hoard. They also suffer from anger/frustration issues, which I shared until I removed myself from the situation. Being unable to change/improve the conditions you are in is mind-boggling-frustrating. I've seen the issues first-hand from my step-dad/sister, and fear for what my nephew will be growing up in.

Who else, if anyone, knows about your HP’s hoard? I know quite a few people in the family know about it, but since she's a "user" of people and burned most of the relationships, I'm not surprised no one has stepped in/said anything (not that it would matter, given how stubborn she is).

When did you first realize that your HP’s behavior was abnormal? I'd say 1996/7ish, when we had a cross-country move and my real dad was stationed in South Korea for a few years. Things started changing and the inability to throw things out/let things go started to get worse. While I was in the house, it was a constant fight/struggle to keep pathways/areas clear so we could LIVE. Once I left/my sister moved out, the house steadily declined.

When, if ever, were you able to disassociate yourself from the shame of hoarding and begin opening up about it? I'd say college was probably the first time, I mean, I talked about it/spent a lot of time at friends houses in high school since it was not enjoyable to live in. I'm not really ashamed of it, more, frustrated/annoyed to see it decline instead of improve despite how she'll talk about it when I'm away.

Have you ever sought any kind of therapy for dealing with your HP and living in a hoard? Yeah, I sought it in college a few times, and am currently seeking it on how to process/deal with some of the decisions I've had to make to survive the relationship/lack thereof.

Do you have any hope that your HP will eventually stop hoarding? Why or why not? No, I have no hope of her ever stopping. With how much she works/isn't home, I imagine she'll drop on the spot at a job and that'll be it. My sister will continue the hoard or be unable to afford the house and be forced to sell it. 

What is the most disgusting or interesting thing you encountered in the hoard? Mostly when she would keep things I'd thrown out, that was when it really started to sink in there was larger issues at hand. I haven't really been around/in the hoard for some time now since just being in that atmosphere causes my allergies to act up and the frustration at the hopelessness to return.

What is at least one positive thing you were able to glean from living in a hoard and dealing with your HP? I'll never live in that sort of environment again, I've got my faults and issues, but will never let it get that bad. I couldn't put my fiancee through it or future children.

What are some ways you coped with living in a hoard? I was able to keep my room in pristine condition. That and the internet, probably the only two things that saved me from the worst parts of it. Well, that and having a good group of friends to spend time with away from it.

Do you have any advice for others currently living in a hoard or trying to cope with their HP? Don't try to change the HP, unless they want to change, your efforts will always be in vain. Get out of the situation as soon as you can, and seek help from a professional to get your head on straight. Living with a HP isn't living.

Thank you, Fury, for answering my questions so honestly! If you are a child of a hoarder and are interested in being interviewed over email, please shoot me a message!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

21 Days to a More Disciplined Life ebook

One of the few sites I make sure to check out on a daily basis in Crystal Paine's Money Saving Mom blog. Through her deal posts and life simplification tips, she has saved me an immense about of money and sanity over the last 5 years of being a reader.

Today, Crystal is launching her newest ebook, 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life. I don't know about you, but my hoarding mother did not instill in me (or demonstrate) a good sense of self-discipline when it came to handling life obligations. I had to learn the hard way about how to turn my ideas into reality. Last year, Crystal ran a blog series with the same name and I was able to glean a lot of good tips from her posts about motivating myself to look my big scary goals in the face and chip away at them until I reached the finish line. Her ebook has updated and expanded upon these posts and I have no doubt that her newly polished strategies will be immensely helpful for those also struggling to achieve success.

Here's more about the ebook in Crystal's own words:

Do you have ideas, hopes, and dreams for what you want to accomplish in your life, but you feel like you’re being held back by a lack of personal discipline? 

Are you easily overwhelmed by your big ideas or projects, and you just don’t know where to start and how to make real progress? 

Do you find yourself making “all-or-nothing” plans for transforming your life, and then three days later you crash and burn under the weight of your plan? 

My new e-book 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life may be the solution to your frustration. 

What You Can Expect to Learn From This Book:

  • How to prioritize and name your goals so that you can accomplish them faster than ever.
  • How to expose the obstacles that will come up, and then make a plan to conquer them.
  • How to break up a goal that feels insurmountable into bite-sized pieces.
  • How to stop making excuses and get the job done now — and then enjoy the rest of your day!
  • How to put accountability in place to help you stay on task and motivated.

Purchasing this ebook also gives you access to printable worksheets to make the process even easier!

Until October 25, Crystal is offering her ebook for only $.99! For less than a dollar, you can be well on your way to tackling those hurdles that have been holding you back from achieving your goals. That is what I call a deal, my friends! After October 25, the ebook wil be available for $4.99- still a fantastic steal in my opinion! Click the links to learn more about 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life and to purchase a copy for yourself.

(Note: this post contains affiliate links.)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Now is right on time

"Your journey has molded you for the greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don't think that you've lost time. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time." -Asha Tyson

Friday, October 19, 2012

Oui oui

I haven't done an outfit post since finishing up 30x30, so I thought I'd shake it up a bit and share with you what I wore yesterday since I was pretty proud of it.

Jacket: thrifted | Striped top: American Eagle | Skirt: thrifted | Flats: thrifted | Necklace: my mother's jewelry box

I felt very Parisian in this outfit. It was simple, yet elegant. I don't think I've ever worn this shirt with anything but jeans, so I'm proud of myself for breaking the mold. I really liked the lighter stripes with the dark blue and the dark blue with the bright red. I thought my little red heart necklace helped tie it all together. All that was missing was a swipe of red lipstick. Baby steps, guys, baby steps.

This jacket has quickly become my favorite jacket. It's Liberty of London for Target, but I got it for a mere $9 from Goodwill. I got the skirt during the same trip (for $2.50!) and it is also a new favorite of mine. I'm replacing my old baggy navy skirt with this one. I'm thinking about taking it to a tailor to get it shortened a bit so that it'll hit right above my knees. Thoughts? What would a true Parisian do?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Exciting blog news: podcast!

by vincentwiki via Flickr
Hi, friends! While we're only halfway through October, November is quickly shaping up to be a very exciting month here at Squalor Holler. I don't want to let too many cats out of the bag just yet, so I'm just going to share one bit of news for now.

A few months ago, I was pondering over how to make my little blog more than just about me and my experiences as a child of a hoarder and how I deal with my past as an adult. Since hoarding affects so many people and is still very misunderstood, I decided that introducing more voices would be more beneficial than just focusing solely on my own voice. My children of hoarders interview series was one idea I had while I was thinking about this bigger than me angle. My second idea involved the other child of a hoarder in my family: my brother.

My brother has graciously agreed to do a monthly podcast with me where we'll talk about our childhood and how we are both affected by my mother's hoarding behavior. I figured adding his voice would offer a fuller picture of how hoarding affects a family as a whole.

We have tentatively decided to record our first session during the last week in October and I plan to post it on my blog shortly thereafter.

Is this podcast something that interests you? I hope this news is as exciting for you as it is for me! Do you have any questions for us that you would like answered during our chat?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Someday is Today: More moisturized skin

As I've mentioned before, I suffer from dry skin. It can get so bad that my eczema flares up and I get peppered with dry, crusty, red spots all over my body. Lucky me!

Now that the temperatures are starting to get cooler and the air is starting to get drier, I've already discovered two spots of eczema: one on my hip and one on my ribs. Again, lucky me!

You might be asking yourself, "Why doesn't Sarah just have a regular lotion routine so she can help prevent the eczema spots and scratching her skin raw?" Very good question, friend.

Despite the uncomfortableness of my dry skin, I am awful at lotioning myself up. I seem to forget that it's an option until I'm furiously digging at my skin, pleading for it to feel less itchy. It doesn't help that I hate the sticky, wet feeling of lotion on my skin and that it requires being at least partially naked and I get cold very easily (especially with these colder temperatures). I think it's about time I just sucked it up and found a way to deal with it, don't you?

This is totally more of a mental block thing than anything else, so I think fitting it rationally into my routine is going to be the best approach. Here's the plan:
  • On mornings that I shower, slather on lotion before I get dressed for the day. I'm already naked and probably cold, so it should be relatively easy to take a few extra seconds to put lotion on before pulling on some clothes.
  • On mornings that I don't shower, put lotion on after taking off pajamas and before putting on clothes (preferably piece by piece so I'm never fully naked and, therefore, shivering).
  • On nights when I feel extra itchy, do the reverse and put lotion on while I'm changing out of clothes and into pajamas.

Ta da! Nice and easy. Let's see if I can manage it.

Updates on other goals:

Acne: I have had surprisingly few pimples over the last few weeks. I think the break out that I was complaining about before was due to the change in seasons. My face seems to have calmed down for the most part, at least for now. I have been using the oil cleansing method a few times a week and I like how moisturized my skin feels afterwards. I have also used baking soda as an exfoliant and have been very pleased with the smooth results. I think the smaller granules work better on my face than the larger granules found in most exfoliating products on the market. I am still struggling with blackheads, so I'll be focusing more on that now that pimples have subsided.

Exercise: Travel and a busy schedule (and occasional laziness if I'm being honest!) have caused me to miss a few days here and there of my exercise plan. I'm still happy with my progress though.

Water: I'm still drinking a good amount of water everyday, especially when I'm at work. I need to start paying better attention to how much water I'm drinking when I'm not at my desk.

Sass: The boyfriend and I seem to be having less arguments that revolve around my attitude. When my sass rears its ugly head, I am much more quick to apologize, soften my voice, and get to the real heart of the matter, rather than let my tone of voice take the discussion/argument hostage. Progress!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Am I proud of the life I’m living?

by djbrady via Flickr
"This is the thing: When you hit 28 or 30, everything begins to divide. You can see very clearly two kinds of people. On one side, people who have used their 20s to learn and grow, to find … themselves and their dreams, people who know what works and what doesn’t, who have pushed through to become real live adults.

Then there’s the other kind, who are hanging onto college, or high school even, with all their might. They’ve stayed in jobs they hate, because they’re too scared to get another one. They’ve stayed with men or women who are good but not great, because they don’t want to be lonely. … they mean to develop intimate friendships, they mean to stop drinking like life is one big frat party. But they don’t do those things, so they live in an extended adolescence, no closer to adulthood than when they graduated.

Don’t be like that. Don’t get stuck. Move, travel, take a class, take a risk. There is a season for wildness and a season for settledness, and this is neither. This season is about becoming. Don’t lose yourself at happy hour, but don’t lose yourself on the corporate ladder either.

Stop every once in a while and go out to coffee or climb in bed with your journal. Ask yourself some good questions like: 'Am I proud of the life I’m living? What have I tried this month? … Do the people I’m spending time with give me life, or make me feel small? Is there any brokenness in my life that’s keeping me from moving forward?' Now is your time. Walk closely with people you love, and with people who believe … life is a grand adventure.

Don’t get stuck in the past, and don’t try to fast-forward yourself into a future you haven’t yet earned. Give today all the love and intensity and courage you can, and keep traveling honestly along life’s path."

-Relevant Magazine via kkkrissy, emphasis mine

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Interview series: Deedee

My second interviewee for my children of hoarders interview series is Deedee. The floor is hers:

I am a wife, mother of two adorable preschoolers, and full-time usability analyst for a large oil services company (which is just a fancy way of saying I design software). I have lived a great number of places along the East Coast and throughout the south, and while I currently live in Texas, I consider my home to be in Mississippi. I'm still struggling to sort out what parts of my life and how I think about things are related to growing up in the hoard, and what parts, regardless of how I acquired them, are worth keeping - but I think I'm making progress, and providing my kids a better life because of it.

Which parent hoards? My mother - although I'm coming to accept that my Dad was an enabler, and years of living with mom produced many things I would call "pre-hoarding" traits - wanting to collect things, being excited about acquiring, not limiting collections, etc. But Dad never reached the levels that my mom did (and does).

Growing up, the state of the house varied from "only slightly embarrassing" to "a friend called CPS on us" - but spent most of the time near that second mark. Roaches, moths, the whole bit. When my dad got sick about 9 years ago, it got really really bad - and when my dad died 2 years ago, it went off the deep end. I honestly think the house would be condemned if anyone inspected it.

Do you have any hoarding tendencies? This is a really hard question for me, as I am terrified of becoming my mother. I would say I have some "pre-hoarding" tendencies, but I monitor them very closely. I tend to be a little compulsive, so I have to watch my buying habits and acquire things carefully - with a mind as to where I will put them, how much I really need, and so on. I think most of my problem is with habits - I don't know "how" to clean, or what habits I need to keep everything clean. But I try really hard, and I'm determined to keep the house clean enough for my kids.

I struggle with determining what constitutes a "normal" amount of cleaning for a house - some days I clean like crazy, other days not so much. My house is not magazine perfect, but it is "clean" - not gross, I scrub the bathrooms and kitchen regularly, etc. I probably don't sweep and vacuum enough, haha. And my kids have too much stuff, but I try to keep things organized and cull down a couple of times a year. My husband helps a lot, he's very patient with me, but totally over my mom entirely. He's still finding out things about my childhood that upset him (we've been married 8 years, and dated 4 years before that).

I do have this fear that something will happen (I'll get sick, or my husband will, or someone will die, or there will be a fire, or any number of other traumatic events) and I'll go off the deep end and start hoarding. Or just not be able to keep up with the house. I think working to put good habits in place and keep the house in order helps calm this fear, but it's still there.

Is there a history of hoarding in your family? If so, who else hoards? My mother's sister hoards, but it's more of a clean hoard. Just dusty, not rotting food and such. I suspect my sister hoards, but I don't know. My mom (and her sister) were adopted, so I don't know much about their biological family. But my mother's adopted mother always kept a magazine quality house. My father's mother and sister keep neat and tidy houses - something my mother made fun of them for when I was growing up, saying they couldn't afford to have enough stuff to have clutter. Ha!

What are your hoarding parent (HP)’s favorite things to hoard? Everything. Food and food wrappers are a lot of it, but also vitamins, health food stuff, crafting supplies, and paper - she used to print out every web page she went to "so she could read it later", and that generated a ton of paper. She has fabric from years ago that she was going to make into a quilt, baby clothes she bought for my kids before they were born (or thought of) that never made it to us, tons of organizational supplies, trading cards, you name it.

And books. She has so many books that my grandmother built a huge, almost two story, four car garage in the back yard to use as a library - complete with built in shelves. All the shelves are full of books, and the walkways between them and the rest of the garage are full, floor to ceiling, with books and other things.

How is your relationship with your HP? Right now we talk once or twice a year, and she occasionally comments on my facebook posts. So basically, no relationship. I pretty much broke contact about two years ago, when I realized how abusive she could be and how badly she was affecting my mental health. The break was hard (and still is sometimes), but my day-to-day life is so much better not having to worry about her and accepting the fact that she will not change.

Do you still live at home? If not, when did you move out? I moved out to go to college when I was 17 - but still went home for school holidays (if the dorms were closed) until I got married at 22 - a month and a half after graduation. I cleaned a lot oat the house, and kept things livable at least some of the time. Everything got a lot worse when I left (both for college, and then again when I got married) - I think part of this is because I wasn't there, and a great deal of it is because my dad got sick. Added stress on mom meant more hoarding.

Does anyone besides your HP currently live in the hoard? If so, who and how are they handling it? My dad lived in the hoard until he passed away two years ago - he tried to clean as much as possible, but was very passive when it came to mom. I think he didn't want to upset her, and he had kind of given up on keeping it clean. The last couple of years, he just didn't have the strength (or sight) to do anything about it.

Now, my mom lives alone, although I hear through the family grapevine that she's acquired a couple of kittens.

Who else, if anyone, knows about your HP’s hoard? My dad's whole family knows - his mom (who lived with us for a while), his sister (who his mom now lives with), and his sister's whole family. My mom's sister knows. Not many people that mom knows outside the family, I guess, except my husband's family - we told them and showed them pictures two years ago.

My bible study group knows, and several of my friends. I'm fairly open about it now, and just straight up tell people if they ask about my mom.

When did you first realize that your HP’s behavior was abnormal? I was homeschooled, so it took a while - I think it became really obvious when I was in college, but I knew before then that other people kept their houses clean. I did have a few friends through church, and I knew I couldn't invite them to my house.

When, if ever, were you able to disassociate yourself from the shame of hoarding and begin opening up about it? Only within the last 3-5 years. Being on the COH boards helped, as well as having the support of my husband and my dad's family. And therapy. I figure the more open I can be, and the more people in my life that know, the more people can stop me if I start heading down that road. Plus, I'm just tired of keeping secrets.

Have you ever sought any kind of therapy for dealing with your HP and living in a hoard? Yes - I saw a therapist for a while after my kids were born - I had two children under two years old, was dealing with some postpartum depression, had lost my dad, and was trying to figure out how the hoarding affected me as a parent. I was terrified that I would turn into my mom, and my relationship with her was dissolving. Therapy was very helpful in getting me to open up, and realized that it's not my fault and that I can provide something better for my kids. It's also helped me open up to my husband more about the situation - although he was aware of the hoarding, he's still learning things about how my family operated and how the hoarding affected us.

Do you have any hope that your HP will eventually stop hoarding? Why or why not? No. Even with roaches and mold and general nastiness everywhere, she still thinks it is not a problem. She still thinks it's my fault, and my siblings. because we left all the stuff in her house. Unless she can see it's a problem, she will never change - and I don't think that will ever happen.

What is the most disgusting or interesting thing you encountered in the hoard? Food. Rotting food is disgusting. And insects. And rodents.

One time, when I was maybe 8 or so, I found on a table one of the super-yummy giant gourmet muffins that my mom liked to eat - it had been a three-pack, but there was only one left. I turned to mom and asked if I could have it, and as I picked up the package to show her, a couple of giant roaches crawled out of the wrapper. She looked, horrified, at the roaches, then shrugged and said "If you want it, I guess you can have it." I threw it away.

Another time, my husband and I were visiting my parents (right after we got married, I think, maybe our first Christmas). My mom mentioned they had been having some rodent problems (which we had noticed by the number of droppings on every surface). My sister (who lived in the hoard at the time) went to pick up her coat that she had thrown on a pile - and discovered AFTER she had put it on that it had stuck to a glue trap that had a live mouse still stuck to it! Everyone freaked out so much my husband had to go extract the glue trap (and mouse) from her coat. I was mortified.

What is at least one positive thing you were able to glean from living in a hoard and dealing with your HP? I've learned the importance of acknowledging my faults and asking for help, as well as accepting help that is offered to me. After my son was born, I was so overwhelmed with working and dealing with both kids and my husband and the house (and my mom), that I thought I would drown. I saw a therapist, and told my husband I needed more help - he took on more than his fair share of the kids and the housework for a while, and hired a maid twice a month for a year until I got my feet under me again. My mother would have never admitted she needed the help, or allowed a maid in to help her even if it had been offered.

I'm also super good at remembering where things are, if they are some place odd. This doesn't mean I can always find my keys, but it does help a lot :-)

What are some ways you coped with living in a hoard? I read. A lot. We had a lot of books. I still love to read, and still use it as an escape sometimes. I have too many books, probably - but anytime they overflow the shelves I pare them down and get rid of some until they fit again, so I figure it won't get out of hand :-)

I also spent a lot of time daydreaming. And I got a job, in high school, that took up a lot of time.

I cleaned, when I could, but got tired of cleaning ALL THE TIME only to have the space instantly fill again - or throwing away a newspaper that was 6 months old only to be told "I was going to read that!" So cleaning was sporadic. Mostly I just read and daydreamed.

Do you have any advice for others currently living in a hoard or trying to cope with their HP? Just remember that hoarding is most likely a result of mental illness - if your hoarding parent won't admit that they need to change, then there is nothing YOU can do to change them. It's not your fault that they are the way they are, or that the house is the way it is. And if you need to walk away from your HP to keep your sanity or to protect yourself or your family - DO IT! Don't let anyone guilt you into continuing to offer help when the help is refused or unappreciated. Remember that it's okay to love your parents and still set boundaries with them regarding how you will interact and what kind of behavior is acceptable. Live YOUR life, not theirs.

Thank you, Deedee, for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly! If you are a child of a hoarder and are interested in being interviewed over email, please shoot me a message