We pulled up to the local dump. The line was long on this gorgeous sunny Sunday. The BIG truck was almost more than I could handle. As the driver, I was afraid I wouldn’t maneuver properly and possibly dump the load or hit the tight wall. I was worried I might be putting my daughter and myself in danger. I couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The man who greeted us made it seem like we had arrived at his dinner party. He gently answered my questions, evaluated our junk and kindly gave us a bargain price for the “therapy” I was about to receive.
I was unloading many lives. I finally was finding my way through all of this junk that had been collecting in my life. It has been a challenging and painful process that I still cannot believe happened so quickly. I am certain it was because throwing out someone else’s stuff is uncomfortable. It is especially difficult because it was my mother’s treasures. It is complicated to throw away things that aren’t yours. It is even more complex when it is your mothers’, and she is still very much alive. I believe it would have been different had I been discarding her things after she had passed away.
I felt guilty about the extreme waste. I didn’t like I was feeding the landfill with more paper, things, clothing, frames, fabric, books and perfectly good furniture in a world filled with people who don’t have the basics, who lack the essentials they need and I was adding to the piles of stuff. I was confronting the harsh reality that my mother was a hoarder. The hoarding had to stop because my mom was downsizing and moving. Her nest had to change due to real estate and financial changes. And now it was my decision what to toss and what not to. I was deciding what was important and what was not. I wrestled with the profound arbitrariness of what to throw away and what to keep. I was tossing out her copied recipes, fabric, books, furniture and so many damn 3-ring binders I had to scream. The choosing was so necessary and sadly, so painful. One person’s treasures are perhaps not another person’s junk.
And so, on a seemingly non-consequential Sunday my ‘therapy’ had begun….I was dumping years of junk: My junk, my mom’s junk, my kid’s junk, and my neighbor’s junk. All thrown out and gone. How had it started? Why all the stuff? Collecting is a part of my family’s genetics. My mother’s brother Max was a very cool character. He was a well-known music producer. We respected his privacy and knew that no one ever went inside his house. When he died, we discovered what he was hiding. His hoarding had become unmanageable and unhealthy. Just like his sister, my mother, they kept people away from their hidden secret existence. Unlike my mom, he never pushed away relationships. He didn’t leave people he loved behind. He continued to value his connection with people even though he refused to let them into his home.
On the other side, my father Sandy is a third generation scrap dealer. As he always said “junk” is a four-letter word, “scrap” isn’t. He maintained a scrap yard in Salt Lake City starting when he was 11 years old until he was about 70. His grandfather Max gave it to his father Ben and then he took over. He loved tearing down buildings, weighing in the re-usable metal, and finding treasures hidden in old scrap.
Sadly, on my mom’s side I was facing the hoarding disorder – more junk than scrap. I had respected my mother’s privacy for two years and never visited her house. She visited ours quite often. I didn’t realize how much her collection of stuff had become so unmanageable. Hoarding is so complicated. I have always called her a “creative hoarder” – someone who liked to build a nest of things she used. Using “creative hoarder” was perhaps my way of softening the reality of what she has become. My mother is suffering from a very complicated disorder that has anxiety and depression underlying it. When it came time to move her, I discovered the complexity of her “secret.” I retreated to the bathroom and cried. The resilient side of me knew I had limited time to ponder and feel all of the emotions washing over me. I had seven workers waiting for my directions. It was time to act, and into full-blown action, we went. We had to sort through, save, discard or give away, many, many items. Floor to ceiling boxes and rooms that had no light coming through, were in front of me.
While at the dump discarding mounds of junk, I threw a large pane of glass onto the pile of stuff and realized, with the shattering of this piece of glass, that I was shattering ancestral junk, stagnate junk that I had been responsible for – literally and figuratively. I had been storing that which was not mine. I started to feel a little bit lighter.
My 13-year old always coaches me to get rid of as much of my junk as possible as she likes life to be light of stuff. I love nesting in the stuff I use and will use one day. I looked over and there she was with our old hula -hoop in her hand ready to toss it onto the pile of junk. I was not willing to part with it. That has always been our code word for when we get into one another’s business, and we need to stop. We say, “Stay in your hula hoop.” This day I was somehow out of my hula-hoop, and it was both right and wrong. Round and round my emotions went on this fateful day.
I stepped into the tattered purple hula-hoop that lay on the ground. I raised it to my hips and attempted to start my hips moving into a dance. My daughter grabbed it, stepped into the purple ring and off she went. Happily spinning it, celebrating the purge, and comfortably letting go. She stayed in her “hula hoop.” I can now see she is on her way to keeping this beautiful form throughout her lifetime.