02 November 2013
Is Hoarding Hereditary?
I remember when I was teeny weeny that my grandparents lived in a big house in Llanishen in Cardiff.The house had a lovely garden with lots of trees to run through and there was a railway track at the bottom.At Easter we used to go round for the annual egg hunt and we were fascinated by the trains at the bottom of the garden.I do not remember much about the inside of the house apart from that as kids we were not able to play inside at all and were only encouraged to play outside.This was, I understand because my grandmother (Imelda's mother) was, herself a horrendous hoarder.'Very extreme' was my mother's description.I do not remember what she kept but whatever it was, there was a lot of it.
The story repeats itself with Imelda.He prefers his family to come round and stay in the garden which is relatively clean and tidy apart from bits of wood destined for the fire.Imelda's father was very tidy almost to the point of extreme.When Imelda's mother passed away I understand, luckily, his father disposed of all the hoard and moved into a much smaller two bed flat.The flat was immaculate every time we went to visit.There was no rubbish anywhere and my grandfather used to get somewhat stressed when we kids put all our stuff all over the place, even though it was gone when we left.He also had a garage which was also clear enough to put his car inside. Imagine that - a garage with space for a car!How got rid of everything I do not remember. but he did it so it is possible.There is hope for me.When Imelda's father passed away, as Imelda was the final remaining son (his brother who was not a hoarder passed away a few years before) Imelda had ALL of the contents of his flat.I know this because I found a lot of it when I was clearing his house.This would not have been so bad if it had ever been sorted but as he died in about 1980 Imelda had 33 years to sort through it which he has never done.It must have come over in boxes and appears to have been put in Imelda's bedroom.
So Imelda's mum was a hoarder, then Imelda... Does that mean it now passes to me?I sincerely hope not.I think many families of hoarders, once they move away from the hoarder, are overly tidy to compensate for the confusion and havoc they have been used to.My family think I am a bit anal with the hoover.It is MY hoover and I like to use it all the time.I keep it clean and at risk of sounding somewhat odd, I love to empty the dust out and to clean the filters.There - my secret is out.I would consider myself to be fairly normal, apart from the hoover thing.My mates may beg to differ and I think they may describe me as 'a bit individual but in a nice way'.I think that is good.I do have a pet corn snake who is a part of the family in my living room but other than that I think I have got off fairly lightly on the weird front.The kids make a mess, as all kids do but that is OK and always cleaned up again in a few days.
The kids' bedroom is a horrendous mess.I have twins who share a room, one half is very tidy and the other - well I suspect IF the hoarding gene is going mutate anywhere it may well be here.
I have also heard OCD can be an issue in hoarder families.I do like to check the gas is off and the TV is not on standby, the doors are locked and the snake's cage doors are closed perhaps a few too many times before I go to bed but I figure this is normal.Oh and I hate toilets.If I have to clean the thing (the bloke usually does it as I think, being a bloke he is responsible for the state of it) then it is full gloves, hair tied back and a shower afterwards.Public toilets are the most evil places on earth in my opinion and it was always my biggest nightmare that when I was out with the kids they would need the toilet. Small children in a stinking public toilet is a recipe for catching something vile.I mean the type you get at a park or some old layby where the seats are broken, the flush doesn't work, the door doesn't lock, there is no loo paper, there is no hot water or soap or hand dryer and it stinks. The kids feel they have to touch everything including the seat, the flush and the door handle each of which would have enough germs to keep the infectious diseases control busy for years.Small kids have about a 15 minute bladder so you end up squidging in the cubicle with them telling them not to touch ANYTHING while you hold them from falling in while trying to find something to wipe their bum with while trying to stop your hair dangling down the pan. The kids come out and want something to eat.Vile vile vile vile.
OCD - me - um NO I think just an enhanced motherly concern.
Imelda's house in the Winter. Freezing cold but still we stay in the garden.
I was in the local supermarket today and I saw my friend's parents.This friend has been with me all through infant school up to the end of high school and we have stayed in touch.She is the Godmother of one of my children.I got into a conversation with her mother and she asked how the kids were etc etc.She then asked how my dad was she had heard about his unscheduled dismount from the ladder.She had seen the blog and had not realised the extent of the issue.I pictured her house which is gorgeous inside with underfloor heating and white carpets, huge glass windows. It is spacious, clean and really relaxing to be in.It is everything I would love in a house.She and her husband had it built about fifteen years ago to their specifications.I imagined myself visiting my parents with my kids in a house like that.There is a room with two lovely squishy sofas and a huge flatscreen TV on the wall.No clutter anywhere and a lovely big kitchen. So much lovely lovely SPACE.No smell of old musty neglect.
Sadly that is never going to be reality.It is such a shame Imelda's house is the way it is.His sofa is about 40 years old and flattened to within an inch of its life and eaten by moths and smelling musty and old.I prefer to perch on the edge of it if I have to sit down at all, rather than to sit on it.Imelda's carpet has a vile pattern on it of some sort of 1970s horror house with worn out patches and moth eaten patches.If only Imelda had some pride in his house. Imelda's house itself could be gorgeous.It is a dorma-style 3 bed detatched house.Both his next door neighbours also have the same style house and I have been in both.Lovely relaxing houses, quiet, spacious, clean - houses I would be proud to own.
It is very very sad to know that my mother was also very house proud.She loved to do the homey stuff like cooking and sewing.She made me some lovely clothes and I seem to remember she was a good cook too.She would have loved to have the house of her dreams.That house is/was stunning too.It would have been the house of her dreams had it not been for the total chaos inside.I simply cannot imagine what it must be like to have to live with that level of increasing havoc.I read her diaries recently and they tell of her constant battle with Imelda and his 'junk'.It became impossible to lay the table for dinner without having to move all his stuff first.Then as if that wasn't bad enough, finding somewhere to put it was a further problem.He would then come in from the garden for his dinner to shout at her for moving his stuff.
The situation obviously got so bad she would have to go to the neighbour's houses for a bit of respite and relaxation in a tidy and clean atmosphere - something which it appears was increasingly difficult for her to find at home.The neighbours have told me she often came round to their houses with bags of rubbish to be thrown out.Nothing sinister - just the usual cereal packets, worn out socks, broken bits and pieces, junk mail.Even then she knew Imelda would not throw these out.That is sad.I cannot imagine having to do that.Thank God the neighbours were all very understanding.
Also very odd is that I have also recovered my own diaries from my teenage years.I have not mentioned the junk much at all so far (I have read up to age 14).Is it possible I thought it was normal? On a separate although relevant note I noticed an alarming number of diary entries of me going into hospital with asthma or eczema.I was always classed as a chronic asthmatic with severe eczema. I spent all my childhood on steroids and wrapped in cream and bandages.Perhaps to me, that was also normal.
It is a very interesting and indeed important point to note that almost within 3 months of moving out of that house into my first flat my asthma improved enormously and a few months later my skin started improving.I also have to mention here that during my early twenties when I was living abroad either working in America for the Summer of in the French Alps for the winter both my eczema and my asthma improved almost to the point of non existence.
I have been told that due to all the asthma attacks I had when I was little my lungs are likely to be scarred forever and my skin is still scarred and somewhat leather like.I believe although I would have had asthma anyway as it came down my mother's side of the family it would never have been so bad had I lived in a clean house where hoovering and dusting was possible.Also two of the worst asthma attacks I had were on the days I came home from a Winter Season in a ski resort where I had worked and been skiing every day with no asthma at all.
My asthma was so severe that aged 22 I had such a bad attack that I was in hospital on a ventilator life support machine after having a respiratory arrest.Even after this attack the junk issue was not addressed.My mother must have been pulling her hair out by then watching her daughter suffer in that way and not being able to do anything about it.I am now almost sure my mother must have had some form of slow mental breakdown.She started getting ill when I was mid teen years.There were small signs back then which I can only recall with hindsight.I do not think anyone of normal mind could possibly live with that level of clutter and dust while trying to raise a family who had increasing health problems, working full time (as a teacher of English) in a Cardiff High School and not suffer in some way.At the same time she was also studying her Open University Degree in English Literature (which she passed).
Every time I visit the house now I have to wear a dust mask.Imelda tells me he cannot understand what I am saying with 'that stupid thing' on my face.Oh the gratitude and sympathy!