Piles of newspapers. Piles of clothes. What have we become?
Every morning I used to wake up and see newspapers all over the floor and lined up against the walls. No, it wasn’t me who had the problem, it was my dear wife. My wife of 43 years was a compulsive hoarder. Our beautiful home had been transformed from a spick and span cottage to a living hell within the space of 10 years. Marguerite never threw anything away – she had to keep it. Her justification for keeping stacks of newspaper up the the roof? “We might read them again”; her reasoning for boxes full of cardboard, plastic and bottle tops? “They come in handy”. None of it really did come in handy, ever. It just accumulated to the point that Marg became a recluse.
I would escape from our home by going out to the pub, so while Marg was in her safe cocoon. I was in the throws of a drinking problem, no less started at 61. I’d had a knee reconstruction at 60 and just coming home to the mess was more painful that the surgery. I could hardly get out of bed and sometimes I truly feared whether or not I’d survive the night, newspapers and magazines towering precariously over my bed.
So why did I put up with it? It upset Marguerite greatly if I so much as mentioned the mess. I’d clear a paper or some envelopes off the dining room table and she’d launch into a fury. I loved her but I was also deeply ashamed of our living conditions. I couldn’t sit on the couch because every corner of the room (including the furniture) was used as storage space for knick knacks, clothing, shoes, boxes, jars; you name it. Being comfortable at home was a distant memory.
Our first grandchild was born in 2012 and our daughter came to visit us for the first time in 10 years – we’d always meet up with her outside the house (she lived in Perth and we were in Adelaide). It wasn’t a planned visit, mind you, she wanted to surprise us. And surprised we were. I’d like to say I had time to clean up but it wouldn’t have made a difference whether she’d told us months in advance or just arrived on the doorstep. Our beautiful grandson came around with his mum and we stood in the doorway. Our daughter jokingly barged past us, not knowing what we had been too embarrassed to tell her. That was the day I realised we needed to get help. I say we because as much as this was Marg’s “problem”, I was enabling her and had let it get to that stage.
I read up online about how to help a hoarder and I enlisted the help of a family friend – an outside party. We’d known Nina for a number of years and she was the kindest lady I’d ever met. I had about 6 conversations full of crying and hysteria before Marg and I got to the point where she agreed to let Nina come around to simply look at the house and give us a hand…a spring clean I’d told her. I want to be careful how I treated the situation because Nina told me that it was likely my wife was unwell mentally….hoarding is part of anxiety. She was right and I’d denied any mental problems for so long that I really did owe it to my wife to get it sorted out. Nina came around that day and I guess you could say, the rest is history. We carefully but unscrupulously went through each of our belongings and decided if we’d throw or keep it. If we were going to keep it, it had to be for a very good reason.
It took about a month for us and Nina to completely gut the house. It cost us a small fortune in skip bin fees and getting the carpets and house fully cleaned, but I can proudly say our home is back to being a home again. We don’t have newspapers around anymore and we’ve signed up to digital news so that we can access it whenever we need to…and if we really want to go back and find a story (not like that will really happen).
Hoarding is a sensitive problem and I must stress that any attempts to change the surroundings of a hoarder should be done delicately. It’s extremely distressing to throw out items they consider important without asking. I’ve made the mistake myself. Marg is finally taking medication for her anxiety and is feeling a million times better, and I’ve also stopped drinking. We even had friends over for the first time in 10 years…it was wonderful.
Do you know a hoarder? Or have you been one? What happened? How did you deal with it? Share your stories below.