Warped Mindset

Dadmomanna_2My mom turns 70 in less than two weeks.  We’re still scrambling to find the best way to celebrate her big birthday.  At first we were going to convert old 8mm movies from the 70s to DVD format.  Unfortunately nobody can find the movies in my mom’s house.  The fact we can’t find the movies isn’t terribly shocking considering the state of her home.  There’s stuff in every single nook and cranny.  To say my mom is a pack rat is a gross understatement.  The more I chat with my friends about their parents, it seems the pack rat thing is a generational habit as many of them admit their parents are the same way. 

What’s wrong with her being a pack rat?  Normally I cut her heaps of slack when it comes to her pack rat ways.  However this is one of those examples where it’s not so good.  It’s really tough on her to part with any belongings in her house.  I think there are many reasons for this and the most profound is probably death.  When you lose children, you have many memories associated to tangible items such as stuffed animals, blankets, clothes, keepsakes, etc.  I do the same thing with gifts given to me by my brothers who passed away.  I know my mom has memories of the past in her head and she also likes to keep the house full of stuff.  By "stuff" I believe there’s comfort in the clutter.  Since I spent the first 18 years of my life in the same house, I’m aware how much warmth the house contains.  I guess it saddens me the house I grew up in is so cluttered I don’t feel comfortable bringing my daughter over to visit grandma.  Here are a couple sample shots, check the background out in these dated photos.

Yes, it’s that bad in the house.  I love my mom, but the cluttered house is hard for me.  I’m so uncomfortable each time I go visit.  I feel like I have bugs crawling all over me.  Perhaps I’m being selfish here, but I miss the house as it was when I was young: less cluttered, full of life, and happy.  Since my wife’s parents are both out of town, it would be awesome if we could spend time at grandma’s.  We’ve offered to help clean the house, but that was a fiasco. 

About seven years ago, my wife and I cleaned the kitchen as a gift to her.  I had to ask my mom to leave the house because she couldn’t stand seeing me throw out spices with expiration dates of 1975.  We threw out Tupperware from the same era and my mom was in tears.   You know those plastic thingies that keep the bread bag closed?  There’s an entire drawer full of those still.  I collected them in grade school to flick around at friends during recess.  (bend them in half, stick under fingernail, and flick).  Why hold on to those though? 

Anyways, my spirit is a bit broken since we can’t get those movies converted for her 70th birthday.  Now it looks like we’ll be going out to a nice dinner instead.  Creative Egan needs to kick in high gear.  You only turn 70 once.  I’m so tempted to send her on a cruise, back a dumpster up to the house, and pitch stuff.  However, I know my mom would never forgive us if we accidentally threw away something not deemed "trash".  Damn you Ebay and Craigslist. 

Move… that… bus!!!

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About lessinges

Seattle native, discovering life! I like ice cream, cold cereal, and The Amazing Race.
This entry was posted in Facial Tissue, Housecapades, Vanity is Overrated. Bookmark the permalink.

57 Responses to Warped Mindset

  1. armalicious says:

    You know how I feel about this subject being a packrat myself (surprising that your mother and I share the same birthday? Or is that just a coincidence?).
    As for the movies…that is a wonderful idea. Is there any way to ask her if she knows where they are without her figuring out what you’re up to? I’m betting she knows where they are (or the general vicinity at least). Unless you’ve already tried this and then, well, ignore my advice.

  2. egan says:

    Armalicious – we’ve considered asking her, but I’d love for it to be a surprise. I want to make one more visit to the house before asking her. I was the last one to get the movies out and I know which box they are in. I know the house very well and have a great ability to find hidden stuff an any house. (I got itchy typing this reply).

  3. armalicious says:

    I just looked at those pictures. They remind me of my mother’s house before they remodeled it. There’s a birthday idea – remodel her house and then she has to thin down.
    I know, I know…that is probably unrealistic.

  4. egan says:

    Armalicious – remodel the house? You read the part about the kitchen didn’t you or do you skim my blog posts? Don’t answer that. That would be way too much money.

  5. armalicious says:

    You know I don’t skim-read anything. Cleaning/thinning out is different than remodeling. Trust me…I don’t know all that goes on in her head when it comes to getting rid of her stuff, but I know for me, if I’m just getting rid of things to get rid of them, I don’t want to do it. I balk at the idea. But if I’m getting rid of things to make way/room for new and different things, then I’m all for it! Z figured this one out with me when we were redoing my computer/craft room. I got rid of 3 (maybe 4) Rubbermaid totes of things that I had been holding on to for almost 26 years!
    Yes, a complete remodel would be a hell of a lot of money, so I completely understand why that would be out of the question.

  6. egan says:

    Armalicious – Stroke man stroke man, stroke stroke. Damn, it’s really ‘stroke me’? Anyways, back to the topic at hand. Stroke stroke….
    Good for you. I think you and my mom are a bit different. If something goes in her house, something doesn’t exit in return. It’s as if you went to a buffet style restaurant and never had a bowel movement. Yes, I made that comparison.

  7. sprizee says:

    I feel you. My aunt is a total pack rat and on top of that she’s just plain messy. She lives by herself in a four bedroom/3 bath house and there are so many boxes of stuff that the only place to walk is a path from the door to a chair or bed. The Dude and I tried to help her organize and clean things up several times but it simply didn’t work. Now, instead, we just don’t go there anymore. Luckily my mom lives just a few miles away in a less cluttered zone and we can meet up there. But, yeah, frustrating.

  8. Golden says:

    Not to be a downer..and you actually probably already know this, but this can be considered a ‘disorder’ of sorts. (We all have them, I have OCD) I’m sure there are different levels of this ‘disorder’ as some go so far as to not even throw out actual trash (vs what we might consider trash: such as expired spices). There are folks that are like this that horde animals too. They are the types that have like 15 cats etc. All that being said, I understand your mom. She’s suffered some rather large losses, and yes.. everything has sentimental value for some reason. Bless her heart. I have items of my mother’s clothing (socks even) that will never be worn but I can’t throw them away (she passed almost 5 years ago).

  9. tori says:

    My parents house was the same way until they moved away. My mom obviously couldn’t take all of her things with, so she started giving them to me. I mentioned this to my dad, who told me to just take the crap and throw it away for him. I told him he should be paying me to do this!
    When my parents lived near me in a house full of “stuff”, I hated bringing my daughter there (the only one that was born while they still lived there). She was so little and the house felt gross to me. I couldn’t let her crawl around because she might knock something over and cause an avalanche of stuff to fall.
    I feel for you in this, because I completely understand trying to help her and her just not wanting the help. Good luck finding the movies! That would be an awesome present.

  10. churlita says:

    She must be related to my ex-husband. He has those piles of newpapers all over his place normally reserved for 90 year old cat ladies.

  11. justrun says:

    I’ve actually been accused of being a pack rat myself. I get really sentimental about “things” and it’s hard for me to get rid of something that meant something to me either at the time or as a memory. For instance, there’s a t-shirt I cannot throw away because it’s the shirt I was wearing the day I rode on my friend’s motorcycle which he died riding the following day.
    I know it’s morbid but these are the kinds of things that we end up keeping. I guess there’s something in your mind that says throwing that out would mean throwing out the memory. Logically, I know that’s not true but with certain things, I just can’t seem to do it. Now, I have closet-cleaning “parties” and have a friend or two come over and make me throw things away. It’s a silly solution for most people, but it works for me.
    As for your mom, at 70 I am sure those feelings are a lot stronger than mine. It’s hard to say if “help” would even be necessary, muchless wanted. I am sure it’s just one of those things we learn to accept about our parents and how they are. Imperfect and still, ours. It seems to me you know this.
    Sorry to ramble. I sympathize/emphasize and hope you can find the movies, if nothing else. πŸ™‚

  12. meno says:

    I am the opposite. I love the feeling of open uncluttered spaces. Taking a load of stuff to the dump is a religious experience.
    Whoever above talked about this being a disorder, or to put it more stridently, a mental illness, may be right. I have no way of knowing. But if your mother knows why you won’t bring your daughter over, and that doesn’t motivate her to clean, then you night consider getting her some help.

  13. Jayne says:

    I’ll briefly throw on my psychologists hat.
    Your mum was born at the end of the great depression and no doubt her childhood was coloured with her parents’ pack rat habits,which everyone in those days had to have simply to get by.
    Some people revert to habits/traditions,etc from their childhood as they get older and these habits become more pronounced as they become entrenched over the years.
    Couple this with holding onto tangible objects representing memories of loved ones and this is where your mum’s coming from.
    Maybe sit her down and discuss tidying up sections of one room at a time,ie-the main living area,for when you visit with your baby.Tiny bit by tiny bit,very slowly,is the only way it might work.
    The movie idea sounds wonderful,good luck and happy 70th to your mum!

  14. L says:

    Oh, wow. I can so identify with this, though my mom’s pat rack tendencies aren’t quite at the same level as your mom’s yet. She’s never been very focused on housekeeping (my parents had a restaurant when we were growing up, so we were never home – always at the restaurant), but these days it’s just gotten to the point where there are piles of things everywhere. It’s always sad for me to go home to visit (which I only do once or twice a year) and see the condition of her home. It’s not squalor, but it’s very cluttered and just sad to see yellowing papers and newspapers, piles of mail and half-broken things.

  15. Kerry says:

    Its the Depression days that does that! My grandma did the same thing…. she saved crap that had no meaning. ALL of the veggie sacks and twist ties she’s EVER gotten at the store were saved. We were shocked at the things we found in her house.
    Call the British ladies to come clean her house!

  16. egan says:

    Sprizee – it’s really sad you can’t even go to her house anymore. I don’t want it to be that way. When I go over there I look around and just wonder where to start. There’s way too much to do. I know we’ve chatted about this before so thanks for your story.
    Golden – correct, I do know it’s an illness and that’s why I do cut her slack on this. However, part of me thinks some of it could be minimized a bit. At some point someone is going to have to do something with the house and I’m most likely going to be the candidate.
    When her sister passed away about seven years ago, I heard all these horror stories about how trashed her place was. I wish my mom would keep that story in mind. If it’s a disease though, maybe you can’t get passed that aspect. Thanks for sharing your personal story/loss.
    Tori – it sure does sound like a similar story. Remember those yarn photos I sent you? That’s another prime example. It’s too bad I feel that way, but I’m scared something will fall on Anna since bookcases are overloaded. It scares and saddens me.
    Churlita – I don’t get saving stacks and stacks of newspapers. A newspaper here and there, cool. But when you can build a fort out of them, it’s a tad bit too much.
    Justrun – no worries on the rambling. I enjoyed reading your take on this. I have a bit of the pack rat thing too. Trust me I have stuff with memories attached to them too, Ironman crap, that I don’t dare touch. There’s stuff associated with friends, school, lost siblings, etc. I get it, I really do. This is perhapsy why I’m so torn.
    Meno – we used to go to the dump when my parents were married, but after my dad left… that never happened. I really like your suggestion about mentioning the cause/effect relationship. I can tell her anything so maybe that would motivate her. I don’t want to sound like a blackmailing son though. Hmmm…
    Jayne – you crack me up. I know there’s a perfectly good explanation for it. I saw her mom saving styrofoam McDonald’s containers when I was a kid. Growing up with parents that survived the Depression surely had something to do with this. Everything had a value then. I’d love to try your approach, but based on how she reacted to the cleaner kitchen, I’m not sure this tactic would work. I do like the suggestion, thanks.
    L – the mail, oh my god the mail. My mom has stacks of bills all over the house. I’ve told her “mom, the great thing about invoicing is they will send you a new one next month if you don’t pay it”. It’s sad L, very sad.

  17. Lynn says:

    I’m just wondering…is any of the ‘stuff’ in your mom’s house stuff that belongs to her darling children and they have neglected to take it out of her house? It may not account for all of the ‘stuff’ but maybe some of it???

  18. justrun says:

    I think I’d be torn, too. I mean, clearly I am and it’s not even me. I think that’s why I’m hesitant to offer any “advice” because I’m not sure there is any. I think there must be a point, like with any extreme, that we cross lines and doing things a certain way doesn’t make sense any more but the thing is, we have this emotion or something we get from it that supercedes logic.
    It may be that understanding it, or understanding even part of it is as far as we’re able to go.

  19. egan says:

    Lynn – you have a great point. I do in fact have belongings in the house. I know I should do my part and remove it. The tough thing with seven kids is there’s plenty that could go away. This being said though, nobody is willing to get rid of the junk. No one wants to claim it, which sort of means they don’t want to move to their current residence or dispose of it. Only three of the kids live in the Seattle area now. The other two are in Georgia.
    Compounding all of this is her yarn store inventory. She closed her yarn store in 2000 and brought all that inventory to the house, including the fixture, bookcases, etc. So you can imagine how full it must be. If you gave me a weekend, a dumpster, and nobody around… I could clear that place in a week.

  20. egan says:

    Justrun – it really is hard to put logic into these decisions. I know I hold on to stuff because I want to get the most out of it. Even if I’ve had something for 10 years and never used it, I perceive it to still have some value. I really think you’re on to something, it is about the understanding. I think it’s best for me to stay away from the house because I get so charged up when I’m there and that’s what really irks me. It’s the only home I ever knew until college. [shrugs]

  21. Golden says:

    You know, I’ve heard that often times people who do this sort of thing really do want help.. but they don’t know how to ask for it, and they might be a little bit ashamed/scared too. It’s obvious you love your momma, and she loves you. Maybe just telling her how you feel, that you’re concerned that Anna could get into something? Oh, I don’t know.. I don’t envy you this situation. Give your mom a hug and kiss Anna on the forehead.

  22. Amy says:

    I’m with you on the clutter thing. I know I couldn’t live that way and I too uncomfortable in cluttered surroundings. I’m a neat freak.
    I have a few questions. Does your mother live alone? Does the clutter negatively affect her life? If the first answer is yes and the second is no, then it might not be such a bad thing (for now). However, as she gets older, the clutter could be dangerous.
    I’ve read many books on clutter bugs (aka hoarders), they fascinate me. I suspect you are bang on about the reasons behind her hoarding. And yes, it really is truly difficult for her to part with the clutter. If however the clutter is in the way of her living her life, there are ways to conquer the problem…none of which involve cleaning her house for her. You should read about hoarding…it really IS fascinating. I’d give you some titles, but I’m drawing a blank.
    I’m also drawing a blank in the gift idea department…it’s been a long week already. I’m sure that you will come up with something great.

  23. Pants says:

    my parents are the same way…it drives me crazy and gives me great joy to simplify (throw away) junk, mine and theirs!

  24. tori says:

    I’d be happy to help by taking the yarn off her hands.

  25. brookem says:

    goodness, it must be frustrating efo, to not feel as comfortable as you’d like to bring your baby girl to your mom’s house. if only there were a simple solution to it all.
    i am sure she’ll love a nice dinner out with you and your wife and her new baby granddaughter. the movie idea would be really great… and maybe one day it can happen. dont give up hope on it!

  26. Bro#3 says:

    Who are those 2 incredibly hip folks in that picture?? Alas…the dirty secret is revealed! Have you checked the attic for the movies? Wonder if dad might have taken them… As for the house- we both agree on this. Wonder if the garage could be emptied and then move stuff from the house into that…the garage has shit no one needs….

  27. Chris says:

    Does anyone wanna chip in on a HAZMAT suit that Egan can use to sift through the rubble?

  28. mez says:

    okay I think I might be crazy but I clicked on those photos and they don’t look that bad to me. It’s like..you know, homey. I keep things to a point and then I go nuts and throw everything out periodically (then I lament the loss of the things I throw out and wish I had them back). I like the memories that *stuff* holds. From the photos you’ve shown us of your house you are the opposite of pack rat! Everything is very nicely displayed and neat.
    Maybe your mum likes the feeling of the enclosed space that packing stuff in creates. This stuff is like padding on the walls, except the padding is of comfortable, and I’m sure lovely memories. Imagine how big and empty the house would feel without it – and meaningless too (I’m sure she’d argue). So, with that in mind – does she need a smaller place?

  29. qt says:

    I can so relate to this, too, although my parents have gotten better about it. There was a stretch there where I was like “Whoa, some serious shit is going to go down when they pass,” and then the next time I visited it was better.
    Your mom, like my parents, at least didn’t have rotten food and garbage laying around – then you know it is bad news.
    I say start going there and every time you leave, take some shit of yours out of there and haul it straight to a dumpster. At least you will feel like you are doing something…or maybe not! We have a dumpster in our driveway right now that I can’t WAIT to start filling up.
    As for the gift, I know you really want to do the movies, and I don’t blame you, that would be a DOPE gift. But just know that your mom doesn’t care – her gift will be spending time with you.

  30. Tall Chick says:

    Dude! Books aren’t clutter!
    I know what you mean, though. My MIL has so much crap that I used to hate takng the kids there. Oh. Did I not mention that it’s all GLASS???
    Oy!
    I know I have a bunch of clutter, too, though. (Although it’s nothing like when you were here, LOL!)
    My own mom, OTOH, is a Spartan living type of person, and that’s kind of a bummer, too.
    I do love getting rid of stuff, though. And it’s even more fun if it’s someone else’s stuff! ^_^
    Maybe you could ask her if it would be OK to help her declutter one room and only one room — a place that you would be comfortable hanging out in when you went over to visit with that darling baby of yours.
    PS – I’m sending you a box of clutter.

  31. Tall Chick says:

    PPS Warped Mindest. ^_^ Loving it. ^_^ Carpe Postum!

  32. Tall Chick says:

    Not Postum. That stuff tastes like shit. Not that I’ve actually tried shit.

  33. Tall Chick says:

    I’m in ur comments box filling ur box with comments.
    OK, that needs work.

  34. Diane Mandy says:

    70 is quite a milestone!! When my parent’s had their 40th wedding anniversary, we wanted to do the same thing, but our home movies had been destroyed by moisture in the basement where the movies were housed. We ended up sending my folks on a cruise instead.
    My guess is your mom likes her place he way it is. To disturb it wold be very stressful to her. At 70 years old, it really is suppose to be about her, anyway. Instead of old movies, have you considered doing a new movie about her? After 70 years, with so much change in this world, it might be a fascinating interview, not to mention the gift that might keep on giving for future generations.

  35. ChickyBabe says:

    My mum is a hoarder too. Most if it is not worth it nor does it have sentimental meaning.
    The idea of the trip sounds so cool!

  36. The Scarlett says:

    We suddenly lost my father-in-law last April (literally fell off a mountain while hiking) and my husband and I were charged with clearing out the house. It was a staggering experience. You should have seen the bags and bags of garbage that we put out to the curb. And that was just to get the house ready for an auctioneer to come out and look at the remaining ‘stuff’ after we removed the few items we actually wanted. Finally the auction guy showed up and told us that after his expenses, we would possibly break even. The upside would be that he would leave the house spotless after clearing everything out. Anyway, after looking at all of the stuff I felt he was giving us his best offer. So he carted all of the stuff away – stuff that had, at best, a modest value – and he DID leave it clean. The whole thing was just so depressing but I think I was saddened even more to know that he was living amongst what amounted to garbage.

  37. Mone says:

    You know, you throw something away and just a few days later you need the exact same thing πŸ˜‰

  38. furiousball says:

    It’s amazing how fast stuff accumulates, I’ve cleaned out my house so many times, yet I still have a very crowded attic and a utility room with shelves filled with tons of crap.

  39. Cake Lady says:

    There are enough books to fill a libray. Are you sure that you were not raised in a library?

  40. armalicious says:

    I thought you wanted to get to “warped” status?

  41. armalicious says:

    Has this post been up long enough for me to go comment crazy? I don’t want to be rude…

  42. armalicious says:

    Word of advice: Do NOT eat a Fun Dip Lik*a*stix that happens to be, oh, about 2 years old.
    If you do…make sure that you have water or some other kind of liquid available to wash the incredibly nasty taste out of your mouth.
    I don’t know anything about this from experience or anything. Just puttin’ the word out there…

  43. armalicious says:

    It’s my civic duty…
    quack.

  44. armalicious says:

    Tall Chick, I can help you with your LOLcat speak.
    I’m in ur blog stealinz ur bloggerz.

  45. armalicious says:

    How does it always go back to cats at Egan’s blog? Funny how that works…

  46. jalopy says:

    My mom is the exact same way, and my grandma too!!! Its irritating to say the least. My mom cleaned my grandmothers house while she was in the hospital, and my grandmother called her and like disowned her because of it. I do NOT advise cleaning her house!!! hahahah!!!

  47. Jayne says:

    LOL
    Egan if you know it’s fuelled by the Great Depression mind-set…just give up now,it’s a losing battle!
    OR be sneaky and very slowly start to discard stuff..a couple of bags of yarn to the charity shop one week,a couple of magazines in the recycling bin the next…
    And take your stuff home too LMAO!

  48. Cheryl says:

    You should still send her on the cruise.
    Once I decided to throw out some mugs that were linked to my father. I had to have my best friend actually take them to the trash shoot.

  49. I can SO relate to the feeling that bugs are crawling all over you – that’s exactly how I felt every time I visited my great grandmother, the mother of all pack rats! Her habit got so bad that she eventually stopped doing dishes, throwing out trash, etc. Her house then became cluttered, filthy and very unhealthy.
    Oi …

  50. Eunice says:

    My folks are a generation younger and still quite the packrats. I was shocked when I came home to see that they had parted with some of their beloved “mementos” (which have all now found a home at my sister’s house).
    I think part of it with your mom is the creator in her as well…my mother saves on to the most ridiculous things because eventually, someday, she MIGHT be able to incorporate it into a new project. She has an entire room we lovingly refer to as “the crap room” (aka my old bedroom) where she keeps her odds & ends.
    It may be irritating, but we love them anyway.

  51. Airam says:

    Hey! Did you know that my dad turns 70 on the same day that your mom turns 70? Of course you do … we’ve talked about this before. I’m sure that however you celebrate it will be super special. How cool to think that we will both be celebrating our parents birthday at the same time?

  52. Delton says:

    I definitely think it’s generational too. My parents would fit that category as well.

  53. egan says:

    Everyone – there’s some really great feedback here. I will get to your responses very soon. I was too busy farting around with podcasting Wednesday night. I’m not the best speaker so I’ve decide to improve those skills like I wanted to do with my writing skills when I began blogging. Podcasting, you’re my only hope.

  54. Nicole says:

    Wow. I feel like I’m going through the same thing except my dad is turning 59 next month – we are planning way ahead since my mom passed away almost 3 years ago things just haven’t been the same. the clutter in my dad’s house is about the same but what we are trying to do for my dad by the time he is 60 is help in sell the house that 6 people used to live in. It is overwhelming, sad, and I just don’t even know.
    But, I’m sure your mom will have a great 70th and you will find a way to make it special.

  55. ms chica says:

    Monkey Boy, I really feel you on this one. I’ve spent lots of time in the place you are now with both my in-laws and my mom. The pack rat thing is largely tied to the Great Depression Generation.
    My husband and his brothers took a few days this summer to clean out the in-laws house (they are in assisted living, but visit the old homestead). They filled two large construction dumpsters with garbage, over 8,000 pounds. Much of things like you mentioned, broken furniture, styrofoam take-away containers, old magazines. There structural problems, the house was not sanitary, the roof needed replacing, the carpet replacing. The in-laws have said little about it, but it might be the calm before the storm.
    Since seeing how much people can save, I’ve been cleaning out closets, destroying old files, passing along items no longer useful. I want to do it now, as things are less sentimental to me, and I don’t want anyone to be forced to sort through a mountain of my crap later.
    How far does your mom live? Is it feasible to bring her to your home to spend time with Anna?

  56. Kale Rae says:

    Be happy you’re at a stage in your life to get away with planning something small – when my folks turn 70, I’ll be 50 – it just seems the older I get the more they assume I can get my shit together to plan better gifts.
    Why not give her the gift of a cleaning lady who will come every week and clean for her – or at least tidy up her clutter?

  57. Lynda says:

    I can totally understand with your mom, because I have a hard time throwing out even some clothing I inherited from my sister. Some of it isn’t my style, and I just have to tell myself that there would have been a point where she got rid of it. Even my dad said, “It is getting to the point where I don’t want to get rid of anything that is Laurianne’s.”
    Perhaps, if you want to help her declutter, you could rent a storage area and keep the key. Then, if she asks for something, you just say, “Oh, mom. I will bring that to you next time.” When she stops asking for stuff, then you can get rid of the remaining things. Of course, from the kitchen story, it sounds like that would still be really hard for her. 1975? Really? I was 2 years old.
    Good luck with finding the movies!

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