Saturday, June 11, 2022

Please Don't Do This To Your Kids

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 13, 2022] ©2022

Have I ever mentioned that on my mother’s side of the family, I am the only one in my generation, including my siblings, who is not a hoarder? 

My cousins and the sibs wouldn’t quite qualify for one of those cable TV shows.  Well, maybe one of them.  OK, two.  They are more selective hoarders, particularly books.  And, of course, National Geographics.

What is it about National Geographics that make people hang on to them forever?   I know people who have moved twelve times and while the dining room set or even the kids didn’t always make the cut, the National Geographics invariably end up on the truck. 

It’s probably just as well that I live in a small built-by-the-lowest-bidder-after-The-War 1947 cottage with teeny closets and no garage, attic or basement.  If we buy something, we have to give something else away.

Lack of space, however, has not deterred my various relatives.  I learned only recently that one of my cousins actually lived in a four-bedroom two-bath home which I always assumed from visits was a two-bedroom one-bath home.  The other two bedrooms and bath were just full of stuff.

Ultimately, they maxed out on space and bought a new house solely on the basis that it has TWO basements. Even so, my cousin admitted that they are footing an $8,000-a-year bill for outside storage. 

My cousin added that the trustee for their estate only accepted that responsibility “with the stipulation that she had no responsibility for the immense quantity of ‘collectibles’ clogging up our home.” Smart move.

In the interests of transparency, I will confess that my sons consider my formerly 67-now-36 albums of family photos to be hoarding. I myself think of photos as “artistic curation.” 

The kids had long been threatening to cremate me after my untimely death with the photo albums that I had amassed over the years. It would be a two-fer; get rid of Mom and the albums all at once. 

But at least my “hoard” was confined to one (very large) bookcase.

My dear friend Eleanor actually maintains that she found a cure for her husband’s hoarding. “I put my husband’s stuff that he wouldn’t get rid of in storage, then stopped paying the bill after three months.” This is brilliant in its simplicity. 

On two occasions in my life, I have been tasked with cleaning out the home of a hoarder relative.  For the record, most of the organizations that pick up donations will only take 25 boxes at a time.  That house took me eight months.

When I ended up cleaning out my aunt’s home in Hard-To-Get-There Ohio, distance and time constraints required a 35-foot dumpster, which we filled up the first day. My aunt (never married, no kids) literally had magazines dating back to the late 1800s. And yes, National Geographics.  The house had been in our family since 1860.  It’s amazing how much stuff you can acquire in 145 years.

Some weeks ago, the New York Times had an article about “death cleaning,” i.e., going through your possessions long before your demise so that your relatives are not burdened with the truly onerous task of separating the wheat from the trash.  One of the subsequent Letters to the Editor really caught my eye.  The writer, after noting that she wasn’t planning to spend a single moment of her precious time culling her abundance of possessions, including 15 years of New Yorker magazines, rationalized it like this:

“Isn’t it enough,” she queries, “that my children will receive whatever is left?  Gosh, there’s some pretty good stuff in that mess.  And isn’t it possible that inching their way through it will prove to be an interesting and rewarding treasure hunt?  And won’t this exercise tell them things about me that could not be learned any other way, adding mortar to their memory, and perhaps even their regard for me?”


Let me assure you, Letter Writer, their regard for you will be in the dumpster (along with most of your stuff) by the time they’re done “inching” through your lifetime’s collection of detritus. 

“Interesting” and “rewarding” are not two adjectives I’d ever use in cleaning out the home of a hoarder.  It’s true that my aunt’s house in Ohio produced some wonderful treasures, like stereopticons, gorgeous oil lamps, and some ornate ewers - intermixed, alas, with multiple cases of 40-year-old Jell-O, cartons of ratty underwear preserved in 1952 newspaper (she was a child of the Depression), and a huge freezer that was a veritable biohazard.

I remember showing my (hoarder) cousin a freezer container labeled “raspberries, 1968”. (It was 2004.)  She said, “Maybe they’re still good?”

So, please. Do not do this to your poor children!  For every “treasure” they might find after your demise, there will be 200 moments of fervent praying, “Please don’t let this be hereditary.” 



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