There is a significant difference between collecting and hoarding. A collector is a person who collects things and puts them in an organized manner. My cousin collects clowns. She has a room in her home that is her clown room. There are shelves on the walls and curio cabinets where her clowns are beautifully displayed.
A collector might spend thousands of dollars on items they collect, but they take care of their collection. A hoarder will spend thousands of dollars collecting items and continue to buy and buy, having no recollection of the things they have purchased, but will not part with one of them.
Several years ago, my fiancé’s mother’s health had started to rapidly deteriorate, and he had to make the tough decision to put her in a nursing home. We lived in Florida, and she lived in Pennsylvania. I had never met her, but my fiancé, who was an only child, would travel to Pennsylvania every time she went to the hospital. Her last time in the hospital, he knew he could not prolong the inevitable any longer.
Because he was working full time and I was working from home, we both agreed I would go up to Pennsylvania and get his mother’s home ready to sell to help pay for her living expenses. Not only would I be getting the house ready to sell, but I would also be working with an auctioneer to auction off her valuables. His mother used to be an antique dealer, so my fiancé thought there should be some valuable items to sell. He had forewarned me she was a hoarder (and I think it was the main reason he never invited me to go with him when he went to see his mother, because he was embarrassed), but having never been around a hoarder, I had not been prepared for the amount of work I was getting myself into.
His Uncle had met me at her house to let me in. It was a small two-bedroom, one bath home, with a full basement, attic and two cars detached garage. When we walked into the house, we went down a short hallway. The living room and dining room was to the left, the kitchen in front of me, and the bathroom and two bedrooms to my right. In the living room were a recliner, a couch, a large stereo cabinet from the '60s, two coffee tables and a television. There was just enough space to walk to the recliner, where she sat and into the dining room through to the kitchen. The rest of the floor space was covered with hundreds of magazines, boxes everywhere full of stuff and then knickknacks on every available surface.
When my fiancé would visit his mother, he always said he slept on the couch. I never understood why he slept on the couch when she had a second bedroom. When I tried to open the second bedroom door, it would only open enough for me to step inside. There was a bed, a dresser, and a nightstand in the room. The bed was covered with stacks of clothes, and the floor was covered with more clothes and boxes. I looked behind the door and saw a rack hooked at the top of the door with more hanging clothes and that was why I could not fully open the door. Until I got the room cleaned out, I too was going to be sleeping on the couch.
His mother's bedroom was just as full, but at least in her bedroom, there was a pathway cleared to where she could get in and out of her room to her closet, the hallway, and bathroom.
Walking down into the basement from the kitchen I could smell mold, but there was another odor I could not identify. Besides the pathway over to the washer and dryer, every spare space in the basement was full. Ropes were hung from the ceiling, going from one end of the room to the next, full of hanging clothes. Work tables were covered with glassware, dishes, pots, and pans. I could see furniture, but I would have to start clearing out space to figure out what type of furniture it was.
My first trip up into the attic all I did was get high enough to look around. It was like the rest of the house, full of clothes, blankets, pillows and bedding, and at least 50 lamps. I remembered walking down the stairs feeling completely overwhelmed.
The next day the auctioneer came out to the house to look around and let me know the items he felt were valuable enough to take to his auction house to sell. I was surprised when he told me he did not sell clothing items. Considering all the clothes she had, most of them with the price tag still on them, I asked him what I should do with it all. He said to give it to Good Will.
Thankfully the auctioneer brought his cargo truck with him, and he was able to load up several of the boxes of dishes and knickknacks in the living room and dining room to give me moving space. My fiancé told me the garage was full of antiques. We could not find the garage door opener, but I had a key to the side door. Unfortunately, I could not get the door open because it was blocked by too much junk. So, I pushed, and I struggled until I had enough room that I could squeeze in the doorway, climb over furniture and reach the button to open the garage door.
The auctioneer and I stood in front of the garage and looked at the mess. Furniture was stacked upon furniture, and most of it was destroyed by animals. Any item that had stuffing was torn to shreds. The auctioneer said he would bring a couple of his men back another day and they would go through the things. But from what he could see, he felt there was too much damage, they would probably only be able to salvage a few pieces.
It took me seven weeks of hard work to get her house cleaned out. I rented a 10’ x 30’ dumpster to start throwing unsellable items away. I lost count of the thirty-gallon bags of clothes I took to Good Will. After I got the attic and first floor cleaned out, I tacked the basement. I discovered a toilet and sink on the opposite wall. The smell I was not able to identify was sewage. The main sewer pipe from the upstairs bathroom had been leaking. There was so much junk in the basement, you could not see it. My guess is it had been leaking for years because the sewage was so widespread, almost everything in the basement had to be thrown away. By the time I had everything cleaned out, I had filled 5 dumpsters of trash.
As I was stuffing bags full of clothes and bedding, I was thinking about the thousands of dollars she had spent to buy all these clothes but never wore them. And all the items I had thrown away in the basement because they were destroyed by sewage. Or the items damaged by animals in the garage.
You are probably wondering how my fiancé's mother felt about me, a stranger, living in her home and getting rid of her things? Let's just say the few times I did see her, her words were not kind.