Tuesday, January 10, 2012

There Would Always Be String

Some odds and ends of Mum's needed a final sort out. These were photographs that had been removed from her picture frames, a few newspaper cuttings and a lot of greetings cards. They were stashed in the room that I'm intending to turn into a workroom and it needs dealt with for it is very cluttered.

Throwing Mum's stuff away is not easy to do. I found the assorted greeting cards the hardest to dispose of for she had kept so many of them, some even dating from more than thirty years ago. My parents had seven children, eight grandchildren and lots of friends so they got a lot of cards. As I hesitated over this one or that one I had to keep reminding myself that a bunch of cards are not a measure of how much Seamus and Matty were loved. I did keep a few – mostly because they were particularly pretty and some because they contained messages that would have meant a lot to my parents.

I am going to have to watch for that sentimental hoarding streak for I don't want to leave my children the chore of going through the amount of crap that Pearlie had packed away. Mum kept stuff, maybe a little too much stuff, but it did not impede her life.

Recently Bert and I watched a terribly sad documentary* about a man, Richard Wallace, who had accumulated so much clutter in his home and garden that he only had a crawl space in his home to get around. His cooking area consisted of a gas ring piled on each side with stacks of newspapers and magazines. His only bit of comfort in that junk-packed house was a chair in front of a tiny television set. He slept in that chair. That poor man was in despair with his life, which he called 'an existence', but his urge to hoard was too strong for him to resist.

All Pearlie's sisters have or have had hoarding tendencies. Bert's Aunt Nessie lived a lot like poor Richard Wallace. I wrote about her a few years ago while she was still alive.

Bert's Aunt Nessie keeps, among other things, every loaf wrapping she's ever had - in case they should come in useful. Now if I were to list all the things that Nessie hoards I'd be here all day. Enough to say that there is just one narrow path through her house that is filled to the rafters with stuff. It is a blessing unto God that she never goes out to get more stuff and a further blessing that she only spends about three and sixpence a week so the amount of stuff trickling into her house these days is very minimal.

Nessie was definitely the worst afflicted with the hoarding compulsion. The other three sisters crammed their homes with knick knacks, linens and so on but Nessie gathered up stuff that was actually rubbish. I never visited Nessie's home as for obvious reasons she did not welcome visitors. If people did call she came out and spoke to them in the front yard.

Compulsive hoarding severely affected Nessie's quality of life and I believe that her persistent health problems were exacerbated by it. Living like she did made it impossible to maintain the house and her roof was in poor repair and none of her windows or doors were fit for purpose. This made the house cold and damp. Her house was condemned by the local housing authority and they were prepared to knock it down and rebuild but she refused this offer outright. In many ways Nessie was her own worst enemy.

These days Bert has only the one aunt left and she is over eighty now and not as able as she used to be. She has two younger friends who are trying right now to declutter her home so that she can get around more easily. Sadly she is not enjoying this process and is resistant to everything that they are trying to achieve.

I will say this about Bert's mum – she might have hoarded a great quantity of stuff that was not always as useful or as pretty as she thought it was but she was a great curator of The Museum of Pearlie. She pretty much knew where most things were and she labelled everything. When I was packing up her previous abode I found a box neatly packed and labelled 'Rubbish'.

In Pearlie's day she hoarded margarine tubs by the score. I don't know what she ever intended to use them for. She kept plastic bags, rubber bands and great quantities of string. She never threw out a button, a used stamp, a letter or a piece of yarn. Occasionally Bert will be looking for string and there will be none and he'll say, “In Pearlie's day there would always be string!”

So I suppose there are good and bad aspects to holding on to things. The thing is to be organised and always know where they are. Many is the time that I have had to buy something I knew I already had (somewhere) because the task of looking for it was too arduous. Hopefully this will change in 2012 – the year of living simply and cutting the crap.

By the way Pearlie is still hoarding in a small way. She is collecting obituaries from the local papers and the caps from her Fortisip containers. The obituaries I understand, the bottle tops not so much - except that they are a beautiful shade of lilac. Old habits are very hard to break.

*Channel 4's Obsessive Compulsive Hoarder

The documentary focused on Richard Wallace, whose 30-year hoarding habit has prevented him from having a bath and a single night's sleep in his bed for years. "It's getting a bit silly now," he admits, and yet he appears to be unable to stop the compulsion to hoard.


Grannymar said...

I'll know where to go when I need six inches of string! ;)

Were there no miscellaneous paper bags rolled up together and tied with said string?

Nelly said...

Pearlie ironed the paper bags and laid them flat in drawers. Anything else you can think of that she might have kept?

Rolpol said...

I live in the same village as Richard Wallace, and can report he is doing well and has lots of support from his neighbours. He now has a marquee in his back garden so he can continue putting stuff out to be taken to the tip in all weathers.

However the nasty self absorbed villagers in the documentary (from the upper side of the village, not the lower side where us plebs are kept), are still without running sores or other unpleasant afflictions despite my comtinued curses!

Nelly said...

I am glad to hear that Richard continues to make progress, he came across as an intelligent and lovely man. Some of the villagers interviewed were awfully snobbish - that man in the lilac sweater? Oh dear! The man who started to help Richard came across as a complete angel as were the other people who helped him. Thanks for the update.

Mage said...

I wonder how much the depression and the war influenced Bert's family. What a sadness.

Nelly said...

The war did not affect them directly as they agricultural workers on both sides but I'd say you might have something there. The war had an effect on my mother and she was of the same generation. They would have witnessed (from afar) the Belfast Blitz and they would have experienced the shortage of 'nice things'. I'm sure it must have been a fearful time.