The First Signs of Hoarding


Last night I stayed up late watching A&E’s “Hoarders” with my mother-in-law. It was like watching someone else’s kid have a complete tantrum: You can’t look away though you know you should; your blood starts to percolate, you get a little sweaty and you want to strangle the little monster, but instead you just sit there and stare, unblinking, secretly congratulating yourself for having a better kid – for being a better mom.

Last night’s show had an animal theme. One hoarder had over two thousand “pet” rats in his home. The floor was a sea of furry, squeaky vermin. They burrowed themselves into the furniture and drywall. If they got hungry enough, I imagine they’d burrow into the man himself. But he loved each and every one. His hoarding began shortly after his wife passed away. Needless to say, this guy suffered from a real and profound illness.

The doctor assisting in the man’s recovery was the kindest woman.

“I know that these rats are your children and that you love them. That’s why we’re going to give them a better life then this. They deserve that much,” she explained while gently stroking the man’s arm.

At the commercial break, my mother-in-law asks the rhetorical question that probably passes through every viewer’s mind: “Can you imagine?”

No. Well, maybe a little.

She must’ve felt the same way because this morning we both decided that it would be a good idea to have a garage sale.

We began collecting items for the sale in my mother-in-law’s bathroom, where I quickly discovered that she has a thing for soap. Glycerin, bar, foam, scented or unscented, with granules or without – you name it, she has a case of it. See, she suffers from an acute case of I-may-need-it-one-day. And she might, if she lives to be 200 and has to wash the inside of an oil tanker. Charlie Sheen doesn’t need this much soap.

“I know that these soaps are like your children and that you really love them . . .” I begin.

She made some progress by throwing a couple of hotel soaps into the pile. Then it was my turn.

Visiting some 3,000 miles from home, you’d think we wouldn’t have much to add. I wish that were true. In the eight weeks we’ve been summering at my in-laws’, my husband has bought a dozen 1:18 scale cars. Unless we’re opening up a car lot for Tinkerbell and the gang, I don’t see the point. And my daughter has acquired enough plush animals for an entire Furry convention. Alas, I too, am guilty. I’ve collected 11 pairs of shoes. The difference is that my collection is utilitarian; I wear shoes every day.

“You can’t even walk in those shoes,” my husband said of my new 4-inch platforms I wore to dinner.

I can walk in them; I just look like an inebriated giraffe on roller skates while doing it. Besides, I only fell three times. And only one of those times did I take Ray down with me.

In a fit, Ray declares that I can keep any pair of shoes that I can walk a half-mile in.

I finally agree to toss one pair of old boots in the sale pile (because I have a matching pair back home). There, I feel totally Zen now.

The point is, I’m not a better mother than the one with the kid who throws a tantrum. And I’m not a better person than the rat man. I think there’s a little hoarder in all of us. Maybe we can keep it in check most of the time (or at least behind closet doors), but I’m starting to think it’s a fine line between a few shoes that don’t fit right and 2,000 rats.

But it’s late. I’ll worry about that tomorrow. For now I’ll just crawl into bed and snuggle up to my Kate Spade’s.



Leave a Reply