The Hoarding Gene

I have started to look at my books to begin a cull.
I don’t know where I got the hoarding gene from, but it wasn’t Mother. She loved to throw things out. I learned this to my cost many many times. I’d return from university to find, or rather not find, my clothes ‘reorganised’. When pressed, Mother would look wide-eyed and say she didn’t know where they were. She probably calmed her conscience with the reflection that by the time I discovered my losses – my black polo neck jumper, patched at the elbows with leather, unravelling at the cuffs and waist, and so old it was almost an antique, stands out in my mind – she would not have known. Papers I had carefully stored, letters, notebooks, old diaries; privacy was no match for Mother’s clearing zeal.
On one occasion, deciding I would not miss a treasured Edwardian parasol, and realising the next day I was looking for it, she had to make a hurried repurchase from the charity shop. I still have it.
Only when dementia began its stealthy invasion did she reverse her habits. Now it was my turn to sneak her old clothes into a bag on the top shelf of the wardrobe. I’d leave them there for six months or even longer just to make sure she didn’t miss them, then bring them home to London and leave them in a charity shop.
She began to keep old envelopes. She must have had the best collection of used window envelopes in the western world. Once she went to bed, I would silently take them, again disposing of them at home. For years she’d been writing shopping lists on bits of cardboard cut from old packaging. Suddenly no bit of cardboard was too small to discard. They were stored neatly in various containers in the sideboard, the desk, the kitchen cupboards. It was harmless, I guess, but again, each visit, I would clear the Cardboard Collection.
When she died, most of her remaining furniture we donated to charity. Her clothes went the same route. So how is it that, despite a lifetime of rigorous decluttering, downsizing four times, and ending up in one room in the care home, her belongings still filled my car and Nephew’s?
The boxes I brought home contained a fair amount of handcream – we were all pretty good at making sure she had rose or lavender handcream in quantity – photographs and books. There is a collection of postcards sent by members of the family. I cannot bring myself to throw books that either of my parents have signed. There’s one, a selection from Shakespeare that was a prize awarded to my father for his marks in a theory of music exam, that reminds me how my father never spoke of his achievements. To blow his own trumpet appalled him. without that book prize, I’d never have known of this early success.
But if these books are going to stay, some already in the flat have got to go. I am hoping to keep my enthusiasm going and ditch papers I haven’t looked at in years. I hope my resolution holds.


16 thoughts on “The Hoarding Gene

  1. Perhaps your hoarding is a result of your Mother’s clearing? And maybe as you age your habits will reverse too?

    I like the idea of a Cardboard Collection. I have a Jiffy Bag collection myself πŸ˜€

    • I have often thought so, but in recent years I have realised Aunt is a hoarder too.
      I don’t think I can wait and hope my hoarding instincts will reverse., I shan’t be able to get through the door.

  2. I have the hoarder gene too. And have done a book cull, of sorts, and taken those I didn’t like and will never read again to a charity bookshop. There’s an interesting notion in the latest Alan Bennett play where the owner of a stately home has hoarded newspapers since the eighties and she reads one a day to try and catch up.

    • I could be like that. I am getting better at throwing things I didn’t have time to read and kept, thinking some magical period of free time would manifest itself. Of course, it never does.

  3. You’ve made your mind up and that’s a big part of the thing. I know it can seem like a huge and daunting task but it’s amazing how, if you just keep nibbling away at the edges, the space begins to feel pretty good.

    • I used to be very disciplined and would clear a shelf, drawer or cupboard in rotation each week. Unfortunately, that discipline has not been in evidence for some time!

  4. I don’t like clutter, which includes anything I don’t use. However, books are special. I can never have too many books, and have always dreamed of having my own library.

    I hope the task of going through your mom’s things isn’t too daunting.

  5. Good luck Isobel. I’m rubbish at getting rid of stuff. When I go away the better half takes a spin and tosses things out. Drives me crazy.

  6. I probably could most easily have been a hoarder on some level but growing up with a father in the armed forces and moving every two years sort of “trained” us to clear out frequently and not hang on to things. My mother did the same thing Isobel – lists on scraps of paper, little “memories” written on envelopes, etc. which we realized later was just her “recording” things that she was trying desperately to hold on to as her dementia progressed. Anyway, I’m now living with a bit of a hoarder – David has boxes of paperwork/notebooks, etc. from his old job that he retired from over ten years ago! None of it matters, none of it’s important but he hangs on nonetheless. πŸ˜€



    • Moving frequently would help! That is part of the problem here. I have lived in this flat a very long time, and far more has come into it than has left it!
      I just found, in one of my boxes, two files of notes from undergraduate days. The contents of both are now in the recycling bag!

  7. CH is the someBODY with hoarding tendencies.. πŸ˜€ I have no problem tossing stuff or giving it away but I can actually see him wince when I do it. The garage/workshop is all his and it is full of stuff. I would have trouble with books though Isobel. I have not felt the need to cull any books. Yet. I am betting your resolution holds.

    • I have filled a bag with paper, but that has just left a little room in some storage boxes. When I retire i shall look forward to getting rid of things I have to hold onto just now.

  8. I have a problem clearing out books. Most of what I have now are by favorite authors that I’ve already read a couple of times and will probably read again!! Have no idea why I’m holding them since I can get most of them on my e-book reader. But it’s hard to give them away!

    • I still prefer reading a ‘real’ book to an ebook, thopugh I have both. Reference books take up a lot of space, and I am passing on soem I never look at. Still two boxes of books from Mother’s to find room for though!

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