Sunday, October 28, 2012

What could 10 hours hurt?

Yesterday, there was a collegiate football game that I normally watch at home, during which I text rants and raves with my father, since I don't go to their house. My dad called to let me know he was planning on going into his mothers for the day, about 45 minutes from where I live. I really wanted to watch the game with my dad, so I talked my boyfriend into going along, what harm could be done in ten hours?. At 9 a.m. I got a text letting us know they were leaving town on their way to pick us up. At 10 a.m., they pulled up. They were in my mother's vehicle, and the state of her vehicle spoke volumes to their complacency in life.

That sounds like such a grand and whiny statement, but we were surprised how bad it was. It's a white van, the kind that are usually only made as commercial vehicles without windows now. The reason they got a later start than they planned was because they had to stop at their shop and put the middle seat in the van. That I knew could mean several things. Maybe the van had been used like a truck for a job, maybe the bench that was in the van, was so covered with stuff, they figured it'd be easier to add a bench then clean the other off. The bottom panel of the sliding door is entirely gone, highlighted by streaks of yellow paint. I can only imagine what happened there.

Inside. My god the inside. There is immediately a pungent odor. There is no visible floor in the van. Piles of crap throughout the van. A very visible wall of junk between the two front seats (symbolism much?), and in the areas around each bench. Then the back bench is in fact covered with piles of stuff and I know then that I was right about the "add a bench instead of cleaning the other off" theory. The integrity of the van was worrisome too, the boyfriend thinks the high whine we heard on the trip was the transmission going out. 

The passive-aggressive fighting started pretty early on too. Once at my grandma's (paternal) we immediately began watching the game. I didn't have super high hopes for my mother's mood, because everyone there was interested in the game, except her.

My mother has a way of asking questions in just such a way, that you know she is trying to start something.
"How is the new job going?" is what my mother asked my boyfriend. But what she meant was "Tell me how bad you're suffering now that you don't work for us, because we were the best and you'll never do any better." I had to leave the room, I assume my boyfriend stood up for himself.

At some point, my mother's dad called her and updated her on some real estate he had seen where she lives. Remember, it was just two weeks ago that she was attempting to buy a second house. Then, soon after that my parents had a nearly whispered argument about how my grandpa (maternal) needs to clean out his house because he wants to sell it.

She said, and I quote "He just needs to clean one room at a time. Then he'd get it all done!" Just imagine what my mother could accomplish with that attitude, and ten hours.

My dad commented that her dad  probably needs help. My grandma (maternal) died three years ago, and my grandpa needs to find a place to continue his retirement. According to my mother, he's busy shopping for a mobile home so he can travel a bit more before being completely house-bound. She said he's anxious to clean out though, but it's emotional and she understands that. Isn't that the truth. My dad repeated that he probably needs help, and went so far as to say maybe she should take some time off of work to help him do it, start to finish.

That was a mistake. She recoiled and spit back that she doesn't have the time clean out a house or work on a house, was he stupid?

If you've been following this story, you're facing that contorting, helpless confusion that I did in the moment. Did she not just nearly buy a second house? Does she not already have three buildings of her own to clean out?

My mother asked after the primary game if we were ready to go to her dad's now, who is about twenty minutes away in the opposite direction of home. This was not discussed earlier, and my dad quickly spoke up so we didn't have to. He said he planned on spending the day with his mom, watching football. My mother was upset and claimed she didn't know that meant the whole day. My boyfriend and I did not want to go either and she was clearly offended. This is what often happens with my mother, she has a conversation with herself and then is upset when others don't follow her line of logic or her imaginary plans. It's like she enjoys setting herself up (and others) for failure. Or maybe she schemes it all ahead of time, and does it on purpose because she'll have an excuse to storm out.

The trip back wasn't so great either.  While my mother was at her dad's she cut herself some flowers from her mom's garden. She bagged them with water and left them in the van. About halfway home, my boyfriend realized his foot was wet. The flowers were on top of the pile of crap between the two front seats and angled just right so that the water had been pouring out onto his shoe, and his bag. He had his textbooks and laptop in that bag. I was furious. I was not shy about making it clear to my mother that his computer was wet and might be ruined.

So far, everything dried off successfully, but once we got home, my boyfriend confided that he was most upset that she was defensive when we told her what had happened. It was because of her stupid, smelly flowers that his computer got wet. She acted as if this was common-place, to be expected. Like, if we didn't like it, we didn't have to ride in her van. What the ****?! My dad texted us late last night and promised that if anything was ruined they would pay for it. My mother never apologized, and in fact blamed my dad's driving for shifting her pile of crap enough that her flower water dumped on my boyfriend.

It's now the morning after this adventure, and we're still exhausted. Emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted. If this is what we are exposed to in a ten hour visit, I am really going to have to bulk up the emotional firewall before the holidays.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Room A Day #5

5. The Kitchen

 The issue with the kitchen, is that this is not just a room for furniture and appliances, it's the home to food. For many hoarders, food can be a dangerous and sensitive topic. My mother is always asking family members to save plastic bottles, wine bottles, chinese takeout containers, one-use tupperware like butter tubs, etc. The problem is, there is rarely a real use for these items, especially in the huge quantities that she keeps. This was the state of the kitchen several months ago. This kitchen was recently remodeled and all the cabinets were replaced. You can't see the bottom right drawer (behind a milk jug) but it's actually missing. I can't even remember the reason why it's missing, I just know that since the remodel, there's never been a drawer there. The issue with so much stuff in a kitchen, is that the more excess stuff, the less room there is for necessary things and most importantly, food.

 The refrigerator has been a sort of potluck for the last several years. Some things are common in every household; a bag of salad that hangs around a week too long, a few too many pieces of fruit or vegetables, and maybe a tupperware of leftovers past their prime. This photo, however, shows what my boyfriend and I saw the last time we were at the house. A moldy cucumber sitting in a dish of coagulated gravy (?), two full cartons of eggs plus the several loose eggs in the upper shelf, among other things. I have never been great about eating leftovers, and I know I've picked this up from my mother. I was trained not to eat leftovers in my parents' house because the leftovers were rarely edible. Pizza would be left exposed on a paper plate in the fridge, canned food would be set in the fridge uncovered, and often most food and liquids would hang around much past their prime.

On the left side, you can see the ice maker, crusher, and water machine on the refrigerator door. The red light represents the need to change the water and ice filter. That light has been on for nearly ten years. At one point my dad had figured out a way to trigger the light to go off, without changing the filter. This is like the person that will walk up to the TV to change the channel for months on end because they're too lazy to look for the remote. The water and ice at their home smells bad and tastes awful. When we came over, we brought bottled water with us so we wouldn't have to drink their water. The water is an example of how even though a closet may get cleaned out over a month, my parents are not living their life in a safe or healthy way. My dad has allergies to mold and dust, my mother has diabetes and they both have other health issues. I cannot and do not want to imagine what that water filter looks like, and what it's putting into their water.

The kitchen did look better the last time I stopped by. I gave my mom notice that I was coming by, and you'll see that the broom is still out. Notice though, you still can't see that missing drawer, this time it's hidden behind a gas station cup. Those are often throughout my parent's house. Like tupperware, it's something plastic with a lid, and is therefore reusable. Not only is a bottle or tupperware capable of being reused, it must be reused. There is a sense of obligation that my mother expresses. They came over at our last place and we ordered in chinese food. My mother was quick to claim all the tupperware after we were done eating. My boyfriend agreed that sometimes they do make good containers, but validated it by mentioning that we throw some away every time we get more.

I worry about their health. I know that my diet is not what it should be, and I know that part of that is because of the diet I had at home. When my boyfriend worked with my parents over the summer he got sick of going out to eat every single day with them. Every lunch and dinner was at or from the local pizza place, Mc Donald's, the local diner, or frozen food.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Room A Day #4

4. The Dining Room

I should mention that this floor plan was made in paint several months ago. Nothing is perfectly accurate, for instance the dining room is not nearly as large in comparison to the other rooms. The dining room has gone through several transitions in the past twenty years. I remember being very young and the dining room having a large quilt that my grandmother (paternal) made where the photo of me is now hanging. There was a large curio or china cabinet on the wall where a deep freezer is now. I was often scolded for snooping in it.

 I remember the many years that we had elderly family members living with us when I was very young, and everyone sat at the dining room table for everything from weekend lunches, to nightly dinners, to holidays. Once every few years, all the furniture was pushed into the living room and my mother would sand and refinish the hardwood floor on her hands and knees. She was so proud when she would finish the job and step back to her work. When I started blogging, I went home and photographed what I saw. As you can see, the closet is so full the door will not shut, and the table and chairs are so covered they are hard to discern. Much of the stuff is trash, Tupperware, and unused home appliances.

 The next time I went home, I noticed the dining room had been cleaned up and I was very hopeful. Notice several items still appear between the two pictures (red wok, a selection of wine and plastic bottles, bags of trash, tub of decorations). I was about to congratulate my mom on her progress in the dining room, when I looked in the living room and saw that 90% of what was on the table before, was now in the living room. My mom is often discouraged because it feels like all she does is move stuff around. My immediate reaction is "YOU ARE." But I know how she feels, I felt that way my entire childhood every time I was told to clean my room. Not only did I wonder why I had to clean when no one else did, but I remember actually asking where I was expected to put everything. Of course, I learned quickly that those questions earned me either a spanking with the wooden spoon, or I would lose my stereo or books or not get the clothes or toys I wanted in the near future.

I still have issues with taking the time to hang things up immediately after taking them off or out of the dryer. In fact, right now I have a stack of about fifteen pieces of clothing draped over a Rubbermaid drawer tower in my closet. When my boyfriend goes for the laundry basket or something, clothes usually slide off onto the floor and I know it's frustrating for him. But, now I've called myself out on it and I'm going to address it straight away. I encourage you to remember that thing you've been putting off and go do it. Don't just move it around, fix it, finish it, do it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Room A Day #3

3. The Living Room

This room is rarely used for visiting, or living since the garage was remodeled into the family room. There are more pieces of furniture in this room than are people living in the house. With two couches, two rocking chairs, and a full dining room set, this room is only a catch-all, a passing-through room, an extension of the hallway. My parents tend to travel for their work, and there are usually varied stages of packing and unpacking taking place on the varied pieces of furniture in this room. This room is also one of the last that my mother really took the time to decorate. She made a bold choice with the dark Americana red, and she was proud of how it turned out. That's the last time anyone really cared about the presentation of that room.

I mentioned in my post Long Time No Post that the wood around the large picture window is rotting out. My mom wants to take the window out, and replace it with either something similar, or smaller, separate windows that she can open. However, as my dad pointed out, there is often too much stuff in front of the window for it to serve it's purpose. They never open the curtains, blinds, or windows because there is too much stuff in front of the window. This creates both an accessibility issue to even open the windows, let alone an embarrassing aesthetic should someone look inside.

I'm not sure what this room should be used for. I've made my opinion pretty clear: they have too much space, and therefore fill it with too much stuff. If they ever plan on selling the house, this room is one that will definitely have to be presentable. The carpet in this room was ripped out after our family dog passed away, and the floors are in pretty good shape. Wood floors are huge for home buyers, but not if they can't see the floor for all the furniture and stuff. As for the second dining room table set, the set in the above photo is actually the original set from moving to this house in the early '90s. The set in the dining room (which I'll cover next with the kitchen) is a set my mom bought while threatening to move out and get an apartment. When I threatened to move out at 18, as many 18 year olds do, I started packing my things, not buying more and bringing it into the house I was supposedly desperate to get out of. But that's what my mom did. She bought the set and when it became clear that she wasn't going anywhere, and everyone stopped listening to the empty threats, the new set usurped the original. For the past five years or so both dining room tables have been within twenty feet of each other, although both are rarely clear or used.

This was the room I started in with my mother, after our initial "hoarding talk." It was right before Christmas two years ago, that I cried with my mom in the aisle of a kitchen store at our local mall. It was then and there that she agreed, through tears, that she hoards, and that her parents hoard. In the next aisle over, she spotted a marble rolling pin like the one she's wanted since she was a girl. I asked her why she never took care of herself and got rid of the ones she didn't like, and get one really good rolling pin. She couldn't tell me.

I made her a deal that if she got rid of at the at least three rolling pins back home, I would get her any one rolling pin she wanted for Christmas, no matter the price. She thought that was a great idea, but when we got home, she changed her mind. Once she saw her cracked plastic, freezable rolling pin, and the two wooden ones that never worked without tearing at dough, she couldn't part with them. My sister couldn't think of anything to get our mom for Christmas, so I went against our better judgement and told her about the rolling pin, and she gave it to my mom, without her having to get rid of the others.

I share this, because it was the living room that I sat on the couch with my mom and helped her go through our first box together. She had to touch everything, she defended everything, and, sadly, she kept nearly everything. I was allowed to throw away old notes and a few soda bottles. This was just one box on the couch, the same box I had to move so I could sit on the couch when I first came over that day.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Room A Day #2

2. The Family Room

This used to be an attached garage, and I remember the fight my parents had about putting a temporary above ground pool in. My mother finally decided that "the women" could handle it, and bought and put the pool together while my dad was out of town.

For the last sixteen years, it has been a family room with green carpet, a glass insert door that has never been without the manufacture's plastic wrapper, and an unfinished atmosphere. In the winter, I loved that the register that had been added to the room was just an open hole in the wall. In the morning, I would stick my socks and gloves in the hole and come back after breakfast to toasty clothes.

A few years ago, they added an above ground hot tub that is usually just another horizontal surface for things to collect. In this photo, taken about six months ago, you can see a lot of the hot tub cover. When they moved the hot tub in, they tore some of the carpet out and put down a roll of wood-looking linoleum. The covered this with black rubber mats and put the hot tub on top of that. With such precautions to protect a concrete floor, and a still-unwrapped door, it's hard to understand why this doesn't include the spill of hot tub solution on the rubber mat, or the plastic gallon jugs on the floor, or the fish tank that's been empty for five years, or the fact that there isn't a horizontal surface left uncovered. 

This room has the TV, access to the back yard, and the most natural light. It's often the room of choice when my sister and I visit.  I find it a little ironic that there are two vacuum cleaners in a single room.

This room is very separate from the rest of the house. It's easy for one person to go into the family room, and another to go in the opposite direction. There's potential to never run into someone else in the house. A lot of the time, either my dad is in the family room and my mom is in the kitchen, or my mom is in the family room and my dad is in his office room.

Heh..."family" room.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Room A Day #1

I've had a long day today, two very big annual events for my job are happening today through Tuesday, and Friday. I'm exhausted now that I'm finally home, and with a drink in my hand and a piece of candy stolen from the Halloween stash, I'm thinking about my parent's house. How easy would it be to tackle a room a day? A room a week? I don't even mean to suggest that I or my parents could start and finish a room in one day, but that they could start a room, and make some progress. Make some progress and then walk away. I know the house didn't become the way that it is purely based on laziness, it's a mental condition. They need to understand the issues and reason through each room.

I learned the last time I tried to help my mother at the shop, that the more you let them touch and relate to, the more they'll keep. If I could convince my parents that each room is just that, just a room, maybe they could see their house for the build up it's housing, and that there isn't any room left for the family. So here is A Room A Day, in the order that I rationalized several months ago. I see now that If my parents actually agreed to attempt this, that they might switch the priorities around, but I would let them assign the order, if it meant finishing something. At least one room.

This is my parent's house.

1. The Porch
           It has two walls, and is cement. It has a rickety wood railing that is chipping and cannot support any weight or a strong gust. I'll include the stairs and driveway here too. There are several large, bigger-than-gait steps that are never clean, and planter boxes parallel to them that look nice when in bloom, but are rarely weeded or maintained otherwise.

I remember, we had a preparation party at the house before my sister's wedding and I couldn't believe my mother was having people over while the house looked as bad as it did. I was extremely self-conscious. There was a large pile of rocks at the top of the driveway outside the now family room in. That pile of rocks was delivered about a month before the wedding (2005), and stayed for several years.

I pulled up their house on the county assessor just now, and if you look at the top of the driveway...there's still a small pile of rocks. I have to admit, however, it could be much, much worse. The outside is unkempt, but for five planters, a roll of what seems to be tarp or plastic, a few boards or something under the living room window, and the pile of rocks, it could be so much worse.

The closet and foyer just inside the door are often in disarray. I remember one of my most hated annual chores was cleaning out the foyer closet. That was a place you put things you didn't want to think about. More than once I would dump a bad grade school report card there, smelly shoes, a partner-less glove.  My dad had a high shelf in the closet, referred to as "The Cubby." Change, bills, insurance cards, and several other missing items were often found on this shelf or on the closet floor below.

I chose this area as #1 because it's the first thing anyone sees of the house. Not because they should be concerned with what others think, but because they should be aware of what a little junk can become. My parent's house is hoarded on a sliding scale. The front is better than the back, right wing better than the left, and ground floor much better than the basement.