I’ve been in my former hoarders fixer house for a while now. And, as was always the plan, I will sell it — if the universe and my credit score allow– upon or just prior to or just after my youngest kids’ graduation from high school. I have a couple of years, but I’m thinking ahead. I probably won’t see a dime in return on investment for all the improvements I’ve made to my little hoarders home. There are a lot of reasons. But for this post I’ll focus here on my neighbors’ damn sofas sitting on the side of the road because that’s what’s bothering me today, every day.
Sofas, couches, easy chairs. Whatever you call them. Indoor furniture that is banished outside to publicly decompose for all to see — it’s the worst lawn decor ever.
It’s the modern day real estate equivalent to the head on a stick.
It’s crap like this that will lower my property value and keep it low — which is good for the contractors who want to buy low and rent or flip high — but bad for me. There are plenty of regular folks looking for an affordable houses in a nice neighborhood in a good school district, but because of the ever present sofas on the side of the road, it makes my neighborhood seem, well, not so nice.
Have you ever wondered why people put sofas outside which stay there for weeks, months, even years?
I have my theories.
1. They got a new couch. So they put the old one outside.
2. The old couch had something nasty happen to it — of the urine or vomit variety –that they just couldn’t get out.
3. The old couch had something smokey happen to it — the old cigarette in the cushions . . .
This only explains why the couch leaves the house, not why it stays outside.
Here are my theories on why they stay outside.
1. There is no (free) bulk trash pickup in the neighborhood.
2. Bulk trash pick-up is costly and low income (poor) people can’t or won’t allocate their money to pay for it.
Paying extra for trash removal can be a hard pill to swallow if you are having trouble paying regular bills (Query: How much money was shelled out on the new sofa? Perhaps the $25 bulk trash fee should be built into the cost of getting the new couch?) But regardless, there’s a solution. If you are able bodied you can save the $25 by breaking up the couch and putting it in the regular trash. I’ve done this. I’ve seen other people do this. It’s actually kind of fun it you want to get out some aggression. And another option is, if the sofa is old but not ruined, put it on Craigslist for free. Someone will take it. Craigslist people won’t pay a dollar for something, but if you say it’s free? They’ll take it. They’ll even take it from your house. If you don’t want strangers in your house, just plan to put the couch out on a sunny weekend, post the ad, and it will go away — for free. I’ve done this. More than once. If it’s truly trashed, this isn’t an option, but it’s worth a try.
3. I’m waiting for bulk trash pick-up.
But dude, how long are you going to wait?
Once a year, our Township provides dumpsters for people in my neighborhood to use free of charge for whatever they need to get rid of. But it’s once a year. In the Summer, I believe. It’s Winter now. Will the sofas sit here until July?
A variation on this excuse is: I put it out and wanted to see if the trash guys would take it. Okay, I get that. Because sometimes they might actually take it, or somebody might. This only justifies having an outdoor sofa for a week, though, tops. After a week has gone by of the regular trash people not picking up the sofa, it ain’t going nowhere.
4. Another reason proffered by well-meaning people is that the residents must not be physically able to get rid of the couch.
Well, I call bullshit on that one. If a person had the means and muscle to get the couch out of his or her house, they have the means and muscle to put it somewhere where it might get picked up. Obviously there are elderly or disabled (mentally or physically) who cannot maintain their property. I get that. But I’ve seen grown, strong, working men coming and going from these houses with the lawn couches. I call bullshit on them. I know people may have ailments that are not readily visible. I withdraw my calling of bullshit if that is the case. But if not, just putting indoor furniture in your yard and leaving it out in the rain, sleet, and snow until starts to stink, disintegrate, become the nesting ground for vermin and bugs, and just look plain old tacky — I just don’t get that.
Right now there are two couches I see every day. Every day.
Every damn day.
Couch Number One. It’s in a back yard, which backs onto my alley and my back yard. I see it from my kitchen window, as I said. Every day. As do at least four other houses and all cars that drive along this back alley. Lovely. This placement is curious to me, because their trash gets collected from their front yard. Why put the couch out back, inside their fence, on its side, cushions and all? Why? It won’t get picked up there by anyone. Maybe they are planning to have bulk trash pickup or somebody with a truck come later — but it’s been about a month now. And why leave the cushions? They could certainly go in the regular trash or recycling and this would cut down on the bulk of the sofa in the yard and also make it less inviting for bugs and rats. But no, the couch is outside.
Couch Number Two. This one is on the edge of a front yard of a house on the side of the road. Now this house has always had a messy porch. I don’t know the people, personally, but I’ve seen them come and go. Not elderly or infirm. Driving, working, healthy looking people. It appears as though they are doing some sort of home clean out now because there is more junk outside than usual. Again, having gone through extensive clean outs and renovations I understand that while work is in process, there will be debris, because — it’s a work in progress. But, the couch and cushions have been out there for again, about a month. I don’t see any evidence of home repairs or renovations going on. It appears as though someone decided to get some crap out of the house so — they just put it outside. Other large trash items have joined the sofa. These other items could have been put out in the regular trash. But, for some reason, the residents are just piling it up on and around the couch.
There’s a school bus stop nearby. Lovely.
These abandoned sofas are like announcements to people, whether they are passing through or coming home. It gives the appearance of,
“You have crossed over into a bad part of town.”
When people come to see me, or drop off my kids, they have to pass by one or both of the sofas. It’s far from inviting. It actually repels. And it seems that as soon as a rotting sofa is finally removed, another appears. I remember when we were still in the marital home when it was on the market, as we drove by what is now my neighborhood, my kid said,”I’m not moving over there.” She didn’t know that I had already purchased my little hoarders home. I told myself at the time, “I’ll make it nice.”
And I did.
I worked my butt off making our home as nice as I could, but I can’t do anything about the neighbors who allow upholstered furniture to rot outside their homes.
I think there’s a psychological reason why people do this. There are some people who are — interior. Most of their relaxation time is spent indoors. They only think of their yard, their porch, and front door as something to pass through to get inside. I guess then it becomes easy to make whatever changes you are making inside the house, and put the debris outside. After all, you’ve gotten it out of the house. It’s kind of like how an apartment dweller can throw things in a dumpster and go back inside, oblivious as to whether the dumpster is ever emptied.
But still . . .
These couches make me sad. It feels like people have just given up and don’t care. And what’s worse? It’s contagious. I would never do the couch thing, and I maintain my yard, but I’ve lost the will to garden or create an outdoor space for entertaining. I mean, why bother? I don’t want to sit outside and look at a rotting sofa while roasting marshmallows. I plan to garden and landscape more this year, to enhance curb appeal, but my heart’s not in it. I confess.
Just Me With . . . plenty of outdoor seating . . . on rotting couches . . . on the side of the road.
It just irks me. And it may cost me.
Related: Piss, Puke, and Porn — My Hoarder’s House
That Hoarder’s Smell — How to Get Rid of It
I recently had a vacation with the extended family. We rented a big house during the off-season at a resort area — so cheap. My family took pity on me because I had been unwell lately and because I currently live in a home with only one bathroom that I share with my five kids, though one is away at school.
So even though I don’t have a “Master,” per se (gag me), they let me have one of the master bedrooms. This meant I had my very own bathroom.
My very own bathroom. It was a thing of beauty. It had a jacuzzi tub and a separate shower, a private water closet and — space! I could dance in my bathroom. I briefly considered holding some sort of meeting there. It had more floor space than my current family room has. Plus, I didn’t have to make an announcement before I showered in case others had to use the bathroom first and I didn’t have to use the bathroom quickly before someone else took a shower. For a week, I didn’t have to wade my way through acne products on the sink and teen clothes left on the floor.
My glorious bathroom also had double sinks. I’ve discussed the double sink thing before, at Double Sinks in the Master Bath –Must We Have them, Really? One of the problematic issues about them being standard in new construction is the fact that not everyone is coupled up. The sinks are kind of a throw-back to the assumption that the heads of the households — the ones who deserve the best rooms — are always a couple.
Now, I loved having my own bathroom for a week. I am not complaining. It was an indulgence I’m sure many have on a daily basis, but for me? I was living like a queen, albeit temporarily. Still, I felt slightly silly in this bathroom. It may have been the double sinks. This was a bathroom built for two. Every time I went to wash my hands or brush my teeth or wash my face, it reminded me, ever so subtly, that I am single, occupying this space meant for a couple. The suite also had a king sized bed, and I have to admit that, after all these years, I’m still sleeping on “my side of the bed.”
I took turns using first one sink and then the other so that neither one would feel left out. (That’s my throw-back to having twins. Keep it equal as much as I can, in an effort to keep them out of therapy.) Inexplicably, I also locked the door to the water closet when I was in there. I guess I didn’t want my non-existent ghost husband to walk in on me when nature called as he breezed in to shave over “his” sink.
Oh wait, no one was going to use that other sink.
I was the master of my bathroom domain.
Oh well. I loved having this huge bathroom all to myself for a vacation, but if I had actually purchased a home with double sinks that I’d have to look at day in and out? That would kind of piss me off. Contractors, realtors, HGTV — take note.
The master bath also came with two sets of towels — I guess for my invisible ghost man.
I used those, too.
Just Me With . . . one shower, one bathtub, one toilet, TWO sinks and a bunch of towels — Just For Me.
My son’s graduation is over. It was the first big celebration that I had to share with my Ex-Husband. See The Unspoken Pain of Sharing Celebrations. I made it through. And by that I mean I stayed off the six o’clock news. In the weeks before the graduation, during the graduation and after the graduation some bad things happened, and some very good things happened. I’m too close to it right now to write about it. But in the midst of all the brouhaha, of the visiting relatives, of the planning and anxiety, the tears (some mine, some not), something quite unexpected happened . . .
I got rid of my wedding gown.
My sister was staying at our parents’ home. When she left she cleaned the old bedroom — her old bedroom. She dusted, organized, threw things out, removed bedding and vacuumed — even under the bed. To clean under the bed, she pulled out everything stored there, including an airline cardboard garment box. The box had the logo of the airline, along with my maiden name handwritten on it in black marker.
It was my wedding dress.
Now, I’ve written before about how I have dealt with the mementos of my lengthy but ultimately failed marriage. Wedding Leftovers — What To Do With The Dress and The Wedding Album — Time to Reduce it, Perhaps by Fire. And the gist was that I sold my rings, reduced the number and manner of presentation of my wedding photos, but I kept the wedding gown in a box under a bed at my parents’ house — untouched.
And I’ve also written before about how I moved into a hoarders home and had to clean it, see That Hoarders Smell, and that I’m also trying to clean out my parents’ home, which is too full of stuff. See Goodbye Hoarders. I’m a big believer in getting rid of things. It’s my free therapy. See Craigslist Angel’s. It truly is contrary to my belief system to store something I would never use. So when my sister pulled out my wedding gown to clean under the bed, it suddenly felt kind of stupid to put it back.
I’m supposed to be cleaning out my parents’ house. I shouldn’t be keeping any of my stuff there, I thought.
Rule One of de-cluttering is to get rid of stuff that doesn’t belong to you. My parents shouldn’t be keeping a big box of white dress for me, taking up valuable real estate under the bed.
When I first married I really wanted to keep my dress. My parents, who are still married, had a big church wedding back in the day. My mother looked beautiful.
I like tradition, antiques, old houses, etc. and I totally would have worn my mother’s wedding gown when I got married. But my mother didn’t properly preserve it, it yellowed and she eventually just threw it away. My young self chastised her for this over the years and I swore I would always keep my wedding gown just in case future daughters unknown to me at the time might want to wear it. So after my wedding, I carefully packed away my gown, according to the instructions from a professional. And I left it at my parent’s house. I’ve moved many times over the years but the dress stayed at my parents’ house.
I did have daughters. See Fertile Myrtle. Technically this meant that there was a possibility that one of them might want to wear my dress. But the dress is woefully out of style. I got married when women were still allowed to have straps and sleeves. Still, any dress can be altered, and there is plenty of material to work with. But none of my daughters have any interest right now in vintage clothing, except for Halloween or dress up days at school. Even if they did, call me silly, call me superstitious, but it seems like bad Mojo to marry in a used wedding gown, even heavily altered, from a wedding where the marriage did not last. I’d gotten a lot of suggestions from my earlier post on possible other uses for the gown — dye it black and use it for Halloween, donate it to particular groups that collect gowns, theater groups, etc. But as I looked at the big box with my birth name on it, I was sure of two things:
(1) I need to get it out of my parents’ house; and
(2) I sure as hell didn’t want it in my house.
I also didn’t want to take the time to find a proper home for the dress. I didn’t much care whether or how it was used again. And I was also quite sure that I didn’t want to touch it. I was almost afraid of the damn thing.
It was freaking me out.
So I put it in my car — my beloved car, where I spend way too much time. It is my refuge. See My Very Own Personal Olympic Games. But since my car is my refuge, I didn’t want to leave the gown in there either. Bad Mojo. I didn’t want it to infect the only space I have for me. Then I started to have visions that I would get into a car accident and they would find my bloodied wedding gown in the wreckage — and think I had some connection to it — that I had kept it for sentimental reasons –that I was purposely driving around with my wedding gown because I must still be in love with my Ex-husband and — and NO!
I’ll say it again. The gown was freaking me out.
I’d been doing some Spring cleaning in my own house (free therapy after an emotional time) and had a couple of things I wanted to drop by Goodwill. Goodwill, if you don’t know, is a charitable organization benefiting the disabled which is funded largely by Thrift Stores. (Yeah, I looked it up.) During my move from the marital home I spent a lot of time at Goodwill, giving away many of my possessions. I’ve shopped there, too, finding good buys, especially with furniture and wall decor. So I stopped by my house and grabbed the few other items that I planned to donate and took myself to Goodwill, making a special trip. Had it not been for the gown I would have waited until I had more stuff to drop off, but this had suddenly become quite urgent.
Still, I had some doubts. Consequently, I had a little conversation with myself on the ten minute ride:
Should I take the dress out of the wrapping?
(Why should I? I don’t want to see it.)
But what if I’d hidden money or something valuable or embarrassing in the box?
(But I didn’t. Those pesky photos of my husband and a stripper were never stored there. My boudoir photos I made for my husband during happier times have long since been destroyed.)
What if the wedding dress had yellowed or gotten otherwise ruined?
(Well, then the kind folks at Goodwill will dispose of it for me.)
Shouldn’t I let my daughters see it one time? Maybe try it on?
No. They’ll want to keep it, because they are hoarders-in-training. I can’t even let them know that it was in the car, because they’d have what I would deem as a morbid interest in it. And, it’s my dress, my memories. My kids did not exist when I got married. They have no right to keepsakes of my memories that predate them. I still have some of the wedding photos, that’s enough. If I abided by the reasoning that I must not destroy things related to my relationship with my kids’ father, then it follows that I should have kept the boudoir photos for my kids too, right? Wrong — and ick. Plus, if I saw any of my girls try the gown on, even just for fun, I think I’d have a panic attack and start screaming to the visual representation of my younger self standing in front of me — Run! Run! RUN! See Almost a Runaway Bride. No, I could not handle it. No, no. Did I say no? No.
Plus, when you think about it, my husband wore a rented tuxedo when he married me. He didn’t even keep his wedding attire for more than a day. Why do I have to keep this — thing — forever?
So, without any ceremony or further ado, I pulled around to the back of the Goodwill thrift store and left the box that contained my wedding gown on the concrete slab.
And that, as they say, was that.
And you know? I feel really good about it.
One less thing in my parents’ house, one less item from my marriage that I have to think about or make room for.
I have lightened my load. The dress wasn’t even my house yet it still haunted me. Just being in close proximity to the box that contained it led to irrational thoughts. It needed to go. I’m sure at one point one of my kids will ask where my gown is. I’ll simply say that I got rid of it, just like my mother had. If my girls marry, they can choose their own dresses, without resurrecting my vintage error in judgment.
As my oldest child is moving on to his next stage in life, preparing to leave the nest, it seemed like a good time clean up some of my old stuff. It was time to grow up and stop storing items I can’t even look at under a twin bed at my parents’ house.
So I’m good with it. So good.
Just Me With . . . no wedding gown, not anymore.
I can’t help but wonder how much it’ll go for in the store, it sure cost me plenty, in more ways than one.
Two Sinks: Now standard in new construction for Master Baths. It’s another “must have” shown on the real estate shows. Having previously written about the “Open Floor Plan” a commenter suggested I discuss other popular real estate “must have” amenities. There are many, from walk-in closets, stainless steel appliances, and granite counter tops. But here I’ll address Two Sinks in the Master Bath. People just have to have these, according to many of the House Hunters couples on HGTV. Some of these HGTV couples are so disappointed when the master bath doesn’t have two sinks, it’s a deal-breaker. By the way, HGTV does a good job of showing same-sex couples on their shows, but the two sink thing seems to be proffered has a heterosexual couple “must have.” I’ll address it in kind.
From what I understand, these are the reasons why this is so popular:
1. We can get ready together in the morning!
2. I don’t have to deal with his/her mess in the sink, I’ll have my very own sink!
3. His and her sinks in the Master Bath means “I’ve Arrived!”
Yeah, okay. I get it. I really do, but I’m not sure that requiring two sinks in the master bath is the best use of construction dollars or should be a deal-breaker.
1. We can get ready together in the morning!
Oh, that’s cute, but think about it. In this world when everybody has personal devices for everything, when people don’t share cars or phones or computers or even closets, why are high-end houses still designed so that a couple can share a bathroom in the morning? The whole point, from what I understand, is that couples can both be brushing their teeth or whatever at the same time. Really? In a large home, especially a home that is new construction, or one that carries a price tag that starting at over a half a million dollars, or one where each child, nanny, and guest has his/her own bathroom, why are the husband and wife supposed to brush, rinse, spit, and floss together? Not to mention pluck, shave, or otherwise groom. I don’t care what you say, HGTV, but most husbands and wives are not going to openly share their nasal maintenance. And though I’m not completely sure what men do in the bathroom, I’m reasonably sure I don’t need to see it.
Let’s face it: regardless of the existence of two sinks, some things will be done behind the closed bathroom door while the spouse is elsewhere — anywhere — but standing at the adjacent sink.
And for those couples who are completely comfortable sharing bathroom activities with each other? They don’t need two sinks.
2. I don’t have to deal with his/her mess in the sink. I’ll have my very own sink!
Even when couples won’t use the bathroom as the same time, they want their own space. As I’ve heard repeatedly on HGTV, this breaks down to two concerns:
a. Women want/need space for all their skin, hair, make-up products.
b. Men leave shaving stubble in the sink, and women don’t like to see it, clean it or use a sink with said shaving stubble.
Alrighty then. Having two sinks will create two separate areas for two different kinds of messes, right next to each other. His and her sinks? His and her mess.
Ew. (Doesn’t anybody clean?)
I think we can safely say that both a man and a woman have the potential for leaving a mess in the bathroom. Given blow drying and flat-ironing of long hair, the skin and make-up products, it seems like the women would be more likely to be the slobs in the bathroom sink area, though on HGTV they are usually the ones to complain. The complaint about the man’s mess seems to be mostly about shaving stubble. It appears HGTV women are very put out about seeing shaving stubble in the sink. Does having two sinks make it better? Not really. I doubt that the woman who is really bothered by the sight of beard stubble will be able to enjoy her adjacent sink within view of said beard stubble. Again, isn’t somebody going to clean the bathroom?
Having two sinks will only ensure that one is always surrounded by woman’s mess/stuff and the other will be surrounded by a man’s mess/stuff.
Still, somebody will have to see and wash up next to the other person’s mess — and now there are two sinks to clean — or not. It’s kind of like the Hoarder who, instead of throwing stuff out, simply rents a storage unit.
But I get it. It’s a perk.
3. His and her sinks in the Master Bath means “I’ve Arrived!” (I really think this is the true reason why couples crave the two sinks.)
But . . .
a. Not everyone is in a couple.
Yes, you’ve arrived, but uh — not all adults are coupled up. Sometimes you arrive all by yourself (pun not intended — well, maybe a little). It’s not always a his/her, his/his or her/her situation. Sometimes it’s Just Me . . . heh heh heh. I remember a scene from the movie “It’s Complicated” where the main character, a divorced woman, was redoing her bathroom and wanted to get rid of the second sink. It was just a daily reminder that she had no partner, which she was okay with, but the sinks apparently were not. My single sister has a two sink master bathroom that came with her newer construction home. She uses one sink, and the other holds her curling iron. Seems a waste.
Two sinks in the Master Bath are just kind of stupid for single people, and a bit insulting. I can almost see the existence of two sinks being a deal-breaker for a single person. And if person becomes single after having insisted on the double sinks? Might as well tile “Failed Relationship” on the back splash.
b. Not everyone aspires to be in a couple.
Having a second sink when single might invite a relationship where one is not welcome. Remember vintage Barney in “How I Met Your Mother”? When giving Lily the tour of his Fortress of Barnitude, he explained, “I make it crystal clear to every girl who walks in here that this is not the place to leave a toothbrush, this is not the place to leave a contact lens case, this is a place — to leave.” I mean, the guy has a king size bed with only a full size blanket and just one pillow. As to the bathroom, Barney added, “What? Only one towel? What? No hair dryer? You know where I keep that stuff? Your place. Beat it.” Clearly, the Master (or Lady) of the house does not always have or welcome a guest planning to stay long enough to warrant a second sink. Nope. As Barney said, sometimes a person wants his or her home to say, “Our work here is done.”
I know I can be a rebel, but I think that what I think people really want is — wait for it —— their very own bathroom!
Why stop at the sinks? I mean, if you’re loading down a house with all the must have stuff let’s go all the way — I’m talking his and her separate, private bathrooms! In the old days, many of the very wealthy couples had his and her bathrooms. Let’s extend the royal treatment to suburban McMansions.
You hear that, new construction designers? You wouldn’t necessarily need that much more room, depending on the design and a bit of creativity. Some of these high end master bedrooms have a separate seating area and his or her walk-in closets. If there is space for all that, they could design his and her bathrooms, especially in those palatial homes and possibly even in more moderate homes. It’s funny in these houses with every amenity imaginable and the cars get their own room and guests have their own suites, can’t the Lady and Lord of the house brush their teeth alone? And I’d bet it would be a huge selling point. Huge.
Even for singles, we can keep that second bathroom on lock down and not within view, and only a privileged few could earn a key to this “executive washroom.” It would be a “special guest” bath. As an added bonus, it would serve a dual function of keeping our guests the heck out of our stuff. “No, I’m sorry, honey, you use that bathroom.” heh heh heh
But I get it. For most of us regular folk there might not be space for two completely separate baths connected to the master bedroom.
I’ll offer another, less radical, suggestion. When remodeling or buying new construction or house shopping, consider having only one sink in the Master Bath, make the assumption that a couple will not actually be in the bathroom together, or if they are, they are not both using the sink at the same time. Instead, use the money saved to install a larger, easy to clean counter space, creating an area that can accommodate all the products with great lighting and plenty of mirrors. Or, better yet, design personalized storage for all of those products and hair appliances so they can be used and put away (or left out) while still hot. And that one sink? Make it and the counter easy to wipe clean of the shaving stubble, you could or even install a sprayer. (Or get a maid.)
Let’s put a second (or third) sink where it belongs — in the hall (children’s) bath. It always amazes me when this is missing in a space that would allow it, especially in homes that are meant to accommodate more than one child. It’s kids that brush their teeth together while another small child is sitting on the toilet. Kids aren’t concerned about modesty, have less products and consequently less need for counter space. But trust me, you want them washing those grubby hands. Any preschool teacher or parent will tell you kids tend to wash better and brush teeth longer with a buddy. So let the kids live dorm style. Just teach them to clean the sinks, all of them!
Just Me With . . . no master bath at all, so I’m talking, excuse my expression, — out of my ass. We are a family of six sharing one bathroom. I would love to have another sink — anywhere!
Many thanks to the commenter David Travers, who inspired this post, and to HGTV, a channel that I watch, enjoy, and criticize frequently.
Maybe I’m just jealous.
It was with a heavy heart that I heard confirmation that the A&E reality show “Hoarders” would not be filming new shows. Hoarders has been cancelled.
Having purchased a partially hoarded house I found some comfort in Hoarders, which profiled one or two homes an episode and “cleaned house” with the help of Psychologists, professional cleaning crews and the hoarder him or herself.
I know that some folks complained that the home owners were being exploited and objectified for entertainment, since audiences seemed simultaneously to enjoy and be disgusted by seeing the filth and mountains of mess (and sometimes poop). It seemed to me that the hoarders were getting help that they would not have otherwise received and were the better for it. The crew never laughed at or belittled the hoarders, instead they just tried to convince the hoarders that something had to change. Getting rid of the hoard was always a safety and mental health issue, and usually a financial necessity. Yes, it was a television show, but it wasn’t just about entertainment.
As for me, I found some brethren. I was not aware of the show while I was cleaning the worst of the worst out of my new house, a friend told me about it and said I should watch. When I did, I found that the shows gave me comfort.
Comfort you ask? Among the piles of wet papers and rotten food?
Yes, comfort. Because until I saw Hoarders I didn’t know that I was not alone in stumbling upon a collection of bottles of urine. Hoarders showed me that people other than the former inhabitants of my house have found themselves at a point in life where the kitchen is as likely a place to dispose of human waste as the bathroom. In Hoarders I saw how, like with my house, a home’s smell can make visitors gag while the inhabitants remain completely unaware of the stench. And at the end of each episode of Hoarders, I was amazed at how the hoarded houses looked after they were cleaned out, and it reminded me of how far my house had come.
So yes, comfort.
Now, as I help my parents clear out some of the decades of accumulated clutter in their house, I find myself using the techniques I viewed on Hoarders. I’ve learned to understand how so many things can simply be piled up — unused or incorrectly stored. My parents are not clinical Hoarders, and their house is still functional and the front rooms pristine. However, the private areas and attic and basement are full, and unsafe. My parents are like a lot of true hoarders in that they are old and grew up with next to nothing. Though my parents went to college, married, had children and bought a home, they were never wealthy. And they never moved. As a result, decades of stuff has never been relocated or inventoried.
My parents, and their parents before them, lived through some of the most economically and socially challenging times in United States history — the Wars, the Depression, the time both before and after the civil rights movement. I think they grew up with an underlying worry that they could lose what they have at any given moment, or that someone would try to steal it from them. So, like some of the clients on Hoarders, they ascribe value to things that no one would buy, and by piling up mountains of stuff, they endanger the most valuable possession they have — their house.
The show Hoarders helped me to know that even the most unlikely item has a story, that sometimes the story needs to be told before the item can be discarded, and that when the smallest treasure is exhumed from its grave of stuff, it triggers a memory — of a different time, a different place, a different person.
As I help my parents clean out I have specifically utilized a few Hoarders tricks:
1. Lay out a tarp to place items on, they look different in the light of day.
2. When cleaning out a closet, dresser, or any area, I don’t stand there and pull out items one at a time. Instead, I take everything out at once and set it all out, assuring my parents that we’ll return the items they choose to keep, but we need to get everything out first.
I’ve learned it’s easier for most people to justify keeping an unused item in a closet– it’s not hurting anybody — but it’s a lot harder to justify putting useless things back in once they’re out.
3. Try to do as much in one day or sitting as possible. It’s never a good idea to allow extra time to think about items.
This was the genius of Hoarders. It wasn’t just for filming that the task had to be accomplished in two days. It’s better for the hoarder to have to make quick decisions.
4. Remove discarded items immediately.
Even when possessions are marked for trash, there can be a “declutter remorse” if there is a bag or piece of furniture or appliances or tools left in view. It’s just too tempting for someone with hoarding tendencies to revisit the trash, go through it and bring stuff back in, promising to fix it, or find a use for it, or sell it — later. I’ve been known to load my parents’ trash in my car and take it home to put out in my own trash, just to avoid the temptation to “trash pick.”
A&E’s Hoarders may be cancelled, but it has and will continue to help me. Now, as I watch my Dad go through piles of once expensive clothing piece by piece, stuff that’s over forty years old, suits that he has never worn and he probably inherited, clothes that have mice dirt on them and moth holes in them, I think,
“What would Matt Paxton do?” and I feel better.
And as I clear an area, making it easier for my parents to get around and find the things they actually need, I know that no matter how hard the fight was, the process is important, especially when it helps them locate and display — or even sell — the things that do have real value. Plus, I feel better making the home safer. But it ain’t easy. No, it’s not.
So thanks Matt and the whole Hoarders crew. You helped. You really did.
Just Me With . . . among many other things, a collection of vintage Ebony and Look magazines, a couple of flat mice (but not cats!), a tractor, bowling shoes, and more patience than I thought I could ever conjure up.
Piss, Puke, and Porn — The discoveries I made inside my new old house.
That Hoarders Smell — How to get rid of that awful smell.
Toilet or Kitchen Sink —- Who Can Tell? — I saw some nasty stuff in the old kitchen.
Exhumation by Accident — I dug up something in my yard.
Craigslist Angels — One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure — Giving Away Christmas Decorations Can Be A Very Good Thing.
I haven’t blogged in a while. I’ve been painting. Obsessively painting. I wouldn’t quite call it manic on a clinical level, but yes, it had to be done.
Looking back, this has happened to me before. I paint when something isn’t quite right. The day after I had a miscarriage, I painted all of the hallway paneling in the old house. I should have been resting. I should have been crying. Instead, I painted.
Then there was when my then husband went away on vacation with his club when we had many young children at home. This, to me, was the perfect time to paint — everything– bold colors. He came home to a purple kitchen, a hunter green eat in area and a bright sky blue play area. I think I was jealous of his freedom, so, stuck at home, I changed my surroundings. All while caring for multiple toddlers with open cans of paint around. Perhaps not well-advised, but it had to be done.
Later, after my husband left for good (or so I thought . . . but I digress . . . See Surveillance with My Mother and the When My Husband Moved Back Home — The Tale of Three Carries ) I slapped beige paint over all of those colors in order to make my kaleidoscope house neutral for potential buyers. My children didn’t help me at all. They resented the change, hated the beige.
“We’re colorful people,” they said.
They were right. We are colorful people, but the HGTV gods told me I had to hide my crazy (Oops, I mean color).
Accordingly, all the evidence of my color rebellion against my husband’s hobbies and freedom was – neutralized.
I promised the children, however, that when we moved to our new house, we would bring color back. As that little hoarders house smelled so badly, I painted right away, see That Hoarder’s Smell, and I went bold: I had red living room, and the TV (family room) was a dark slate blue.
At one point I had an orange accent wall in my bedroom.
But lately, my little house had been pissing me off. Well, everything has been pissing me off. The red was making me angry, I think. I’m already bitter, I don’t need to see red, literally. The dark blue was making me feel sad and closed in, like I was living in an elevator.
My home’s overall darkness screamed despair and denial and hinted at failure, or maybe that was me . . .
I moved to this little hoarders’ house so that my kids could stay in the same schools. I had to move, and it was all I could afford. I was lucky to find it. I’m fine with living small, but I hate the neighborhood — which is on the lower end of the socio-economic scale — and it shows. Also, we are six tall people, and do our fair share of stepping over each other and our stuff. But I can’t move until they graduate, not even to a nearby neighborhood, unless there’s a big chunk of change in my near future. I’m still dealing with divorce debt. Freedom ain’t free.
If I wanted to pull them out of school and move across country — well, I can’t do that either. I’m divorced; I’m not allowed to move without my ex-husband’s permission. I’m stuck.
Until my youngest kids turn 18, my options are severely limited. Yes, I’m blessed to have a roof over my head, but sometimes it feels more incarceration than protection from the elements.
However, HGTV, the teachings of Feng Shui, and countless blogs suggest that if I change my surroundings I’ll change my life.
I took a shot.
So I’ve been painting, lightening up the color, lightening up my life. It goes along with my constant search for non-medicinal treatments for anxiety and depression.
I have to say, the rooms do appear bigger, brighter, calmer.
Still, I need color, so the plan is to get the color back through art and accessories. That’s the plan anyway.
It’s a good plan.
Well, it was a good plan.
Now I’m on the other side of not quite clinically manic, back to the depressed side of things. Suddenly I’m too tired. I don’t feel like hanging my old pictures or scouring yard sales for something colorful, because, at the end of the day, I’ll still be here. And whatever I do, someone in my house will hate it and loudly voice his or her displeasure. So why bother, right?
It’s like hanging posters in a jail cell. Sure, it helps, but the most important thing on the wall is the calendar, marking off the days until release.
Just Me With . . . a bright new look, but not complete. Methinks the angry red and the crying blues are bleeding through a bit. But, hell, I’m giving it a shot.
Release date? Sometime in 2017.
I’m getting my house painted this week. I know I’ve written about painting it myself, describing how That Hoarders Smell inside the house was so bad that it engulfed me even while I was painting outside. So yeah, I painted the house already.
But I never finished.
I painted the front under the porch. Then I stood on the porch roof to paint the second floor. And, along with my nephew, I perched on scaffolding temporarily left by another contractor as I prepped, primed and painted the back of the house.
That left the sides, where the paint was peeling so badly that barely brushing by it caused a snow flurry of dirty paint flakes, some big, some small, some lead-based, some not.
So although usually one preps, primes and paints from the top down, I started from the bottom up, reasoning that since we were about to move into this house I didn’t want the children to be exposed to this peeling paint at eye level. The upper floors weren’t peeling or flaking as badly as the lower level and at least no one would be touching it. So, for safety’s sake I tackled the first floor. Well, safety and the fact that I could reach the lower level and paint it myself without scaffolding or big ladders that I didn’t own.
The top side sections, however, have not been prepped, primed, or painted.
It’s tacky. It’s been this way for over two years.
I had every intention of painting the rest of the house myself. A contractor friend even lent me some scaffolding and we put it up on one side of the house. Then, well, stuff happened, and I changed and eventually went off my meds, which gave me vertigo, poor equilibrium, extreme dizziness, and severe sensitivity to light. I couldn’t even think about doing it then. My friend eventually took his scaffolding back, unused.
Since then I have struggled with my half-painted house. I struggled to find the energy to paint my house, struggled to find the motivation and money, struggled to conquer my newly developed fear of heights, that I will fall and lay broken and bleeding in my yard —and no one will know.
And, I lost my Mojo. I’d done so much work on this little Hoarders house. I’d tried to make it nice. I did make it nice. But recently I’ve been feeling that no matter what I do to this house, which sits on a busy street and backs up onto the perimeter of an poor neighborhood, it will always be compared to the much larger marital home situated in a park-like setting. I don’t miss that home at all, and selling that home was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made — that decision may be a subject of another post — but I don’t love where we are now, I tried . . .
- I installed a stone patio and fire-pit for us to enjoy — that no one uses.
- I partially finished the basement so that we’d have a place for the drums and could jam — but no one does.
- I made a music room for lessons for students that are fewer and fewer in number each year.
- I planted shrubs to give us some privacy — that died.
- I bought a shed to house bicycles — that nobody rides.
But. . . I never finished painting the house. Perhaps part of me became comfortable with my half painted house. Maybe it was some sort of admission of defeat. The move been an adjustment, a difficult adjustment. I’m not going pretend otherwise — anymore.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud of my accomplishments with respect to this home and my family. I’m happy that we have a roof over our heads and that the kids didn’t have to change schools — which was the reason why I bought the little hoarders home in the first place. And I know things could be a lot worse, and that things aren’t really that bad, or really bad at all.
Still, the unfinished paint job screams that there are still struggles in this home.
Anyone looking at it would ask,
“Cute house. But when is she going to finish painting it?”
Well, the answer is “Now.” I’m borrowing from Peter to pay Paul to pay some Painters that gave me a good deal because one of my “Friends Without Benefits” told them to.
I’m waving the white flag in surrender. I will not finish painting the house myself. But I will not leave it partially unpainted for another year as a shrine to my failure to renovate our way into happiness — or the land of denial. I’ve got to think of resale value and protect my investment. So, I’ve called in the professionals.
It is what it is. And it has to get done. At least it won’t look tacky anymore.
“Maybe it will lift my spirits,” I thought, as I’ve been feeling a bit blue lately.
And then, the universe threw me a bone.
The painters here are very nice guys. Just now one of them stopped me and said,
“I don’t want you to get a big head or anything, but I gotta tell you . . . you look just like Halle Berry. Hasn’t anyone ever told you that? Mike (the other painter) said it yesterday, too. I’m a movie buff, so I would know.”
I have to say, I’m starting to feel a lot better about hiring these guys to paint my house. A lot better.
Just Me With . . . a paint job in progress, in butter cream with hunter green trim, done expertly by — my new best friends.
Postscript: The painting is finished. The house looks great, it really does, and just in time for Winter.
Sadly, one of my kids informed me that her friends told her that they aren’t allowed to come to our neighborhood, for fear they might get mugged.
I bought a new vacuum cleaner over the weekend. The heavy-duty big fancy one I’d had at “The Marital Home” never worked as well as I’d liked and it was a mess to empty. I tried to sell it at a garage sale and ended up just giving it away. In my down-sizing frenzy for my small home, I bought a little stick , cordless, bag-less number that only worked a short while before dying in a corner, unloved, unused.
I’m embarrassed to say I’ve been sweeping my area rugs.
But I broke down and went to the store to get a vacuum cleaner this weekend because that’s how I roll. Don’t be jealous, it was one of my more exciting outings lately, but I digress . . .
Once I arrived at the store I felt visually assaulted by the displays of the bright yellow Dyson vacuums. You know, the state of the art industrially designed models that cost between $300 and $700. They are different from other vacuum cleaners because they have that fancy ball thingy — and maybe something new with the motor? I don’t know, but I bet they work like a dream. They should for that amount of money.
I will never buy a Dyson, however. And it’s not because of the price (though I could/would not pay that much for a vacuum cleaner at this point in my life).
No, it’s because of the commercial, the first commercial that introduced the product and that has always just pissed me off. I’m not going to link it here because it still irks me. If you know what I’m talking about you’ll know what I’m talking about.
The commercial features James Dyson himself with his gorgeous English accent, which to us Americans automatically makes him smart. Well, according to the advertisement, Sir Dyson’s wife had asked him to vacuum. Dutifully, he took out their vacuum cleaner —- but he didn’t vacuum. No, he examined the device and decided that it had serious design flaws. So instead of vacuuming, he took their vacuum cleaner apart, analyzed it and eventually designed a prototype for a new vacuum cleaner to which he gave his name — the Dyson.
The rest is history.
Now, the wife’s perspective. Though I’m sure she’s reaping the benefits of the Dyson vacuum cleaner’s wild success, I think that on that day, in that moment, she just wanted her husband to vacuum the freaking rug. That’s all. Just vacuum. No analysis necessary. No deconstruction, no prototypes. Just vacuum the freaking floor!!!!!
Imagine her surprise when she walked into the room and instead of finding a clean floor she found her husband — on the floor — surrounded by vacuum cleaner parts, dust and debris. Anyone who has ever tried to take apart a vacuum cleaner knows that it makes a bloody mess. (Note the English vernacular? Yes?)
All that woman wanted was for her husband to vacuum the carpet. It’s a simple request. But instead, he likely retired to the garage to begin to build his prototype for the best freaking vacuum cleaner ever invented, because what men and women — and his wife — had been using for ages was woefully insufficient, malformed, mis-designed, inconvenient and just not up to par.
But for all of his superior, nay, grand design plans which revolutionized carpet maintenance as we know it, Dyson did not vacuum the freaking floor when his wife asked him to!!! Instead, he picked that moment to take their vacuum cleaner apart.
And we’re supposed to buy his Rolls Royce of vacuum cleaners?
What a pile of bollocks!
I say to Sir Dyson, I know you are brilliant, but:
Just freaking vacuum the floor. Then, after you are done, design your fancy, superior, super-expensive, ball-having, yellow vacuum cleaner.
That’s all Dame Dyson wanted. I don’t think she was asking for too much.
Just Me With . . . a Dirt Devil.
Of course Mrs. Dyson can probably afford a golden vacuum cleaner and a maid and butler to do all of her floors, but it’s the principle of the thing for me.
The house I bought was not as bad as some of the houses you see on Hoarders, at least the whole house wasn’t. But the third floor attic bedroom was as bad as those hoarders’ houses. This is where the man who I call PissMan, his girlfriend and their cat (sans litter box) stayed. The cat just relieved itself on all the stuff up there — clothes, cardboard boxes, etc. I needed this room to be a bedroom for two of my kids. It had to be completely transformed.
The master bedroom that became my room was the second worst. That is where the family matriarch stayed until she was confined to a hospital bed downstairs, and eventually passed away. See What Happened In My House? Murder? It was in this room where at least one cat was confined with a litter box, sans litter. This cat threw up a lot on the old hardwood floor. Nobody cleaned it up. Old hardwood floors –150 year old unmaintained hardwood floors– have many cracks, they do not have thick coats of Polyurethane to repel liquid. They act as sponges, soaking up whatever is dropped on them. Cat urine, feces, canned food and cigarette ashes had been dropped on them and left there in the Summer months, with no air conditioning or adequate ventilation.
This house had been a house of smokers for many, many years. The walls and ceilings had once been white but had turned a brownish-yellow. So, underneath all of the animal and human excrement smells was the smell of years of cigarette smoke. In addition, there had been some water damage in some of the rooms.
This added another smell — wet plaster, wet rugs and mold. Hmmm Hmmm Good!
Some rooms were worse than others as far as the hoard goes, but the whole house stunk. The smell was bad, really bad. It was so bad that I could smell it from the outside, while I was on the porch roof painting the exterior of the house with oil based paint.
Imagine — a beautiful Spring day, being up high in the sunshine — flowers blooming, birds singing — yet I could still smell the inside of the house — and it was enough to make me nauseous — and seriously question my decision to purchase that house. What was I thinking? (Well, I was thinking I had to move, I wanted to keep the kids in the same schools, and with five children and no money I had very little choice . . . but I digress . . . )
Paint fumes? Not a problem. Fumes from in the house? Problem.
The smell is difficult to describe, but I’ll try. You know when a smell is so pungent that you begin to taste it? Have you ever smelled a diaper after days in the trash, or after it has gotten wet? Are you familiar with that neglected service station bathroom smell? Cat urine? A litter box that hasn’t been cleaned in — months? Well, that shouldn’t happen, but just imagine. Adult human urine and feces? Has anyone ever let milk or cream go bad — like until it gets lumpy? Let’s see what else — food. The family cooked in a kitchen with absolutely no ventilation. Oh yeah, and soap. These people washed, but the usually comforting smell of soap just added to the soup of nastiness. The home’s overall smell was sour and sweet and nauseating, stronger in some areas yet pervasively throughout everything.
It was nasty.
Eventually, however, the family who had lived there for four generations, left. Five people, two cats –at the time (previously there had been many more cats, I’m told, and various other pets. The mom/grandmother loved her animals. See Accidental Exhumation; Be Careful For What You Dig For) plus human urine, feces, trash, piss soaked carpet remnants — all gone, though not in one trip.
Finally, the only thing left was their security deposit. Given the items they tried to leave me, i.e. bottles of urine, and various other debris including used adult diapers and crack, yeah, I kept their money.
So they were gone. Their stuff was gone.
The odor, however, remained — not surprising considering all the piss bottles and all. See Piss, Puke and Porn.
Damn, thinking back on all of this. I can almost taste that smell again. Ew.
Anyway, the following is my public service announcement and my personal account of how I got rid of . . .
That Hoarders Smell:
Hard scrubbed with good old-fashioned Pine Sol, barely diluted, rinsed and wiped down with water, repeat. Repeat until layers of dirt and smoke were removed. Spackle, sand.
Primed with oil-based primer. This is the kind you cannot wash off with soap and water. This is the hard stuff. If you get it on your clothes, they are ruined. If you get it on your skin or hair, either suffer through washing with turpentine or paint remover, or wait until it wears off on its own. The oil-based smell is strong. A mask is required for safety. Given the smells I was trying to eradicate, I welcomed the chemical smell of the paint, though, I admit.
Paint. I bought the thickest (and unfortunately the most expensive) paint I could find. Paint, repeat. The walls and ceilings required two coats of paint to deal with the smell and smoke stains.
Scrape the cat feces and vomit, and tape residue (they used tape for many repairs),
Sand the floors (some floors I had professionally sanded, but taking off a layer of floor did not, unfortunately, take away the smell, it some areas it made it worse).
Seal the floor (and odors) by painting with oil based floor paint. (The floors were in pretty bad shape, staining and them and covering them with clear polyurethane probably still would not make them look good, plus there was a time issue, since we had to move in immediately and therefore needed to be able to walk on the floors right away.)
All in all, smell removal was a huge process. Though it was nice to choose wall colors for my new digs, my painting of every surface of the house had very little to do with decor. No, my painting had to do with odor control. It had to be done.
Not surprisingly, now I enjoy watching the show Hoarders on A&E, though I had never heard of it when I was cleaning my house. Watching now I’m never surprised when those Hoarders houses get a fresh coat of paint. It’s not a makeover, it’s a smellover.
Now? Now my house smells good. But it’s a freaking miracle. A miracle brought about by hard work and some angels, very extremely cool people who volunteered to help me. A post dedicated to these folks is forthcoming.
Just Me With . . . no more smell, and a sudden urge to clean.
Related, Goodbye Hoarders — The television show Hoarders has been cancelled.
One of my daughters wants a cat. I have nothing against cats, but after going through what I did to clean this house, I can’t do it. I just can’t. I don’t want to smell a litter box, even just to clean it.
I’m on a sleep regimen. No messing around this time. I have a lot of crap to deal with and I need to do it without being sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture — of mind control, right? (We all saw the third Bourne, it can drive you to kill.) I haven’t slept on a regular basis in years. This week I have been making a point of going to bed at a decent hour. No television, no computer, no phone. I’m also taking a very mild sleeping pill. I have a low tolerance for sleeping pills, however, they put me seriously out, and I’m often groggy the next day, even though I’ve allowed myself the full eight hours of sleep recommended. Consequently, I take a low dose and break it in half. Still, two nights ago, it didn’t work well. I had trouble falling asleep with the half pill. So last night, I figured I’d take a whole low-dose pill.
All of my night-time routine work was done, i.e. dishwasher was running, instrument had been played, kids were in their rooms, dogs had been out and were back in. It was all good. Sleeping pill taken. Then,
“What?!!!!!!!!!” (I’d like to say I said, “Yes, Sweetie,” but I don’t think that was the case.)
“I CLOGGED THE TOILET!!!!!”
Swearing in my head commences. We’d just had a bad experience with this about a month ago, hereinafter known as “The Last Clogging Incident.” It was not pretty.
You should know that I hate plungers. I hadn’t bought one for this new old house (except for the first few days, we didn’t have a working toilet here anyway in so it was unnecessary . . . but I digress). I hate plungers because although they serve a useful purpose, I despise cleaning them afterward. It’s just one of my things. My usual method of unclogging is to pour water down the toilet, quickly, to “flush” out the obstruction. Often this must be done multiple times, but it works, it’s less messy and less smelly. During The Last Clogging Incident, however, it did not work. There was no plunger in the house and it was after midnight. Suffice it to say, I have a plunger now.
Back to last night, the hour wasn’t as late as The Last Clogging Incident, and I now own a plunger, BUT I HAD TAKEN A WHOLE SLEEPING PILL!!!! If I had a strong reaction to it, I would be a stumbling idiot in a few minutes. If not, and I simply attempted to override it, I would be cursed with a blinding headache. Plus, two kids had to use the bathroom. The “clog-her” was content in her bed, reading on her Kindle. grrrr Still, I had one on deck and one in the hole. The drug would soon take effect, and I, too, had to go to the bathroom. (As a result of prior medical/emotional issues, if I don’t go to the bathroom right away when nature calls, I become nauseated). Oh, did I mention we only have one bathroom in a house with 5 girl-type people and one boy?
It was a race against time. But since The Last Clogging Incident — when we ran out to a convenience store to use the bathroom just to buy time for me to figure out what to do and stave off my nausea — I had gained some knowledge. It is amazing what a simple Google search will yield. I had searched then for “How to unclog a toilet without a plunger.” I found the following. I do not claim ownership, authorship, or creative input. In short, I did not invent this method, but I pass it on.
Squeeze liquid dish detergent into the toilet.
Slowly pour boiling water into toilet.
The theory is that the soap lubricates the mass (ew) allowing it to pass more quickly and the boiling water breaks it up. All of this is safe for your commode — unlike using chemicals (which neither I nor the convenience store had anyway).
Last night I chose to use a variation. Liquid soap, hot, but not boiling water. I couldn’t wait for the boil, wanted to avoid the plunger. After a while — it worked. Two kids used the bathroom (before me, of course, I ignored the airline face mask on the adult first mantra).
After the second kid used it,
“MOM!!!!! THE TOILET’S CLOGGED AGAIN!!!!!” (The cursing in my head resumed also.) Time was not on my side, I was already feeling woozy and nauseated.
This time I got the plunger, the soap, and hot water (still couldn’t wait for boil). It took some work. (Note to self: add more fruit to kids’ diets). One kid helped (as I stood back, letting the wall hold me up, pinching my nose closed). But this was the kid responsible for The Last Clogging Incident, so I felt no compassion.
“It smells, Mommy.”
But finally, the sound of a flushing toilet. Twice for good luck. Thrice — well, for me. The plunger was rinsed, wrapped in a plastic trash bag and still sits on my back deck. I went to bed. I slept. I feel like crap today. I will only take a half a sleeping pill tonight. Still, I am triumphant. I am strong. I am invincible, I am . . .
Just Me With . . . a plunger on my porch and a half of a sleeping pill with my name on it.