mother and daughter

This Is What It’s Like To Grow Up With A Hoarder Mother

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No matter what age your kids are, you’ve got the ultimate trump card. Yes, toddlers throw tantrums, teenagers stomp and pout and slam doors, but at the end of the day, you’re the adult. You set the rules. You may not be the ultimate arbiter of all that is good and right, but your kids don’t need to know that until they’re adults themselves. Until your kids are old enough to be out on their own, you are the model for all that is normal and proper and the way things are.

Because I understood the propriety of this parent-child dynamic, I spent my childhood assuming that my mother was simply in the right at all times. I never questioned whether it was normal that my mother received packages of sweaters and costume jewelry from eBay on a daily basis. I never contemplated whether it was standard operating procedure to build two walls’ worth of closets in the basement because the ones in the main part of the house were already crammed.

I never bothered to ask if it was in the Handbook of Motherhood for all the shelves in the home office to be packed with videotapes which overflowed into bookshelves along another wall of the basement. Whether it was in the Handbook’s appendix that the titles of the movies on those tapes would need to be documented onto index cards spanning multiple Rolodexes, lest a precious videotape be wasted on a movie that had already been recorded.

Before I turned 18 and went away to college, I thought my mother was a little odd only in the sense that everyone is unique. It may have crossed my mind that my mom was particularly unique, but until I turned 18, I thought that having all the closets so overflowing with clothes and shoes that some needed to take up residence on the tables, couches, and floors were simply a quirk. I knew all my friend’s mothers kept a few of their kids’ drawings, trophies, and baby items. Surely it was no big deal that my mother just couldn’t decide which ones to keep, so she kept all of them in stacks of boxes in the basement.

Most of my friends had been doing household chores for years to earn money or weekend liberty. I, however, was told NOT to do the dishes. I might break them or clog the sink drain or wreck the dishwasher, which was irreplacable for reasons unclear to me. I’d wind up secretively washing dishes anyway, usually with a surgical mask over my face. There would come a point when they were towering out of the sink and had developed fantastic mold colonies near the bottom of the pile.

I may also have been one of the few teens who was told NOT to do her own laundry, lest she break the also-teenaged washing machine that couldn’t be replaced because my mother had it since before I was born. Since I often found myself faced with the choice of surreptitiously doing the laundry or buying new clothes, however, I’d have to risk the washer’s priceless existence, just as soon as I cleared a path through my mother’s bags of unwashed laundry to reach it.

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