Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Expired coffee that my late father hoarded
So, what have I been up to these past few months? After my father passed away in late October, my mother and I undertook the herculean task of clearing out his belongings. My father was a hoarder, and we've spent months sorting through all the sundries he accumulates over the years. For me, this has involved endless trips to thrift stores, the transfer station, the local scrap yard, and the regional solid waste authority. Here's what we've sorted through so far:

  • 200+ pounds of stale coffee, some of which expired as far back as 2005. The coffee will be gradually added to my compost pile throughout 2017.
  • Countless unworn coats, clothes, and enough unworn shoes to make Imelda Marcos jealous. All were donated to local thrift stores.
  • Dozens of bottles of opened and unopened vitamins and over-the-counter medications, which I disposed of in a medication drop-box at the police station.
  • 15 gallons of expired cooking oil, which I donated to a biodiesel program.
  • 16 boxes of unused glassware, which I gave to friends or donated to local thrift stores.
  • Over a dozen pieces of broken electronic equipment, such as cassette decks and turntables. The broken electronics ended up at the recycling center.
  • Hundreds of metal tools, including screwdrivers, open-ended wrenches, combination wrenches, two comically large industrial wrenches, a huge C-clamp, and woodworking tools. Several of the tools were in their original packaging, never opened. The tools were given away to friends or donated to local thrift stores.
  • Hundreds of bottles of wine and spirits. After decades of being stored at inappropriate temperatures and humidity levels, most of the corks had dry-rotted. All of the wine had soured and/or oxidized. I poured the wine and liqueur down the drain and am using the spirits to clean my shower tiles.
  • Hundreds of pounds of scrap metal in the form of tool boxes, hub caps, rusty automotive parts, broken lawn mowers, and other items. A local hauler happily took the scrap metal off our hands.
  • Ridiculous quantities of paint, including 87 gallon cans, 12 quart cans, 2 5-gallon buckets, and several boxes full of paint-related chemicals. I disposed of all of the paint and paint-related chemicals at the regional solid waste authority.
  • 20 boxes (and counting) full of old household chemicals, which I will take to the solid waste authority this spring.
  • 25 bags of unused concrete, which I will take to a landfill this spring.
  • Roughly 20 gallons of kerosene, which I donated to an auto shop with a kerosene heater.
  • 40 bags (and counting) of trash, necessitating extra trash tags from my city.

Clean-up has been time-consuming and expensive. My mother and I have expended hundreds of dollars in solid waste authority fees, transfer station fees, trash tag fees, and gas driving to and from different locations.

I wish I could make sense of my father's hoarding behavior. Was it the logical result of compulsive shopping? Was it a pathological attempt to create an illusion of abundance and security? Was it the result of misfiring synapses, an illness that defies rationalization? I don't know and will never know.

Imagine my surprise when anecdotal evidence and research taught me that hoarding is not uncommon. After discussing my late father's hoarding on Twitter, several Twitter friends confided that their late relatives hoarded as well.

Research also shows that hoarding is not rare. Various studies suggest that between 3.7% and 6% of the population exhibits hoarding behavior. The disorder appears to be more common among men than women. Hoarding can co-occur with other mental health conditions, and may also be a heritable condition with a genetic component.

For any readers who are cleaning up after the passing of a hoarder, I'd like to share a few tips (adapted from my Twitter list).

  • A loved one's hoarding should not be a source of shame. Talk about it. Reach out for help if you feel overwhelmed.
  • Don't expect the hoarder's behavior to make sense. Hoarding is not a rational behavior, and hoarders often collect materials that are bizarre or useless.
  • Allow yourself to feel a range of emotions. Disgust, bewilderment, frustration, and other emotions are normal reactions.
  • Be prepared for dust and mildew. Hoarded sundries inhibit air circulation, which contributes to dust build-up and mold.
  • Familiarize yourself with the local thrift store, transfer station, recycling center, metal scrap yard, "clean" landfill, and regional solid waste authority. Depending on the extent and nature of the hoarder's belongings, you may end up taking materials to all these locations and more.
  • Set aside money for trash tags and disposal fees ahead of time. These costs mount quickly.
  • Hoarding can create safety hazards if hoarded items are flammable, or if clutter makes house navigation difficult. Tackle these problems first.
  • Scour local classifieds for freelance haulers who will haul away junk for free or a small fee. Check the hauler's name against your state's docket sheets and the Megan's Law database to make sure they're trustworthy before summoning them to your house.
  • When the time comes to drop off materials at the thrift store, scrap yard, etc., you'll need boxes. Lots of them. Beer boxes are ideal because they're thick and sturdy. Ask your local beer distributor for boxes -- their generosity may surprise you.
  • Be careful when moving metal containers, which can rust and leak if hoarded for years on end. Wear rubber gloves and have paper towels handy. I learned this the hard way when I picked up a rusted container of wood stain and proceeded to spill stain all over my hands, the shelf, and the floor.


  1. Good to see you back here. I think a lot of people have hoarding tendencies and a friend's mother is one of several I know. Getting rid of it all must be a lot of work, but I am glad you have been able to do it.

    1. Jono -- Thanks. I didn't realize how much junk was in the house until I started sorting through it.

  2. Welcome back online! I can certainly see why you've been busy.

    I wonder if hoarding has any association with growing up in poverty. Even if a person who grew up poor is prosperous later in life, the habit of keeping everything because it might have some value later can be hard to break.

    1. Infidel -- It's good to be back.

      As for the hoarding-poverty connection, this study found that hoarders were disproportionately more likely to live in poverty, so a correlation may exist.

  3. Hoarding seems to be so much more common now, or maybe not be hidden as much. My husbands cousin became seriously ill and was in hospital for three months. Her family had to clear the house of nearly 40 years of hoarding so she could come back home and have help in the house. You could hardly move in the house.
    Glad you were able to help your Mom.

    1. Cat Lover -- I can't begin to imagine how many belongings she must have accumulated over 40 years. The clean-up must have been a herculean labor for the family.

      Thank you for sharing this. It's of some comfort knowing that hoarding isn't uncommon, and that other people understand what it's like to have a hoarding loved one.

  4. Wow! No wonder you've been busy. I was inside a hoarder's home once several years ago and I'd never seen anything like it. She had a path surrounded by boxes and piles of junk that led from her front door, through her kitchen, and into a tiny alcove where she had a couple of chairs and a television.

    So glad to see you posting again!

    1. Agi Tater -- Most of the house was okay. The real horror shows were in the garage, basement, and my father's room. Those rooms looks so much better now.

      The hoarding situation you described sounds intense. Did she ever get help?

    2. Ahab,

      I don't know if she did. I didn't know about hoarding before I met her and was not at all informed about it. I just thought she was messy and lazy, did not realize she suffered from a disorder and needed help. Live and learn ...


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