The Hardest Part About Leaving Home is Going Back

Posted: October 14, 2010 in hoarding

If you’re the child of a hoarder, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m sure there are lots of others out there like me who, after barely tolerating the home situation their parents created until they turned eighteen, fled at the first opportunity. In my case, I ran to Seattle. I came home only a handful of times, and during most of those I stayed with a neighbor, as the house got progressively worse with neither me or my brother there to attempt to keep it liveable.

The last time I set foot inside my parents’ house was in February of 2006. I’d  graduated from college the previous December, come back to California in January to get some final things, and early in February struck out for eastern Washington, where I’ve been living ever since. I knew that last time when I left that I wouldn’t be back for any reason other than to try and hunt down missing relics of childhood that had been overlooked. To be honest, I didn’t worry about it too much, because I naievely assumed that my parents would move anything important with them when they finally came to eastern Washington, too, where they already owned another house, courtesy of my grandfather who had recently passed away.

I was wrong.

It wasn’t until a few months ago, more than two years after my parents had “packed up” and moved, that I started to realize that they hadn’t brought a lot of things with them. It’s true that I sometimes still have trouble discerning between truly important sentimental items and stuff that’s just stuff, but there are certain things that as far as I’m concerned don’t ever fall into a gray area. My main case in point: pictures.

When my parents left California, they left behind all the family pictures. All of them. Even the baby pictures of me and my brother – of which there aren’t a ton, because we were poor, and didn’t have a particularly nice camera or lots of money to develop film.  After months of pleading with mom to get the pictures boxed and shipped up here (she claims some friends were helping pack up the house) with no results, I pinned my hopes on a trip my parents took with my brother’s girlfriend to California a few weeks ago.

To make a long story short, the girlfriend hadn’t been warned about the house, and was not only in shock, but had no idea what to look for. Dad, I’m convinced, never actually went into the house. Mom evidently went in, but didn’t bother to actually look for anything. When they got back, I was presented with four or five boxes labeled “pictures” and told to hope for the best. The contents of one of these boxes pretty much sums up that unveiling experience: 1 Calvin and Hobbes book, 2 envelopes of For Better or For Worse comic strips clipped from newspapers, 1 plastic train wall decoration thingie, and, last but not least, a mouse nest (mercifully sans mouse). No baby pictures. No pictures at all, actually.

It finally sank in that if I wanted my baby pictures, I was going to have to go to California and dig them out of the house myself. Finally, last week, my boyfriend and I made the trek down there. I thought I was prepared for how bad the house had gotten in the four years since I’d seen it last. I wasn’t. It’s sort of a mind-blowing thing, what hoarding can do to a house. I’m going to post pictures, because there aren’t words to describe it.

In the grand scheme of things, I’m glad I took this trip. I learned a lot from it. But it was also traumatic in ways I wasn’t expecting. I’ll be posting about this over the next few days, pictures include. Be warned: you may feel the need to lysol the computer screen.

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