How It All Began

I received a comment the other day asking if I knew what triggered my parents’ hoarding–what started it–and I thought that would make the perfect topic for a post. I have two answers to the question, “What do you think made your parents start hoarding?” They are:

  1. I have no idea
  2. Me

Let me back up. My mom had a very difficult birth experience. Very, very difficult. The damage her obstetrician caused took four years to repair and that ended in a hysterectomy. Even then, she was never the same. She was in and out of the hospital for four years undergoing major surgeries. I stayed at my grandma’s house a lot when my dad was at work. He had a heart attack in the midst of all this from the stress of going to work, driving out to L.A. every day to see my mom at UCLA, picking me up in Long Beach, then going home just to do it all over again.


By the time I was four, the hoarding had officially kicked in. I looked at some photos of my family home the other day  to spot the signs of the hoard, of when it began. All the main rooms of the house look normal up until I’m about three. They get progressively messier because they’re filled with kid stuff. I get that. Having a kid causes a certain amount of unavoidable mess.

But then I happened upon a photo of me on my hobbyhorse toy when I was about two. I’m perched on the spring-supported horse with a smile on my face and my dad is smiling in the foreground. However, in the photo I’m surrounded by piles of junk. It’s the den. The back room of the house and by far the biggest. They apparently tucked the hoard away in that room all those years. The hoard was a literal secret for quite some time. Even from me.

This is an important distinction. My whole life, my parents used the excuse that all the surgeries my mom had and the stress of having a baby is what led to the messiness. For years and years, they said this. When I went to school and had to tell people we were remodeling forever, the crux of that excuse was based on the notion that it all went wrong after I was born.

I always felt like I was the problem, encroaching on the perfect little life they had built for themselves. It was all so fine and lovely before the emergence of the child.

But that’s bullshit.

The photographic evidence doesn’t lie. The hoard was already there. Already stacked up and piled up. Already tucked away in the back room, waiting to flood out in a tidal wave of lawn chairs and boxes into the rest of the house.

They were already broken. I just pushed them over the edge.


4 thoughts on “How It All Began

  1. When I saw that picture of the horse, I had to come. I had that when I was little, in my mess of a house, too….. Funny how different things can draw us to sites. I like your honesty, the way you move through time in this essay. Great job!

  2. This was really well written. There’s a sense of sadness in it as well as a kind of acceptance. Can I tell you something as an older mom, though? Don’t be so hard on yourself. I don’t think a child pushes us over the edge. I think we just run out of edge. You were probably the best thing in their lives and maybe the one thing that made the most sense.

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