What Being a Hoarder Taught Me About the Art of Packing

By Susan Roberts

I’ve seen a lot of articles lately on how to streamline your life, organise your living space, and how to let go of all that junk you’ve been hoarding. Shame, I don’t know what they’re talking about. I feel sorry for those poor souls who’ve never learnt how to pack and stack. Maybe they just need someone to teach them how to hide the junk.

I’m available.

My junk is organised. Yes, there’s a lot of it, but it all has a place and I know pretty much exactly where to find anything. I just need a little time to move the things that are currently stored in front of, or on top of, where it is. No problems there.

From as far back as I can remember, our family always had “stuff” everywhere. My father inherited his father’s house along with all his parents’ belongings. My mother had her own style of decor and didn’t necessarily want all the household things that had been her mother-in-law’s, but it would have seemed disrespectful to throw things out just because the old lady was dead. (My mother had lost everything of sentimental value at a young age when her own mother had died and their family home had been packed up, so she was too kind-hearted to force that sort of situation on my dad.) Because my sister and I were very young when our paternal grandparents died, our mother also wanted us to grow up with a strong sense of who they had been.

Where there’s a will there’s a way, as the saying goes. And where there’s a huge room at the back of the house and a big shed in the garden, there’s definitely a way. So anything that wasn’t needed or didn’t fit in with the decor was put in the back room or taken out to the shed. There was also a double garage, only one half of which housed a car. The rest of that space was taken up with… well, you know. Stuff. In time both the cars stood outside under the tree and the whole garage was filled with mountains of stuff.

My dad was a collector. He felt that every bow had a second string and he hated to throw anything away in case it might one day be useful. My mother indulged him, but I often wonder now what feelings of trepidation she might have felt when she realised that her two daughters both showed signs of taking after their father.

To this day, both my sister and I are able to cram huge amounts of stuff into very small spaces, defying gravity, physics and any other science you care to name. Wasn’t it Einstein who declared that without imagination there would be no science? We were both gifted with vast imaginations and we had our own theory of relativity, and what was relative to our theories was never scientifically impossible to pack and store somewhere. We made it fit!

I remember watching some drama on TV when I was a teenager. A husband and wife were having a discussion as they prepared to go to bed. In the course of the conversation, one of them opened a huge cupboard and took out two pillows which they placed on the bed. I can’t tell you what their conversation was about, because my entire family was riveted by the fact that the rest of that cupboard was empty. How could someone waste an entire cupboard on just two pillows? It was inconceivable!

I am also always amazed at those crime novels and police TV dramas where three cops can go through someone’s entire apartment in a few minutes and search “everything” or a handful of FBI agents traipse out after an hour or two, each holding a flimsy storage box. They pop them into an almost empty van and claim that they have “cleared everything of importance.”

Oh come on, how do they know? I mean, have they really looked? I don’t think so. This annoys me intensely when I see it! I know they couldn’t really have been through “everything” because I know how long it takes to open each envelope, peer at each photograph, find the right key for each drawer, door and cupboard. I know the effort it takes to unload a whole heavy trunk to see what’s behind or beneath.

When my uncle died unexpectedly two years ago, it took my niece and I an entire day just to locate his will, policies and bank statements. And his house, while dusty, wasn’t even that full of stuff. (He was from my mother’s side of the family, so not much of a hoarder at all.)

I must just point out here that, as a stage manager, I know the effort that a stage set designer puts into finding all the bits and pieces of set dressing to fill up the spare spaces on stage and actually make a stage set look like a place that has been lived in. At the end of a three or four week run of a show, it takes more than a few crew-members and ASMs to pack the props and set dressing and let me tell you, it doesn’t just sit happily spread out in the back of a small empty van like those TV FBI pretenders. No, it has to be wrapped up, piled up, squashed in, tied down and usually several trips have to be made unless you’re using a huge removal van or a shipping container.

Talking of shipping containers reminds me – when my sister and her husband moved to Australia, it took the moving team (yes, a whole professional moving team) a day to pack their house, and a second day to fit it all into the container. And they didn’t fit it all in either. Some stuff had to be boxed and air freighted later. And that was after they had spent months giving away stuff to various charities and worthy causes.

If you think I’m revealing too much about my family’s weaknesses, let me reassure you: There have never been any skeletons in our closets – there simply isn’t enough space to fit in even one.

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7 thoughts on “What Being a Hoarder Taught Me About the Art of Packing

  1. jac dowling says:

    I love it Susan, and am totally with you on the hoarder side! I suggested to our daughter recently that she might like to ‘go through’ her stuff and see what needs to be kept and what should find another home…haha. Everything’s exactly as it was umpteen years ago, and I’ve had to add yet another packet of mothballs. A friend moved down here recently, the family had 365 boxes of stuff. I tend to poke around in cupboards with every good intention of having a clear-out and making space for more things – the answer probably is to build more cupboards. But I’m not going to win that one. Our male side does not do hoarding!

    • Susan says:

      I strongly believe in the idea that one should build more cupboards, but every time I buy a new bookcase it seems to fill up by itself, and then I need another one. Sometimes I wonder where all those books come from…

  2. jac dowling says:

    As long as I don’t end up like Dickens’ Miss Haversham I’ll be happy… Our library had 1850 books donated last year, we now have to supply top-up shelving to accommodate them, literally creating extra space on top of what’s there. Fortunately the book stacks aren’t too high – at the moment!

  3. You didn’t mention the amount of stuff that arrived in Australia that should have been chucked before it was packed into said container. 🙂
    The BIL.

    • Susan says:

      Ah well, that’s a debatable point between you and Mrs Pie, isn’t it? I do know that we both find it rather comforting to be able to put the blame for being hoarders squarely on our parents’ shoulders because we can’t help what characteristics we inherited from them. On another level, it’s always lovely to arrive at your house in Oz and feel totally at home with all the old familiar things around me. Long may it continue to be so!

  4. jannatwrites says:

    I like the humor in this – especially the clever last line! My parents have hoarding tendencies. After fifteen years, they were finally able to get their car in the 2-car garage again. Oh, but they didn’t really get rid of anything. Nope, it was an expert stacking job- floor to ceiling and barely enough room to get the car in and open the driver’s door… the passenger can’t get in until the car is backed out of the garage. I am the opposite. Clutter drives me nuts and I don’t get attached to most stuff. I have a few sentimental pieces, but not many.

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