*Above image just a representation (real images below) ^
I love my grandparents very much. They have been there for me more than any other people in the world. Now that they are climbing into their respective eighties (my grandma) and nineties (grandad), it is time for me to step up to the plate and help them out a bit more. After all, they did wipe my ass. So, when my grandma offered me a few bucks to help her clean out their basement pantry, I lept at the opportunity. Their basement, remodeled by my own mother, has three sections: a living space, a laundry space leading to a back bathroom, and a pantry area. I hadn’t been in the pantry area in a long time, so upon entry I was a bit taken aback.
First of all, my grandparents have a bit of a problem when it comes to throwing stuff away. My grandma served as “approval captain” during this little project. As I started pulling out box after box after BOX of Kleenex tissues, I had to ask her, “Grandma, why the hell do you have so many brand new boxes of Kleenex?” Her response: “Your grandaddy buys them!” Folks, when I say there are at least 100 boxes of Kleenex squirreled away in that pantry, I am not kidding you. It’s semi-appalling. I know it sounds a bit harsh but I told her, “You will not live long enough to use all of these. Do not buy more!” Some had been down there so long that they were stuck to the floor! Including Kleenex, there were dozens of canned goods, salad dressings, Costco-sized boxes of Splenda packets, instant coffee, Crisco cans, oils, outdated magazines, and cookbooks. Don’t believe me? Here you go.
Frightening? You don’t know the half of it. There are layers as deep as igneous rock formations of shit in there. It begs the question, are my grandparents engaged in hoarding behaviors? They have enough goods stored to honestly survive any apocalyptic event. Are they being responsible and conscientious or is there something more sinister occurring?
I could, in theory, excuse this as “ol’ coot” type behavior. But my dear grandmother had the nerve to actually fight me when I suggested she throw some things away. Like, really? I wasn’t suggesting she dispose of canned food or anything. More like dozens of boxes of plasticware and AAA Tour Guide booklets from the 1990s. I was born in 1993; you don’t need maps from 25 years ago, ’twas my argument. She literally tried to make excuses to justify why they could be kept. And, that was what was unnerving me a bit. The resistance to dispose of useless items. My grandparents are old; they are not taking trips out of state anymore unless a loved one has passed. In the era of Google Maps, there is no need for a traditional map anymore, unfortunately due to the fact that any long distance journey they embark on will be captained by me, my mother, or their godson. All of which have iPhones with up-to-date, turn-by-turn directions.
I have, in the past, watched the A&E docu-series Hoarding: Buried Alive (on Netflix Instant Stream, if you dare). For those of you who aren’t familiar, it is an American short-form documentary series that chronicles the lives of two people who compulsively buy and collect things or animals, and store them in their homes. Usually, these people believe that their collectibles will eventually have value or that they’ll fix them up and resell them to make money. Generally, that never ends up happening.
Hoarding, according to Wikipedia, is “…the loss of desire to throw away unneeded items because of a feeling of attachment to these items”. It is notable to add that these items are “usually mundane”. I.E. Paper towels and Kleenex.
Now, I don’t believe my grandparents are in danger of harming themselves to the point I need to call the producers of that show. Those folks’ “hoard” usually have gotten to the point where they are living in abject filth and are in danger of losing their homes because of fire code violations. In the United States, if you have so many things to the point where you are a danger to yourself or there are animal/rodent infestations, your local government could “condemn” your home. If your house is condemned, you cannot legally live there. That’s not the case with my family, fortunately. But, I don’t want it to get to that point and then say “I wish I could have done something to help them!” No. I don’t want to ever get to that point.
I’m going to have to have a long, deep conversation with them. My grandmother is more receptive to her behavior so it’s my grandfather who is really going to have to make a lifestyle change. He is the one buying all of the items. I truly believe it is a result of being a child of the American Great Depression. During the early 20th century, people struggled to survive more than we as millennials could ever truly realize. I personally don’t ever want to know what it is like to not have enough food to eat. So, the urge to always be prepared for the worst situation is ingrained in the older generations. I completely understand the fear. I can be sympathetic. But, at the same time, there is a limit to how much space they feasibly have. And, unfortunately, they are keeping items that do not have any value, such as binoculars, golf paraphernalia, and things with dirt, dust, and other allergens that could be possibly harmful.
So, I ask you, dear reader. How do I start a constructive dialogue with my family about their problem before it spirals out of control? Should I sit them down and make them watch an episode of Hoarders with me? Is that too accusatory? Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Peace and love,
Your Token Black Friend, Aja.