In the past I may have mentioned here on the blog that I had to deal with hoarding with a few family members, and that I struggled with it a bit when I was very ill. My maternal grandmother was an extreme hoarder and she had mental health issues which included anxiety and depression. At the end of her life, while in a community living situation, she hoarded empty boxes. To block herself off from the world, she made a wall of them, but it was nothing like the home my mother and her late-brother had to empty out. Grandma really hoarded everything, and there sadly was a lot of garbage and other things that never needed to be there.
When I brought all of this home last week for the garden, my initial reaction was simply to cringe and think, “This is too much.” I’ve had time to think about this though and the feelings are so much more complicated.
Like many people who’ve had hoarding in their lives, I too tend to have decision-making problems. I don’t when it comes to being professional and being on time, or setting goals to achieve things. It has more to do with projects, and I’m realizing that it has something to do with not being able to learn how to do much of anything outside of my room as a kid in addition to more recent things.
I lived in a controlled environment, and while my brothers were able to escape the nest, I was sequestered. Since the kitchen was constantly free, I developed cooking skills, but my life up until I was 18 lacked almost all autonomy.
Entering adulthood, it was more of the same. Illness created more sequestration and I lacked autonomy all over again. While I continue to express the complicated and deep sadness I feel at having had so few choices, I continue to work through the mess of hoarded emotional baggage, and for me, that’s connected to the seemingly never-ending pile of plants too. They kept me busy, I’ve enjoyed that, and I find that I’m growing beyond it now.
I see the Order of Plant Hoarder around me, I know the gardens, and as someone who took well to social work when I did it, I feel for others who deal with this same problem but for different reasons. I’m thinking a lot now about many things, and it’s an anchoring activity for me, one that scares the hell out of me, while simultaneously opening me up more to the world.
Looking at nursery work, the amount of stuff, can sometimes be overwhelming, triggering, but I’m learning to take heart in the joy of keeping a complete picture whole, beautiful, and coming home to enjoy my surroundings, rather than to have that heavy feeling of it pulling me down. Hoarding allows objects to control you, and when they’re plants, it somehow feels like you’re caring about them, but it’s an act of conservation which is more a manifestation of the emotions you’re avoiding. It is a clear act of denial.
There are two more plant areas of the house to clear out, but today I tackle the back garden where all strays have ended up. With our recent heat spells, I’ve needed to water, and with my being gone a lot, this was the answer. Thankfully, the space is small.
And there is a compost bin, and I have help coming in the form of a friend opening up more planting space. I feel badly that some of these plants have been fried, but I’ve done my best, and within the next two weeks, this will all be planted or else gone.
There is no real way to prevent hoarding and obsessive collecting. I don’t even have the full-blown disorder, but I think it’s living around others who did, that has caused me to slip into habits I don’t like. My hoarding was learned. I learned poor emotional skills, and lacked the full support I needed to know how to cope well.
Admitting all of this to myself, and regularly staying on track, has created such an incredible kind of calm. I know the medication has helped me too, and not having swelling pain. I don’t miss the constant alarms going off in my body that something was seriously wrong. I hoarded while ill in order to concentrate on something else, as avoidance. I was in survival mode and I hated it so much.
In this calm now, I want to rest. I want to relax. And the best part is knowing with full confidence—I will.