Order of Plant Hoarder


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.

Be Kind to Yourself… Be Well in the Garden


Between school and work, I’ve not had a lot of time to write about anything. Standing so much has been causing back problems, so I’m doing physical therapy again. With new physical goals centered on the professional gains I’ve made during the last few years, I’m happy that I was able to track down the last PT I was with so we could keep going and create a new plan. I’m confident we’ll have some success working together.

But this means slowing down. I’m terrible at that. Luckily, taking the necessary breaks at work throughout the day to reset my body is not an issue with my employers. This makes sense since recently the pain was so bad I was shaking and crying and could not think straight. Of course I kept working all day—because that’s who I am. I’m a determined soul. I love doing what I do even though the pay is not that which I made before I entered into horticulture.

I met with both my PT and primary care physician last week to discuss additional ideas for treatment. The goal is to make it possible for me to be more active so I can remain as healthy as possible and to prevent falls.

Having 2 previously injured areas of my back with a lot of scar tissue, and another spot that gets sore easily, means that my entire body is involved. We all agreed that with the HAE better controlled, this is the last frontier for me in terms of reaching wellness. It’s time to deal with the cluster of childhood trauma/traumatic injury/chronic pain/and PTSD.

This takes us back to the beginning in a sense. It’s funny to say this now, but there’s a pill for this in my case. Something that I stopped taking back in 2001…

So now I take the medication as prescribed, and we wait and see. I’m in good hands. We have an exciting program planned for me.

But this means I will continue to be kind to others, and not let recent bad experiences change me. It’s time for me to built a lot of trust, even though I’ve struggled with trusting others for a long time.

During the pandemic I had a handful of interesting experiences dealing with others and clearly a lot of time to think about those interactions. I’m happy that life is slowly returning to a new normal. Dealing with the anxiety of others is challenging for me, and a pandemic heightened that while blurring boundaries for some.

I speak publicly, and can be very open in person, but this does not make me a doormat, and I do not appreciate anyone who feels like it’s ok to cross boundaries with others or push them around. Writing to me out of nowhere and essentially expecting me to do something for you when I don’t know you is out of line. If I write something like, “No, I’m sorry but that won’t work for me,” please don’t write back to me with your raging privilege because of your perceived intelligence, self-importance, and defensiveness.

I’m grateful for blocking features on social media, but I wish this had never happened in the first place.

Autonomy is something I wish we valued more. I very much respect the autonomy of others, and mistakenly have assumed that if I do so, others will do the same for me, but I can be very naive.

To say that the anxiety of another individual infected my childhood development is an understatement. I became overly autonomous because of it. In general, I’m a very adventurous and easy-going individual, and I very much believe in the right of everyone to be free to do what they need to do in order to be healthy and happy—but this means being kind to others, and for many, this means learning NOT to cross boundaries.

Also for me it means learning to know the difference between being passive versus just letting something go. I’m sloppy in this area, while I watch others around me jump down others’ throats unnecessarily and call it being assertive. It’s no wonder that the Surgeon General released an advisory this week on an Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation in the United States.

Narcissism and trauma surround us daily. We’re numb to them both. (Well, we are until we can’t take it anymore…)

And why do I bring this up on a gardening blog? I do so just to point out that many of us garden to feel better, to ease the anxiety, to soothe mental health issues or daily experience that plague us, and to create safe spaces. Freud would say that our craft allows us to sublimate our harmful impulses and feelings. I think that’s true, but clearly more complicated once you add groups of people interacting back into the complicated equation.

Before a recent interview for a podcast that I’ll be sharing soon, I thought long and hard about this and about dissociation.

There’s a fine line when we dissociate from reality, and for me, I had to enter into the deep end for many years just to survive. Plants very much re-entered my life at that point. I got out of that though leading up to when I became a horticulturist. Being able to live in the world again and to be able to feel has meant the world to me, but we’re all still in this, and I hope to read more substantive content that deals with these issues and reframes these topics in new ways in the months and years to come.

We have a lot to learn, and maybe plants can continue to teach us things…

A book I absolutely loved reading and will be rereading again: The Well Gardened Mind by Sue Stuart-Smith

An interesting article I just found: What IS Mind Gardening?