Now, I wouldn’t call us hoarders. I’ve seen hoarders. I’ve helped now in my life to clear out two houses that were the victims of hoarders. I say the houses were the victims, because as a result of the hoarding tendencies run amok, the very structure and safety of the houses themselves came to be at risk, from rot and mildew, to terrible problems with animals, to even the presence of rats coming to make the house their home, since it was so cluttered and had such wonderful options for meals around the clock. In both experiences, the hardest part was having to try to clear out the clutter, when every step along the way, the hoarder was standing over the work, trying to explain that they “were going to do something with that,” or they “hadn’t had a chance to go through that,” when the garbage to any reasonable person would be just that – unable to be rescued, or so full of just bad stuff that it probably should have been removed with a hazmat suit. In one of the houses of a friend of mine in college, we went downstairs to the basement/cellar, opened a door and realized it was a huge “pantry.” There were literally thousands of cans of food stacked on shelves and on the floor, nearly to the ceiling. His parents would shop for groceries, and were simply unable to turn down a sale on any item, and so they would buy ten of the same can, and simply put it downstairs. As we began to look at the expiration dates, and the labels themselves, they were years, even decades old. The decoration of the cans was fascinating, but it also meant that the food inside was deadly. We spent nearly five hours simply hauling cans out of the room, and carefully putting them in the dumpster, so they wouldn’t explode from being so bulging and outdated.
I’ve been in homes where hundreds and hundreds of empty pill bottles from the pharmacy were in bags. I suppose the true sign of hoarding is that there are so many, many, many of the same item sitting next to each other, as though one or two were not enough – you need a dozen or more opened bags of snack chips, just for variety’s sake.
My hope is that you have never had to deal with a home like that. My sympathies if you have. When it comes time to clean out a parent’s home, then, there is a fear that it may devolve into that same kind of exercise. You see, you know that each year that you live in a home, unless you are of the personality that continually just throws things, no matter their value, extrinsic or otherwise, things accumulate. Every time I would come home from a trip to Mom’s, after a few days of sorting and clearing out, I would be eager to start just clearing things out of our own home! The trouble is, each time I came home, it was with a car load of things that were so very valuable, from my childhood, or our family’s life together, that it became more an exercise in where we might be able to put the things without overcrowding what we already had put in place.
Frankly, it’s the worst kind of accidental living that can happen. It’s like walking down the sidewalk, and only looking at the tips of your own shoes. Not only do you miss things that are all around you, but you stand a great chance of running into something because you haven’t looked ahead. Hoarding, whether a minor case, or an extreme one, is still a way of trying to fulfill what feels like an empty life. There is a strange comfort in having more than you need, because it seems like it is simply all you want.
One day, after I had come home from a trip, I looked around our living room, with all the knickknacks, some of pretty high value, and I thought of our sons. Cheri and I finally asked the two of them, to think about what things in our home mean something to them, and we gave them the permission, when we were gone on to heaven, to just have a huge auction and take the money and run. Their response was just what I would have said to my folks had they approached me in my 30s. They said, “Don’t worry about it – we’ll figure out something when the time comes…”
It reminded me of a woman in our church back in the 1990s. It was Lent, and for a discussion, I asked the class what they would do if they knew they only had 30 days to live. As we went around the circle, some folks would travel, others would be sure to spend time with family, and even others would spend time in prayer and study. When we came to the one elderly woman, she said, “I’d clean out my basement!” I was stunned, and I asked her why that would be her number one thing to do. She responded, “Well, it’s a mess, and I’m not going to let my kids get down there and see all that stuff!”
Still, in amidst what I call “ballast” in our home, there are still those things of particular treasure value, sometimes unexplainable. I’ve mentioned some of those items before. I have a cross stitch that my mother gave to me 30 years ago, of a little cat sitting on a cushion. It was made, she said, not by my grandmother, or great-grandmother, but, it seemed, by my great-great-great grandmother in her last years. It has a date of 1888, which was about the time of my great-grandmother’s birth, and the looks of it makes you think it was made by an older woman even at that time, not a young mother with a baby. For decades it had been folded up in my mother’s cedar chest. It now hangs, nicely framed, away from the sunlight, to be enjoyed, even after 133 years.
On the other end of the spectrum are four carved wooden characters who make up what looks like a hillbilly band. Playing a flute, a squeezebox, a fiddle and a banjo, Lem, Clem, Ben and Pete were made in about 1942. I really don’t know where they came from, but they sat on our parent’s bookshelves in front of the books, precariously ready at any moment to fall to the tile and get chipped up – but they didn’t. They just stood there, playing their musical instruments in silent fashion. I remember being a little boy, and thinking they were the most fascinating pieces of fine art ever created. I memorized their names, and frequently, I would stop by their post on the bookshelf, and repeat the names out loud, and then be on my way.
When you talk about something having “intrinsic” value, not openly showing its jewels and gold, but deep down, it evokes in the person seeing it a sense of wonder or even cherishing. That’s Lem, Clem, Ben and Pete.
Today in my office, there hangs a little shadow box that was intended to display shards from my trip to Israel. Instead they hold two little wooden items that Mom remembered from her trip to Minnesota with her grandparents when she was little – one has a burn on the back that says, “Dent, MN,” which is actually not too far from where we live today. Also included are two of the small eagle statues that Cheri and I gave my dad for birthday or Christmas as part of his collection. And in the center, are the four musicians, carefully protected behind glass finally after these years, playing daily in my office, just to the right of my desk.
I hope in years to come to help my sons know at least my cherishing of these now-nearly 80 year old figures, and then let them decide if they will have a place in their home. For now, I have intentionally made a place in ours. Maybe someday a grandchild will see them and want to learn their names. We’ll see.
Word for the day: argent. Pronounced ARE-gent. One of my favorite words, mostly in the way it sounds, and the image it captures in my mind. It comes from the Latin, of course, argentum, meaning “silver, or silver money.” Even earlier Latin is arg, “to shine,” or to shine white. Writers for centuries have the described the “argent moon,” although the popular song from the beginning of the 1900s was by the light of the “silvery moon.” It conveys a sense of glowing, or shimmering. It’s not the same as gold, but in my mind, it carries a more exotic and beautiful image. Argentina is named after probably the Silver River, or Rio de Plata (Plata meaning “silver” in Spanish), yet the country was not named Platina, but Argentina. Look for something argent today, and enjoy the mysterious beauty you find…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.