I need a shovel

A few months ago, Jean, my grandmother Peggy’s housekeeper of 14 years, retired. Since Peggy didn’t really have time to look for someone new (and certainly wasn’t about to clean her own house- what a suggestion!) and I had the time and could always use the money, I suggested that I fill in for the time being. It’s actually been working out pretty well for both of us.

My grandfather is a bit of a hoarder. He’s always been one to keep things that could be useful later, but as he gets older it’s been getting more and more out of hand. He now hoards junk and refuses to throw things out or even send things to recycle or donate that he’s saved expressly for that purpose. If you come into the front door of their house, you would probably never know that a hoarder lives there as the common rooms of the house are all clutter free and beautiful. But one glance at the garage and bedrooms and it becomes clear that something is not usual in that house.

We all understand where his impulse comes from- he grew up as the son of poor sharecroppers in the 30s and learned to never take what you have for granted. But it’s now become a compulsion. He would benefit from hoarding therapy but he would NEVER agree to that. He hates when any of us clean up but it’s to a point now where his anger isn’t enough to keep the job from having to be done.

Peggy, finally fed up with trying to get him to clean it up, put me to it. We started with her closet and removed 6 giant trash bags of 40+ years of clothes that I took to donate. She’d been wanting to clear out old clothes for a long time but Granddad would hide the things she pulled out because he was convinced that she might need those things later.

Once done with her things, I started in on the corner of their bedroom where Granddad has been piling crap for the past several years. The most insane and frustrating thing is that we have to work around when he goes into his office (he’s a lawyer and works from home some days) because he would never let us get rid of things if he was there. In about 6 hours, I had cleared the entire corner except for his desk which I’m afraid to even start on. There actually wasn’t as much in that corner as I thought, but it was still a big job. I found several gift boxes of clothes we had all bought him for Christmas the past few years- which he opened in front of us and then stacked up, never to be thought of again. I found several things he’d been looking for for months. I found things that had belonged to my great-grandparents that he had just put in the pile and forgotten about. And I found a LOT of trash: magazines my grandmother bought and he hid, newspapers, plastic bags, paper towels, and tons of his work papers that he won’t get rid of. I consolidated his work papers and stacked them next to his desk. I hung all his clothes in his newly organized closet. I threw away or recycled all the junk. And I brought all the collectables from my great-grandparents home to clean them up and package them for safe storage.

It was amazing what a difference just organizing everything made. His closet looks like I got rid of 1/3 of his stuff, when it’s actually got MORE in it that it did before. His work papers take up a lot less room too. And now everything is clean… for the time being.

Our plan for this week was to start on the guest room, which no one has been able to walk in for at least 5 years, but I went and landed myself on crutches with a severely sprained ankle with some torn ligaments so it’s going to be 6 weeks before I’m able to get back to the job. I’m terrified of what Granddad can manage to mess up in that time…

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