Hoarding. It’s when you buy and keep too much stuff where it impacts your quality of life. Or, as Wikipedia describes it:
Compulsive hoarding, also known as hoarding disorder, is a behavioral pattern characterized by excessive acquisition of and an inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects that cover the living areas of the home and cause significant distress or impairment.
My separated-but-living-together husband would probably say he’s got “collections”. Or that he’s going to put the stuff away once he finds room for them but never has time because insert reason here. Or he’ll say that they’re things he bought for the kids so they’re not really his. Or he’ll say they’re things he borrowed from work so they’re temporary, despite that we’ve had these items longer than our second child. She’s seven.
Were the warning signs there before we got married? Absolutely. I thought he was just a typical messy guy. He kept much of his stuff in his mother’s attic and at his desk at work.
After we got married, it got progressively worse.
I should acknowledge that my husband’s hoarding isn’t something you would see on an episode of Hoarders. I assume that’s because I’m like the hired crew who does disaster cleanup, but I do it daily. It’s enough that when guests come over and see the volume of “stuff” in pockets of our house, they all exclaim “holy f*ck!” as if on cue.
I didn’t notice his hoarding tendencies because he shifts the acquisition of items to the interests of those around him. That meant he would go out of his way to help me with a vintage toy collection I had at the time. We ran out of space for them (I kept everything in a single display cabinet). They weren’t worth the cost of selling on eBay and the more items I had meant more items at risk of damage from overcrowding. That didn’t stop him. While it was very sweet, eventually I had to insist that he stop buying these toys anytime he attended Comic-Con or found something online.
I experienced the laws of diminishing returns and no longer found collecting those toys enjoyable. I used to spend weeks stalking online to find one particular rare item; he would bombard me with anything he found. I choose quality while he chooses quantity. Eventually, I put my foot down and insisted he stop.
Our first house immediately filled with his collections of board games, geek-toy collectibles, Dungeons & Dragons stuff (my garage still has dozens of large boxes full of what I can only describe as “decorative grass and trees”), and comic books. There’s zero exaggeration when I say we could have opened a board game shop with the amount we had. These were specialized board games found online, not your average box of Scrabble. At least half were, and still are, unwrapped in their clear plastic wraps.
Things changed when we had our first child. The signs of his hoarding became clear when I told him that having a new “roommate” in the house meant we each lost a percentage of space to accommodate the newcomer’s things. My husband refused to cave and became an expert at playing Tetris with his items in closets and the garage.
Speaking of the garage, we are currently living in our 6th residence together. In 17 years and six addresses, this is the first home that I’m able to park my car in the garage. That’s only because this is a 3-car garage and I insisted there had to be enough room for my vehicle, even if he didn’t want to use the garage for his.
When my son was an infant, my husband lost his job. I refused to dip into savings when we had rooms and a garage packed with boxed collectibles purchased during our marriage. He chose which items to sell and every night, after work and putting my son to sleep, I took on my second job of selling his things online. That included the labeling, the packaging, and mailing as well. I tried to get my husband to do it but learning how to sell on eBay was like teaching him astrophysics.
We made roughly $1000 extra each month, enough to stop us from pulling out our savings. I didn’t sell that much; I lacked the emotional bandwidth after a full day of work and taking care of a special needs infant.
For a brief period, after the birth of our second child, he chilled out on the hoarding. Or more specifically, acquiring more things to hoard. He never got rid of things. My husband even stopped his monthly subscription to his comic books when he realized he had piles upon piles that he had yet to read.
As our kids got older, the hoarding came back. My young autistic son was obsessed with Pixar’s Cars. I mean, obsessed. If we drove by a jeep, we had to stop or pull back around so that he could look at it and then say, “Goodbye, Sarge!”. We sat for hours on the sidewalk so my son could hang out with our neighbor’s truck he called Mater. This fixation on it meant my husband bought him every Cars toy ever made. Fun fact: there are hundreds more vehicles made as toys than were ever in the movies. Mattel figured out if you slap eyeballs on a Hot Wheel, you can call it anything in the Pixar universe.
My kids don’t play with the Cars toys anymore. My husband agreed to sell them. And by “agreed to sell”, he means that he will audit each one to see which ones are worth more than others and then have me go through all the effort to sell and ship them. The first step of auditing has yet to happen. So they sit, occupying a chunk of the playroom which is now unusable.
We live in a 4000 sq. ft. house. Almost half of the second floor is a single giant room. We turned it into our kids’ playroom since their bedrooms are relatively small. The playroom is so full of toys, it’s unusable. I vacuum the carpets maybe once every four months after I’ve gotten angry enough to dedicate an entire day to organize toys that get strewn about an hour later.
While it sounds great for playdates, I’m embarrassed when newcomers tour my house. The reaction is always the same. “HOLY F*CK! BABE! BABE COME UPSTAIRS, YOU GOTTA SEE THIS!” they yell to their spouses. It’s a topic of conversation when we go to other people’s homes. They aren’t being rude; my reaction wouldn’t be any different.
At this point you, the reader, are thinking that surely we can clear out old kids’ toys. And with a huge playroom, their bedrooms must be empty of toys, right? (Nope, it’s a carryover of the playroom.) Plus, I really should just teach my kids how to organize toys and the value of donating toys to charity.
Kids lead by example. I am only half of an example. With my husband unable to keep his own crap organized and put away, I become the outlier killjoy who reminds them to clean up. Why would they donate to charity when my husband thinks it’s cruel to “make” the kids give up their toys? I’ve stopped pushing the issue ever since donated toys were replaced months later when my kids expressed remorse over their donations. Donating toys is double the cost as a result.
Fun fact: I once secretly packed 3 garbage bags to the brim with toys and donated them. No One. Noticed. It was like taking a tablespoon of water out of the ocean.
My husband’s hoarding extends to his car as well. We never take his car anywhere because there isn’t enough room for me. Imagine a movie scene where there is a driver with two children in the back. The car drives into a lake and it fills with water, up to the driver’s waist. Now replace the image of water with “junk”. My kids climb over empty toy boxes and endless papers to get to their booster seats. I can’t fit in because the passenger side floor and seat are covered with soda cans, empty coffee cups, endless papers, some lottery tickets he’ll never verify, and other items of unknown nature. It’s also very sticky and gooey (seriously gross).
I haven’t sat in his car in five years. We use mine when we’re driving the family together. That’s his choice, not mine. My husband doesn’t want to hear me bitching about the mess in his car.
I’ve given up the fight. I can’t wage a battle with someone who not only insists we keep the dumb, plastic McDonald’s toys but actually pays the manager for the toy display when they’ve rotated to the next Happy Meal set.
Quarantined at home, it’s reached a whole new level. The office, which was once empty except for a desk, a printer, and my Cricut crafting machine is now a fire hazard with piles of books stacked to my waist and random toys strewn on the floor by the kids. There would be more room in there except he refuses to let me get rid of the rocking chair and footrest I used when I nursed our children seven years ago because my husband insists the children like the chair. They can’t even climb in there anymore. He’s in there during the workday while I had set up a little desk area in my bedroom.
Our daughter’s birthday and Christmas are coming up. My anxiety with the amount of anticipated new toys is creeping in. I tried pulling the Elf on a Shelf stunt (it’s actually a “kindness elf” who makes them do one nice thing per day in December) where the kids have to fill a box with toys to donate, per Santa’s orders. I can tolerate a day of my kids behaving like they’re putting their limbs in the box but I can’t handle my husband arguing with me over what should go in there. I believe anything should go in there. Anything. Just put anything in there. He believes that the box is too big or I’m the killer of fun.
I bought myself a shirt that reads “I used to be fun”. I was … once. A long time ago.
Now that we’re somewhat separated, we’re working on a contract (Parenting Marriage Agreement). Realistically, I’m working on the contract while my husband comes up with reasons to avoid it. My most current update includes us discussing and agreeing to any new toys coming into the house.
Eventually, we’ll have a full-fledged divorce. We’ll have to give up this huge house that I love. We’ll each downsize to smaller homes. At least when he moves into his new place, he can take all of his hoarding stuff with him.
When I get my new place, I’ll make sure I can park my car in the garage.
Jennifer M. Wilson writes because in real life her humor is allegedly too sarcastic and inappropriate.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.