how i spent this friday

The man who lives across the street is a good friend.  He’s like a surrogate grandfather to my daughters.  He’s always looking out for the girls and I.  He’s not exactly elderly, but he’s no spring chicken, either.  He works nights and that’s a rough schedule for the youngest of men, let alone someone his age.  A month or so ago he had some branches cut back on a tree and for some reason the guys who cut them down left the limbs behind.    My neighbor got a good start on getting them chopped to workable pieces but work and life called him away.  Plus, it was nasty hot.  So one day when I knew he’d be sleeping I snuck into his yard and got to work cleaning up some of the debris.  I got most of it finished.  This morning I finished off the rest.

His daughter and grandkids are coming to visit…”some time in October”.   He really wants to get his basement picked up so they’ll have somewhere to sleep and hangout.  I told him I’d help him, no problem.  He’s strong but doesn’t need to be hauling trash and furniture up and down the stairs.

Today we got started.  By the end of the few hours we put in, I was depressed, overwhelmed and filled with such a feeling of disbelief.

My neighbor is quite seriously ONE piece of paper away from being a hoarder.

not his house, but a pretty close representation

I could easily see why he hadn’t gotten very far in his own efforts to work on the house.  It was quite daunting walking down the stairs and into what can only be described as the biggest pile of stuff and crap I’ve ever been faced with.   He was a DJ for 20 years so has equipment stacked everywhere.  I was able to convince him to let me play with Google and see what he could get for some of it and was able to insist he throw out an amp that wasn’t worth what it would cost to fix.  He has enough CDs and records to open his own store.

I am not an aggressive person.  But when it came to doing this with him, I found the inch of assertion I needed to nudge him along.  He seemed embarrassed and frustrated and laughed nervously about wondering where all this stuff came from.  He wanted to haul a 5-foot long, 2-foot deep plastic bin full of CDs up the stairs.  I told him there was no way I could lift that, we were going to have to sort the box.  I set him about the task of sorting through papers (because I can’t very well go through his papers and know what’s important/what’s not) and I started getting his CDs into a more moveable arrangement.  He has a stack of vinyl taller than I am, so I had him sort through those and he got through about four boxes before he needed to get up and move onto something else.  Many of them were his mother’s and I could tell he didn’t want to think about getting rid of any of them.

To make a long day shorter, we took several pieces of furniture, computer monitors, CPUs, over half the CDs and a few other things to his rental house and stored them in the basement there (which, by the way, is just as bad as his own basement).  By the time we finished for the day – I insisted he go get something to eat and go to bed – you could tell we had started in the room…but you sure couldn’t tell we’d done very much.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the one room.  There’s a bedroom and a storage room in just as bad shape.  Possibly worse.

How does it get like that?  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I was completely depressed when I left.  I wanted to cry for several hours afterward.  (I wanted to cry when I was there).  There’s so much.  And I just kept thinking that when his time comes, his children are going to have to sift through mountains of papers, CDs, furniture, DJ equipment, hats, shoes, gloves, plastic bags (yes, plastic bags; he refused to throw away any of them), books, VHS tapes, DVDs and more.

There’s no way we’re going to get this done by “some time in October” for his daughter’s visit.  Not when I have to [understandably] hold his hand every step of the way.  I could get it done in a weekend.  At least make it easier for him to sort through things.  But I really don’t get the impression that he’s really up for that.  His job this week is to go through the papers so that when I’m off again next Friday we can really make a dent.  A tangible dent.

I will, however, never underestimate the feelings of hoarders or the families of hoarders.

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