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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 04-Jun-15 10:52:30

Confessions of a hoarder

Author Gill Hornby finds herself, slowly but surely, following in her mother's footsteps - at least when it comes to items of sentimental value. Do you hold on to every one of your children's old drawings? Their old school blazer? Or are you (like Gill's husband) fond of a skip?

Gill Hornby

Confessions of a hoarder

Posted on: Thu 04-Jun-15 10:52:30


Lead photo

Author Gill Hornby

When my youngest announced one bedtime that he must have a cricket jumper by first period the next morning or else, it could have been tricky. Nothing we're not used to of course -­ the ingredients of a from­ scratch Thai prawn curry for food tech at 11pm was the most recent crisis ­but still, tricky... If my mum hadn't been round, that is. But fortunately she was and before he had even finished the sentence, whilst the "jump-" was still passing through his lips, she was squealing with triumph: leave it with her! She had just the thing! And in the space of ten minutes she zoomed out the front door and back again flourishing the ancient not-­quite­-whites of my brother. All quite sweet and rather boring until I point out that my brother was nearly 50 at the time. He hasn't worn that jumper since Harold Wilson was prime minister. And my mum had moved house twice since then.

My mother, you see, is a hoarder. Every scrap of evidence of our 20th century childhoods is still tucked somewhere around in her 21st century house. She wouldn't part with a thing. Not so much out of a sentimental attachment you understand: more because it might­ (a favourite phrase) ­ 'come in'.

The place is like a wrecked ship or a Pompeii villa ­- preserved at the moment when the survivors had to flee.

She grew up in the war. Possessions mean something to that generation. They were hard to come by and easy to keep. Nothing should be chucked, ever, no matter how potentially unpleasant or dangerous. I wouldn't dare mention the ingredients of the Thai prawn curry, for example ­- who knows what's still in the fridge left over from the era of Edward Heath?

Her attachment to all this stuff has always been a family joke. Oh how I have mocked... Until recently. Because now my own children are starting to leave home,­ the third out of four is just doing her A levels and soon to make a run for it -­ and as the space opens up and the dust settles I look around and realise that,­ oh dear,­ I haven't thrown very much out either. Everything from baby clothes through Brio and S Club 7 posters and out to skateboards is still in its place and I seem unable to move it. The place is like a wrecked ship or a Pompeii villa ­- preserved at the moment when the survivors had to flee.

Why am I like this when I don't even have the excuse of having lived through rationing? Not because any of it will ever come in, that's for sure. My kids have grown up in a world of Primark and Amazon. They're never going to see the point of making do or mending, sad to say. No, the reason I keep it all is the sentimental, emotional one. Those childhoods of my children went by so very quickly that I think I keep all this stuff as a sort of aide memoir.

Occasionally a loose photo will bubble up from somewhere, be borne along on the tide and somehow come before my gaze and I gasp: I remember that. Or I will wander into a now empty bedroom, find a storybook or stocking filler and think: of course. That is who they once were.

I won't be able to get away with it for much longer. My husband is, in this respect a ruthless, heartless machine of a man i.e. he doesn't half like a skip. A massive clear out is almost upon us and, much as I dread it, I really must comply. Otherwise this won't be a house anymore but a museum. We will be living in the museum of our children's childhoods. And I will have turned into my mum.

Gill Hornby is the author of All Together Now, out now, £14.99.

By Gill Hornby

Twitter: @GillHornby

Stansgran Thu 04-Jun-15 12:10:42

I hoard,not because I want to but because there are so many more interesting things to do than thinking whether or not something should be thrown out. DH goes on at me but he has a squash racquet ,not having played for well over forty years.

soontobe Thu 04-Jun-15 15:09:13

I have been through this. I roughtly cut all the kids stuff down by 3/4, after they had taken stuff they wanted.

grandmac Fri 05-Jun-15 10:42:23

Oh dear!
Having still got my children's baby teeth in little labelled boxes (they don't want them although I have offered!) plus old exercise books, drawings, presents from long ago school trips etc. I now have boxes of my grandchildren's paintings and cards. The toys I kept are now played with by these grandchildren and they have even worn some of their parent's baby clothes.
But at least I am not as bad as one friend who following his circumcision kept her son's foreskin in a pretty box!

Snoozy Fri 05-Jun-15 11:02:12

My husband keeps the cat's whiskers when they drop out! We have them from all the previous cats too.

Charleygirl Fri 05-Jun-15 11:09:37

When my parents died and I was clearing out the house, it was so easy because my mother kept nothing. Drawers had only the relevant documents.

When I was training, I left clothes in my wardrobe at home but when I returned I would find the wardrobe empty- everything removed as it was cluttering it up. After that I had to trail stuff backwards and forwards and in those days it was by train and on foot.

I am a great hoarder to the extent that sometimes I have ended up buying an item, not realising that I have a similar item in a cupboard.

annemac101 Fri 05-Jun-15 11:14:09

Oh I hate having to part with memories. I'm moving to a smaller house so I've really had to be strict. I have lots of drawings and school reports and suchlike from my two children who are in their thirties now, I have put them in a large plastic envelope one for each of them with their names on it I told them one day they will love showing them to their children. I still have the outfits I brought them home from hospital in,how could I ever part with that?

Tegan Fri 05-Jun-15 12:18:41

I'm going through this process at the moment, having moved everything out of the living room to have a new carpet down and then finding mold in a dresser that is the main part of what my daughter also calls 'a shrine to their childhood'. Both of my children were very artistic and from an early age made quite exquisite things. But, do I still want them taking centre stage in my house? I thought the grandchildren would like to see the things that mum or dad made when they were young, but they just seem interested in computer games etc. I, too have baby teeth in a tin; matinee jackets that my mum knitted for them [I found some little bootees the other day that she'd knitted]. Without being too morbid, I think that part of a grieving process is trawling through old forgotten memories and maybe one day my children will want to revisit their childhood [my mum left hardly anything when she died and I'm still searching for some books from my childhod that were thrown out]. They both laugh at my hoading, and then I'll get a phone call asking 'mum, have you got something or other' [#isthepopecatholic?!] Of course I'll have it. Next to me is my mums old purse; very old and shabby and sort of roaming round the house with a view of putting out with the rubbish one day...but I opened it yesterday, found a little button inside it and was transported back to a day when it must have fallen off something and mum put it ther for safe keeping. So I sat there clutching the purse; but did it make me happy? Not really, more sad than anything. It's best [imo] to throw things out straight away, that way you forget you ever had them; it's almost impossible to throw them out thirty years later.

Stansgran Fri 05-Jun-15 13:08:24

I quite like the soppy idea that Marie Kondo has of thanking the object for the use and now it goes. It's quite good with handbags and things that were useful once but have no space in your life. I do the thanking when there is no one about. The other thing is take photos of things and then throw . Takes up less space.

TerriBull Fri 05-Jun-15 17:31:08

I read a brilliant novel a couple of years ago about the subject of hoarding, "The House We Grew Up In" by Lisa Jewell, an author I had previously associated with trite chick lit. The main character in the book is a mother of four, with similarities to the mother described by Gill Hornby, insomuch as she obsessively hangs onto literally everything associated with her children's "idyllic" childhood, which begins to unravel as they grow up. There is a trigger incident which sets the mother's dis functional behaviour in motion. Divorce ensues and strained relationships with her children as adults as they see their mother become more isolated as every corner of their childhood home is eventually taken over by years of accumulated memorabilia and junk.

I can see it would be easy to become a hoarder, I have hung on to bits and pieces of school work, pretty much all my children's books, much loved stories that are being read again to grand children, a wooden Brio train set and a few dinosaurs much loved by my granddaughter I'm happy to say.

Additionally, we are both loathe to get rid of small amounts of our respective parents' bits and pieces, which I guess doesn't make us hoarders as they don't take over our house to any degree but I suspect successive generations eventually have to pare down again when these mementos have no relevance to their lives.

Tegan Fri 05-Jun-15 18:07:55
this link won't work [they never do] but it's an article that registered with me when I read it a few years ago.

J52 Fri 05-Jun-15 18:38:44

Ooh dear I'm a bit of a hoarder, family memorabilia. As we hope to move soon I'm being ruthless, but it is hard!

DH doesn't think he's a hoarder, wait till he tries to cut down all the tools in the garages!

annodomini Fri 05-Jun-15 18:46:08

I am a hoarder of books. When I downsized, I did get rid of quite a lot, but still brought all the ones I thought I might read again. In 15 years since then, I have rarely read any a second time, except for the Jane Austen ones which I re-read regularly. They are my comfort blanket. There are so many new books to read that I don't have time to re-read old favourites. Luckily many of them are renow on Kindle so don't clutter up my book shelves. I still have the ones I won as prizes at school though - can't let them go! Will my heirs have any use for the Oxford Companion to Classical Literature? hmm

rubysong Fri 05-Jun-15 19:18:51

Yes, I am a hoarder. I have children's school reports and my school reports. I have my old school tie and DS's old school blazer, also the matinee coats and shawls they came home from hospital in and the tags they had on their ankles after they were born, I have my Brownie badges and loads of stuff to dress up in. I have treasures and useful things like vintage tablecloths and napkins and I do not want to get rid of any of it. DH would like most of it chucked out but he knows better than to push the point. I am seriously thinking of hiring a lorry container to store things so I can declutter a bit before we think about moving house. Very often I have 'just the thing' someone wants to borrow.

NanaDenise Sun 07-Jun-15 19:52:39

Oh Dear! Just as I was thinking that I am not a hoarder and I don't keep things, I remembered that I hire storage - initially for business, large attachments for even bigger printers, now full of DGDs stuff. 3 ft Tigger, assorted soft toys, (those that didn't make it to Oxfam on the last tidy), onesies that are too bulky to live in drawers, college notes, photos (not mine), all sorts of 'stuff' - and it isn't mine. A few years ago. DD1 and SIL left several boxes with me when they went to Africa (SIL ditched) DD1 still there after 20+ years, I moved them, cleaned round them and eventually opened one to see what they had left. It was clutter with a capital C - the saving grace was that a mouse had made a nest in one of the boxes so I was able to bin/recycle it all. Now, I will have to do another tidying trip so we can cut down the storage space for what should be there - business paperwork that one has to keep, spare parts etc. There are still printers there that need to be disposed of, if I can persuade DBH that we will never need them again.

My parents went through all their photos and memorabilia and threw away anything that wasn't family related - views of anonymous fields, holiday snaps of beaches etc. so that we didn't have to after they died. My dad is still alive and well - we just celebrated his 90th. When they moved house a few years ago, they decluttered a lot. I hope I will be able to do the same.

soontobe Sun 07-Jun-15 20:04:25

I found it for you Tegan.

I havent read it all yet, but didnt agree with the first part of it.
I will read the rest of it later at some point.

Tegan Sun 07-Jun-15 21:41:19

Thanks soon; I don't know why I can never do links to newspaper articles.

grannybuy Mon 08-Jun-15 14:41:04

Unfortunately, my DD's love that I have a lot of their old things, but do they want to have them? NO! Ball now in their court - take them, or they will be thrown out. Have to say, though, I will find it very difficult. My mother died last year, and I found that she had no mementoes of me in her house, nor was I ever given any. Obviously, she didn't feel the need to keep them, and I don't suppose I have given it much thought over the years, but they would have been memories.

Tegan Mon 08-Jun-15 15:01:28

It's the fact that my mum threw so much of my stuff away that makes me hang on to things; my books, my dolls [I can't even find a photo that I know I took of my dolls]. She did move into a flat an probably had to throw a lot of stuff out and may have done so when I broke her heart by leaving home but I wish she'd kept my books and dolls. She did say my teddy had become moldy, but at least I have a photo of him.

biddymarie Sun 14-Jun-15 23:01:00

I must admit i try not to be a hoarder but i know i am ,But my children do'nt help.I hear, where am i going to put all this that or the other as i will need it when i have another baby and i have'nt got room at mine?
Ok i hear myself saying i got room in my spare room.Thing is she has to pay for IVF this time around & with her age & life situations i can see this getting farther away from being likely,Meanwhile my bedroom is constantly being added to,Out grown clothes are now being added just in case.
Also i have got shelves of video's yes i did say videos lol my daughter has whole series of Friends but will she or anyone ever want???
And dont talk to me about the computer,modem,printer all in working order daughter dont want but dont want thrown away as to good,Good for what it's not wifi.I tried to sell them at a shop who takes second hand stuff,Said why would i want them i gave a lot to the local school,people dont want them now its all tablets,laptops.Rant over lol

durhamjen Sun 14-Jun-15 23:08:22

Take them to the local recycling centre, biddy. They usually have an electrical goods area, where you can leave electrical goods for companies to pick up. I do not count that as throwing them away as they have to be disposed of properly rather than going into landfill.

Tegan Mon 15-Jun-15 00:23:46

I've got lots of videos, too. Stuff that I meant to watch when I was retired and had the time.

Tennisnan Mon 15-Jun-15 03:52:43

It's just so reassuring knowing that there are lots of 'us' out there. The son that moans the most about my junk has just filled our (ex) spare room with things he wants stored while he does a 2 year stint in Singapore. DH also joins in with a grumble but then tonight enjoyed a rummage thru loads of photos spanning 40 years that we unearthed when moving an old TV unit. I like the link to the past the 'stuff' gives me. Only ever manage to have a clear out when we move house which will probably have to do again in next 5 years, putting that off too.

soontobe Mon 15-Jun-15 12:38:05

I am at the video stage with mine too. I think that they are all going to say that they dont want them.
Do I?
I dont know. Not much point keeping them.
Lovely memories. Lovely films. Ah.

biddymarie. I was at that point too. But with friends and a relative that were all abit younger than me.
I did dispose of lots of it eventually, when some of them sadly did not have children, and after many years.
But they used to ask me for years, "have you still got the baby stuff", so I couldnt remove much of it.

PRINTMISS Mon 15-Jun-15 17:05:07

We had to go through my mother in laws things when she moved, and eventually when she died, and quite honestly, my husband was so upset at some of the things, which actually brought back happy memories, but made him sad, and it was a really hard job to get him to dispose of anything, the fact that we had no more room was the clinch. We still have several of her bits and pieces which my daughter will probably like, but there again she has little room. My mum cleared everything out before she died she did not have a lot anyway, so that it was not a problem. I am now gradually getting rid of stuff, even though I like it, I know it is useless, and has memories only for me, and my daughter with her husband would be the two would would have to sort things out - I remember how sad my husband was, and do not want my daughter to be the same.