It’s morning and I am looking out the window of the farmhouse. My coffee mug is soothingly warm in my hands. There is nothing better than savouring your first coffee of the morning. Except maybe watching the rising sun turn morning into day over the fields outside. The forest on the other side is shrouded this morning but you can tell the sun is determined to work its way through the mists.
I have two family members who, during the last few years of their lives, changed from being ‘collectors of things that might be useful one day’ to compulsive hoarders. That they lived on large rural and semi-rural properties only exacerbated things.
We are trying to help with the aftermath of one of these situations. A trip to the family farm has turned into a work project. During the very short time we will be here, we can only begin to scratch the surface.
The farm is situated in a pristine, though not isolated, part of northern BC. The area is a scenic treasure. A large family lived and grew up here. Land was farmed, animals raised, and timber cut and milled. I remember huge family get-togethers on holidays, meals in shifts, trekking through the snow to chop down the Christmas tree, tractors rumbling over the fields, helping butcher a steer (I was a little out of my depth as a city kid), and the whine of the sawmill that operated on the property just over the hill from the house. Over the years, farming didn’t pay, the forest industry slumped, and the family scattered to other parts to start new lives. The place is now essentially abandoned. We would like to see the homestead move up the scale from being barely usable, to habitable, to comfortable and even desirable.
Building up an inventory of potentially useful things is part of the rural lifestyle. New items are expensive and difficult to source locally. Used and broken equipment becomes a repository of parts with which to repair other failing items. Over the years, the parts store at this place became clutter and finally an overgrown collection of abandoned detritus.
One of the family members, always obsessed with his health and well-being, became even more so as time progressed. He collected anything and everything: books, appliances, tools, equipment, gadgets, spare parts, foodstuffs and alternate medications that might even remotely relate to his deteriorating health, make his life more convenient, or might in any way appear ‘useful’ (however he might have conceived that term) – even if those things were incomplete, didn’t work, or he already owned several of them. Closets spilled their contents to fill rooms with piles of boxes and barely-identifiable items until there was no space left and stuff spilled out into the halls.
When we got here, the hallways, which at one time were packed so tightly that only narrow passageways remained, had already been opened up so that rooms cluttered with junk were somewhat accessible again. Since arriving, our days have become a series of sorting projects, trips to the local thrift store, to the paper recycle bins (I have found two of them in the area – good thing, too, for I don’t believe the man ever threw out a piece of paper during his life), and for most of the collection, hauls to the landfill. I believe that we will be saved from financial ruin only because this region has a landfill site that doesn’t yet collect tipping fees.
I am finding the clean-up physically tiring and emotionally draining. With every load I carry out I become more resentful of this intolerable situation and the person who created it.
Like many people, I have battled clutter myself but this is in an entirely different order of magnitude. Every once in awhile I will pick up something and think, “Ooh, this might be useful, someday,” but I keep myself in check: “Is this something I need right now.” I place it in the box.
The last thing I want is my kids to be resentful of me as they carry out endless boxes of my useless stuff, abandoned to the world by me.