Your neighbor opened his garage door for the first time in years, and what do you see? A STUFFED BOBCAT WITH THREE AND A HALF LEGS DEAD SINCE 1954 WHOSE SKIN IS FLAKING OFF!!! You think, “Oh my God! I live next to a hoarder!”
Yes indeed you do. And now comes the hard part – what to do about it? In your heart of hearts you want to scream, “You filthy dirty hoarder person, how can you keep a stuffed bobcat with three and a half legs and the skin flaking off in your garage? How does it even stand up on three and a half legs? You’re being cruel to dead animals – or something!”
DO NOT SAY THIS! Hoarding is a disease, and Be Kind to Hoarders Day actually exists, and today might be the day. Instead, take a deep breath – through your mouth to save your sense of smell and prevent an unwanted burning sensation in your nostrils – and ask yourself: How can I help this poor, suffering hoarder and his 3-legged bobcat with the skin flaking off in his garage?
Kindness. Kindness and compassion. Kindness and compassion and Code Enforcement.
Kindness and compassion because they are some of our higher emotions as humans; Code Enforcement because they have badges, and Hoarders are scared of badges. But most important of all, you can help your Hoarder by not touching anything. First, because if you touch something you might die; second, because the Hoarder might get mad at you because his hoard is his castle, or his castle is his hoard, or something along those lines. If the Hoarder gets mad at you it might cause him to hoard more, so save your anger till nothing else works and yell at him without threatening to burn his house down even if that’s what you really want to do. Burning his house down will only get you in trouble even if the neighbors applaud, and martyrdom is overrated.
Indeed it is. Ergo you need a measured approach – you need a metaphysical approach. Once you’ve finished sobbing plaintively to yourself and everyone you know, confessed all your sins to anyone who would listen, and drunk yourself half a bottle of no-label scotch through a Crazy Straw because you needed a new experience, ask yourself, “Why did God make me live next to a hoarder?” If you moved in after the Hoarder did, metaphysically you chose to live next to the Hoarder, a prime example of Karma’s a Bitch. If you moved in before the Hoarder did, metaphysically you attracted the Hoarder into your life, a second example of Karma’s a Bitch. If you moved in on the same day as the Hoarder did, you two are cosmically connected and he will haunt you through all eternity, so suck it up and plant the For Sale sign on your front lawn – and hope he doesn’t follow until your Next Life, so you can deal with it later.
Because the metaphysical moral of this story is that no matter how you came to live next to the Hoarder it’s your fault you live next to the Hoarder, and not the Hoarder’s fault he lives next to you. Indeed, he probably likes living next to you because your house is so neat and clean!
Now then, once you accept your responsibility for your unfortunate predicament – and after you’ve left Code Compliance a desperate voicemail begging for help – you can begin to confront the situation. Begin by confronting gently, something along the lines of, “Hello Mr. Hoarder. Did I ever tell you how much I value our nonexistent friendship? And as I’m standing here at your newly opened garage door I’m amazed you were able to open it, but more importantly I can’t help but admire your pet stuffed bobcat with three and a half legs and the skin flaking off. Does your bobcat have a name?”
You were thinking “Mange,” or maybe “Leprosy,” but don’t let on. Say cheerfully, “Spot is a lovely name for a stuffed bobcat with three and a half legs and the skin flaking off,” and take the conversation in an entirely different direction. Say, “I see you’re a collector,” because a positive spin on a dismal situation always elicits a happy response from a hoarder. Unless of course you say, “I see you’re a collector of crap,” which will set you back a century in your quest to get rid of the hoard.
At this point you will get nervous and start looking at your watch, thinking “I left that message for Code Compliance an hour ago. WHERE ARE THEY?” Do not let on, however, that help is on the way, because most hoarders say they want help as long as said help does not entail getting rid of their hoard, and Code Compliance will want them to haul their hoard away. Instead, point to the corner of the garage and ask, “Yonder newspapers piled eight feet high with a gas can on top – have you read them at all since 1979?”
“I’m getting to them,” Mr. Hoarder will say, or something like that.
Accept that as true even though it’s pure B.S.: he didn’t read the newspapers in 1979 and hasn’t read them since 1979 and never will read them as long as he lives. They do, however, occupy an emotional space in his life, which space must be acknowledged and honored, because it means something to him even if everybody else thinks it’s trash.
I watch enough cable TV to know this is true.
“Do you think they represent a hazard?” ask.
“No,” he will answer.
“Not even with a gas can on top?”
“Oh, well, maybe that – I meant to move it a few years back.”
And Mr. Hoarder waddles through the 12-inch wide path in his garage, walled in by trash on both sides, on his way to the stack of newspapers with the gas can on top. “Wait!” you exhort in a panic as Mr. Hoarder starts mumbling something about a ladder. “Maybe we can leave that for another day!”
“Not really, I mean, let’s talk about it,” you say, appealing to what’s left of his common sense. “How would it feel,” you ask, “if that pile of newspapers fell on top of you?”
“It would hurt,” Mr. Hoarder responds.
“I think you’re right,” you answer. “It would hurt.” You then silently congratulate yourself on your effective use of mirroring. “Could the solution be to get rid of the newspapers since they’re piled eight feet high?”
“No,” Mr. Hoarder says. “I think maybe we could just take them down and put them in four piles two feet high each. And move the gas can. That would be less dangerous.”
You admire his ability to do long division in his head, but that doesn’t help the hoard. “It would be less dangerous,” you say. Then you look around at a garage piled waist-deep in trash and are suddenly consumed by a feeling of hopelessness. “But where would you put them?” you ask, hoping in vain for a reasonable response. “It’s pretty busy in here, isn’t it?”
“I was thinking of buying a storage shed and putting it in the back,” Mr. Hoarder says.
“Woooooonderful,” you think, but again not a good retort. Then a flash of genius: “I could help you,” you offer, leaving off the rest of what you really want to say – “and get a dumpster” – which you’ll leave for another discussion, or his court-mandated therapy.
Mr. Hoarder is starting to like you, you think, because you’re respectful and understand his predicament and know that his real problem isn’t hoarding, it’s lack of storage space. Which of course it isn’t, but he thinks it is, and that, at least, is a start.
“Would you like to come in for a glass of swill?” Mr. Hoarder then asks you as your nonexistent and never-to-be friendship starts to bud.
“NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!” is an understandable but unfortunate response. Say instead, “Thank you but I’m not thirsty and I’ll never get thirsty on your property ever, I assure you.” The subtlety of such a response will not register with Mr. Hoarder, that’s pretty much guaranteed: Hoarders are rarely subtle.
At which point, only two hours after your call, a Code Compliance Car pulls up and a Code Compliance Officer steps out of said Code Compliance Car, his badge twinkling in the sun. He ambles up to the two of you. “Hello Mr. Hoarder,” the Code Compliance Officer says, looking at you.
Somewhat offended because you think you look stunning and Mr. Hoarder is short, plump and scruffy, you correct the Code Compliance Officer by pointing at Mr. Hoarder. “I’m sorry,” the Code Compliance Officer responds, then turns toward Mr. Hoarder: “As I’m standing here at your newly opened garage door,” the Code Compliance Officer says, “I’m amazed you were able to open it, but more importantly I can’t help but admire your pet stuffed bobcat with three and a half legs and the skin flaking off. Does your bobcat have a name?”
“Spot,” Mr. Hoarder says. “He died in 1954.”
And Karma says more patience is in order, because this is going to take a long time to fix.
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