What Happens When You Try to Negotiate With a Hoarder?


– Dawne

As many of you probably know, the “Greatest Generation” is the term coined by Tom Brokaw in his book, “The Greatest Generation.” It refers to the generation that grew up during the Great Depression and came of age during World War II. As noted by Legacy Senior Living, the Greatest Generation possesses many admirable qualities, one of which is frugality. My mother possessed this trait in spades. In fact, her “frugality score” was so high that we referred to it in a less complimentary manner – “hoarding.”

Frugality is, of course, admirable. But too often, frugality turns into hoarding; this was particularly the case for this generation. Between the poverty of the Depression and the rationing of World War II, my mother – and many others of that generation – carried a lifelong fear of running out of everyday supplies, and/or never being able to afford to replace household goods or appliances.

This was painfully obvious when we moved my mother in with us. Luckily, we had a three-car garage that only needed to house our two cars, as well as a large attic. This meant that we were able to delay the inevitable “purge” conversation for nearly ten years.

Having “The Talk, Part 1”

Finally, though, it was time to have “the talk.” We were not alone; in fact, these conversations continue to occur regularly, and will so long as there are parents and children. Check out Richard Eisenberg’s “Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents’ Stuff” in Forbes magazine.

Along with a desire to keep every single thing they ever owned, older people often have a wildly overinflated sense of the value of their treasured possessions. Value, of course, is based on two laws of economics: 1. supply and demand and 2. What anyone is actually willing to pay for your stuff. Combine an oversupply with a lack of demand, and what people are actually willing to pay for your stuff declines accordingly. In addition, what your parent paid for the item/what the appraiser said it was worth in 1972/how old it has absolutely nothing to do with – again – what people are actually willing to pay for it.

None of these rationales are likely to work. They certainly didn’t work for us; the emotional attachment was too great.

The bone china cups may have been the most challenging. Over decades, my mother had collected dozens of bone china cups. In my opinion, they’re completely impractical – they hold about a teaspoon’s worth of coffee. My mother, of course, detested my “classless, bulky mugs”, and couldn’t fathom why I chose not to use a cup that I had to refill every five minutes. We compromised by keeping about four of the bone china cups in the kitchen; the other 75 were carefully wrapped and boxed and relegated to the garage.

Having “The Talk, Part 2”

Those boxes drove me insane. I used to have vivid fantasies of the boxes accidentally falling and tumbling open, shattering their contents. Sadly, it never happened.

Finally, the day came for all of us to move to a smaller place. I spent hours trying to muster up the courage to have “the talk.” I couldn’t do it. The boxes, unopened, made the move with us, although they didn’t make it into the new garage. No, they took up precious (and expensive) space in our newly rented storage unit.

Recent statistics show that fewer than 10% of households rent a self-storage unit. This is a case where I’d vastly prefer to be a member of “the other 90%.” In any event, there we were, paying about $100 a month for this storage unit. The bone china cups, of course, didn’t take up the whole storage unit; not even close. But still, those boxes made me crazy. I knew they were never ever going to re-enter my kitchen, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to insist that we dispose of them.

“It’s a Fahhh-buh-ware”

The worst offenders, however, were the coffeepots. All three of them. Lined up like soldiers. I did summon up the courage to have that difficult conversation; the absurdity of three – three! – coffeepots – two of which were industrial-size “percolators” – was too much for me. Here’s how that conversation went (play the video for the fuller sound effect of my mother’s Boston accent):

Me: “Mom, how about if we keep just one of these?”
Mom: “And what are you going to do with the other two?”
Me: “Sell them!” (Translation: Put them on eBay for $10 each, watch them not sell for a month, and then sneak them into the trash when no one is looking.”
Mom: “We might need them.”
Me: “For what???? All three of them?”
Mom: “What if we have a party?”
Me (fondly remembering all of those incredibly good parties our parents threw in our youth, and then steeling myself): “We’re not running a catering business! One is fine. How about if we keep two [COWARD] and sell this one?”
Mom (playing her trump card): “It’s a Fahhh-buh-ware.”

Needless to say, all three coffeepots made the move with us. And, from that moment on, “it’s a Fahhh-buh-ware” became our family’s code for “don’t even THINK about getting rid of that.”

Ironically, years later, my husband rescued the smallest of the three pots from storage and placed it on our kitchen counter.Hoarding the Farberware coffeepot

Me: “What are you doing with that?”
Him: “Using it.”
Me: “We HAVE a coffeepot!”
Him: “But it’s a Fahhh-buh-ware.”

He uses it every day. As for me, I stick with my trusty Mr. Coffee; it’s thermal, so it keeps the coffee hot all day long, all the better for pouring it into my classless, bulky mug.

In all seriousness, here’s my advice: If your parent just can’t bear to part with something, just keep it somewhere, if at all possible. Before you know it, your parent will be gone, and you’ll know that hanging on to that item brought them a priceless level of comfort.♠

What about you?

  • What’s your family’s “Fahhh-buh-ware”?
  • Does your loved one have a hoarding instinct? If so, how have you handled it?

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