Coming back to post my story.
My mother and one of her sisters are hoarders. My aunt is actually ten times worse than my mother but for some reason I feel less comfortable posting about my aunt's life than my mother's, so we'll leave it at that.
My parents had an insane amount of furniture. Most of my childhood was spent in this extremely cram-packed small rented house with junk piled to the ceiling in every room and narrow walkways. People said "Why don't you just sell your extra furniture?" but my parents reacted as though they had suggested shipping it to the moon on a rocket. While my dad could still see, he kept the miscellaneous clutter to a manageable amount, but as his eyesight worsened, so did the clutter. My mother saved every single piece of paper, medicine bottle, cereal box, broken appliance, article of clothing, doll, gift, knickknack, cardboard box, plastic sack, empty food container...EVERYTHING that came into our house. She also bought way too much food and would not throw it away until it was DEFINITELY spoiled, often making me taste it to make sure--to this day, I am slavish about expiration dates. My dad kept books, college papers, records, and outdated computer supplies. He must have had over 300 neckties.
I was a terrible packrat, too, as a child. I got over it in stages. Coming home to visit after I left for college at 18 was a real wake-up call. "This is not
normal!" Buying a 680-square-foot house at 23 was another real wake-up call. "The world is not going to end if I throw something away and later discover I could have used it." Helping my parents move out of their house after 20 years (while I was pregnant, hormonal and wanting my future child to have his/her own space) was the final wake-up call. "My happy childhood memories are not going to disappear if I let go of my toys." I discovered I felt happier the less I owned. Now I'm obsessive about decluttering, yet I still have to fight the packrat impulse.
The sad thing for my parents is that if they had bought a medium-sized house when they got married, they'd have owned it free and clear by retirement, which would have given them financial security. Instead, they bought a mansion, lost it, and spent 20 years crammed into a small rented house. Even then, they could have afforded the mortgage payment on a small house in the city, but were unwilling to give up their storage barn full of they didn't even remember what was in there. So they spent their retirement money buying a plot of land in the middle of nowhere away from any kind of social services, home help, elder transportation, and put a doublewide mobile home on it along with the storage barn. Then my dad died
and so now my mom is stuck out in the sticks all by herself in a trailer full of expired grocery coupons and worn-out armchairs, and boxes of work memos from 1977, and she still
won't throw anything away. It would take the rest of her life even if she decided to start today. I think it's tragic, the way my parents wasted their space all those years. They loved each other, but they would have been happier without the millstone around their necks. And now I worry about my mother falling over a pile of catalogs and not being able to get up, out there alone in the boonies.
So I am vigilant about not being a clutterbug, and that may be weird, but so be it. Dh has no issues with this either way--he keeps a normal amount of stuff, much more than I would like him to but much less than the average American.
Like I said, my aunt is ten times worse than my mom and I sometimes want to talk to my cousins about it, but I don't know how to bring it up without risking offending them. "So, tell me what it was like to grow up in a pigsty."