I have a friend who flips houses for a living.
He invited me along once to see a few of his projects. We walked through a quaint one-story home, with rich hardwood floors, fresh cabinets, butcher block counter tops and a bold blue glass tiling job in the bathroom. If I was buying my first house, this would be the one.
He had converted a cramped basement space into three tidy little rooms, where I could imagine kids watching television, or maybe an elderly woman setting up her craft supplies.
It was perfect — simple and empty.
Whatever had existed in its space before was long lost. There was no trace of stained carpets or yellowed walls. Linoleum was an unholy word in this new space. Whatever it was had been made new. This house had been given a gift; a makeover I guess, like that television show that makes grown men tear up a bit.
And then we went on to my friends second project, a house in the beginning stages of transformation.
More than that, it was a house with boarded up windows and overgrown ivy. As we walked up the drive, my friend turned to me and said, “brace yourself, for the smell.”
Oh man, there was nothing I could have done to prepare for the wretched rot of that neglected home.
We walked onto soiled carpet, where pounds of junk had recently resided. The clean-out of this hoarder house was on its fourth dumpster truck, and still had plenty to go. Six or so workers walked past us wearing paper masks, carrying unidentifiable piles of, well, stuff (‘Stuff’ is a gentle word).
Through the “living room” we walked into what once must have been a kitchen. The molded floor was crusted in mice droppings and the remains of cereal boxes. Atop the stove and counter sat unwashed, neglected kitchenware along with cans of expired goods no living thing should have ever been allowed to touch.
And then there was the fridge. It needed to be incinerated, Harry Potter style, on the spot. It trembled slightly, daring us to open it’s door and expose the innards of it’s rotting belly. It was hard to imagine any makeover could improve this house.
I wanted to tell my friend to forget it.
Grab a wrecking ball, whack it down and salvage the land. No amount of editing could alter the state of this structure, I thought.
The smell permeated the soul: Couldn’t he see this fact?
“Give up!” I wanted to tell my friend. This house has nothing to offer. But he saw something in the home, just as he had in the intricately remodeled first one. He had hope for it, and was prepared to offer a gift it didn’t deserve.
I used to watch the show Hoarders as motivation to clean my room.
I would toss stacks of useless paper and old worn out shoes ceremoniously into trash bags. I would chant to myself in a weird sing-songy voice, “I don’t need thissss, I don’t need this!” It was quite therapeutic. Who could stand to live like that? I would ask myself about the people on the television.
There was no hope for those individuals or the landfills in which they lived, I thought. I saw no potential. And in a weird way, seeing someone who was “worse off” than me made me feel good about myself.
And, in some way, I think I liked going into that terrible house with my friend, if only because it left me thinking, “At least I’m not this bad.”
It’s so easy for us to use the darkness of others to feel good about ourselves.
Recently I sat on the edge of my bed, wrapped in sweaters, sorting through boxes — not literal boxes, but boxes of insecurity in my mind — trying to get the motivation to move, to buck up and remove the mental stock piles of stuff (“stuff” being a gentle term) I’ve saved up.
It had been one of those days, a dark, self-pity sort of day where I convinced myself I was unloveable, ugly even. Clingy, needy. I tried to solve the problems on my own, to clean up the mess before anyone saw, before everyone else could see I was one of the hoarders, too.
I was terrified of what it would mean if they did see — that I had no hope, no potential.
But sure enough, my roommate found me in my stale state and sat next to me and lets me cry a little. She listened to my insecurities, to my fear.
With tenacity, she looked me in the eye and said: “You can’t take love Krisi, it’s a gift.”
Light bulb moment. You see, i’ve grown up in church, I know about the gift/love thing. But for some reason it made sense today, more than it ever had before.
I’m no better than someone hoarding physical things. I just convince myself I am. I’m hiding it better maybe, but I am a hoarder too, in my own rite.
I try to hoard love as if I have been a neglected child, stuffing cans of it into my sock drawers. But this does no good and only leaves me buried in high piles of stale expectations. It takes up space and rots under cupboards and in plastic tubs stacked high.
It’s time to clear out space, to accept the notion that I have potential, that I can be re-done, but I must be un-done first.