Teri Orr: Confessions of a hoarder…
It’s not what you think — this isn’t some new issue. It is deep-seeded. (I know you want to read deep-seated there but I know what I know). When you grow up with periods of “not enough,” you don’t ever want to feel like that again. Also when you don’t pay attention to your life on a regular basis — it will come around and bite you.
My mother was single for most of the time I was growing up — except for the stint in high school when she married a man my freshman year — had it annulled my sophomore year — remarried him my junior year and divorced him my senior year. All the while having an affair with her lawyer. My teenage years were colorful and largely spent with my boyfriend’s family. So I married him at 19. A virgin on my wedding night — in 1970. I waited until I divorced in the mid-’70s to experience the ’60s. But I digress.
The years from six — after she divorced my father — her second husband — to age 15 were a blur. Her various secretarial jobs supported us — though in hindsight her parents were probably supporting their only child — who I only recently discovered was born — gasp — out of wedlock in the ’20s. She was a child of the Depression era and she wore it on her sleeve and under her mink coat in confusing ways.
My mother was a pretty terrible cook. Most mornings she opened a can of soup for breakfast. It was warm and had nutrients. The doctor told her it might work to help “fatten me up.” I was a skinny kid and during my middle school years, when I added fake mother of pearl glasses to my beauty equation, I was put on a diet of milkshakes. We had a home in a decent neighborhood with a working turquoise ’57 Chevy — and I don’t remember the lights or heat being any issue. We had basic things — but just not the things that mattered to me.
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There is more — of course — maybe with long stretches of time ahead I will unpack it. I tried in the past few weeks to just understand the heritage of how I ended up with the strangest things squirreled away. First, I live alone and have for two decades. While it would be tempting to blame discoveries on other members of my household — there are none. I have lived and loved in my home 40 years. There have been dinner parties and porch sittings and wine in front of the fire nights. My job the past 25 years kept me in a semi-permanent — hair on fire condition — so I rarely examined my surroundings in detail.
I was just “too busy.” Now my stepping down from my job March 1 combined with The ’Rona has forced me inside with no place to go except closets and underneath bathroom sinks and bookshelves. All those places so easy to look past…
I am currently in my exploration, excavation and elimination phase. It will not be quick or pretty. It will defy logic at every turn. The discovery I owned 11 pairs of black leggings started the questioning — a pair and spare would make sense. Maybe a third — because fabric can matter. But really — 11 pairs? When the time comes to take the clothes — to the Christian Center — I will have more than a car full. It will take trips. Giant green garbage bags all now clearly marked.
As to the discovery of the children’s cough syrup — expiration circa 2007 — I have to think I bought it when the grandkids were toddlers. They are all now in high school and one in college.
I am very good at the fridge. There were no antique unexplained mystery items but in the great wipe down I did discover a vintage Coke can. It is my beverage of choice. Don’t judge. The expiration of May 2018 I am blaming on the grocery store — I must have purchased old Coke because I bust through a six-pack pretty fast.
The books … oh the books. I have just started trying to find any system that might work on the stacks and shelves and bags tucked away/displayed. By the color of their jackets might be artful. By authors — fiction, non-fiction — is too linear for my fluffy scrambled egg brain. Right now I am working in a themed format — travel books and books from places I have traveled to … felt right. A grouping of thoughtful, not exactly spiritual and not self-help but somewhere in between those themes — working on those. Fiction seems clear. But then maybe I will organize those by color. Being a member of the TED community for a dozen years has resulted in dozens of books with the RED tape TED on the spine that are shipped to us kinda quarterly or not or more frequently depending upon some fantastical algorithm only known to TED heads in New York. So I have more than 100 fabulous books from all kinds of authors who were mostly amazing speakers. They will need multiple shelves.
And I will try to stay safe — I will — but there have already been incidents. One involved lifting the tin foil on an item cooking in a glass pan in the oven. I just stuck my ring finger in to test the temperature and the hot steam blistered the knuckle immediately.
Prior to lockdown I had been in Bed Bath & Beyond — needing — another — thing … yet as I approached checkout I tossed in a small bathroom mirror that magnified by 15x. I have no idea why that seemed the right purchase. When I used the mirror the first time I was shocked to discover how closely the pores on my face mirrored craters on the moon. I attached it to the larger bathroom mirror with the sticky tape provided . In the middle of some night it disengaged itself and shattered on the tile floor. It is a relief to no longer gaze so deeply at the far side of my mood.
My house is turning into a lovely place to be in retreat (which sounds so much more intentional than isolation). I will try and find order out of chaos any day because they all kinda feel like Sundays in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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