Everybody loves an “after” – and so it is with great happiness that I can now report that my car is an “after.” As promised, I cleaned my car over the Fourth of July weekend. Spurred into action by your comments and emails, as well as an afternoon watching a Hoarders marathon, I cleaned with vigor.
Watching Hoarders was a strange experience. The way the program is structured – heavy-handed, dramatic background music; the subjects’ histories and various plot points in stark white letters on a black background; the redemption at the end; the support from experts – reminded me a bit of Intervention, but I didn’t watch it the same way. There have been a very few hungover mornings where I have woken up and thought, “Oh, God. Do I have a drinking problem?” This is both because I have a family history of alcoholism and because I am a total hypochondriac. But watching Intervention usually makes me feel better, reminding me that occasionally having one too many is very, very different than huffing duster in a Walmart parking lot after your kids have been taken away by CPS. Hoarders, though … Hoarders scares me in a way that Intervention does not.
Through dumb genetic luck, I do not seem to have a particularly addictive personality. Even in college, I wasn’t much of a drinker, and now, I generally enjoy a glass of wine after work every day without feeling a need to have another after my glass is empty. I don’t see any possible way I could ever end up on Intervention. But Hoarders, yes, maybe.
When the addicts on Intervention try to justify their addictions, I harden my heart and roll my eyes. I have little sympathy – even though I know I should have more – for addicts who put drugs or alcohol above their children. “Oh, my God, how can you abandon your child to go get high off paint thinner!” I scream at the TV.
But when the hoarders try to explain why they’re hanging on to mementos from their childhoods, I get it completely. And I sometimes yell at the counselors instead of the hoarders. “Are you really trying to make her throw that Rainbow Brite doll away? Come on now!” My sympathy is even greater for the hoarders who live alone. “His collection of thousands of beer cans isn’t hurting anyone,” I yell. “It’s just him and his beer cans! It’s a collection! Let him keep them!”
I’m not justifying people living in a maze of spoiled food, bug infestations and dustballs the size of housecats. But I do think that maybe I am a bit more tolerant and understanding than the norm of general pack-rat behavior – maybe even more tolerant than is healthy. I sympathize with these people – and I am scared of becoming one of them.
Intervention reassures me: You are not that bad. You will never be that bad. Hoarders galvanized me into action: You could maybe get that bad if you don’t keep an eye on it.
So yeah, my car was a little mini-episode of Hoarders. I found Rice Krispie treats melted onto dirty clothes in the backseat. I found a little tin of saffron. I found prenatal vitamins (I haven’t been pregnant since 2006). I found my divorce papers. I found toys that I bought for Ruby when I was evacuated for Gustav three years ago. I found my cute red shoes that I’ve been looking for since New Year’s Eve. I threw away so much trash that I could barely shut the lid on the trash bin. I washed an entire load of clothes, plus the cover to Ruby’s booster seat. I vacuumed. I wiped down the dash. I sorted. I processed.
And now? Well, as I said, now I’m an “after.” It’s not a miraculous transformation – my car looks like the 15-year-old wreck that it is – but it is no longer hazardous in any way. Ruby is much more comfortable, not to mention safer. The air conditioning works better because the floor vents aren’t clogged with junk. And because I was no longer ashamed of its condition, I was able to take it for that oil change it’s been needing for about six months and/or 2,000 miles.
It’s been about two weeks now, and I’ve kept it clean. It’s been tempting, when Ruby is tired and I am frazzled and we both are hungry and cranky, to leave the empty snack wrappers or her ballet clothes on the floor in the backseat, but I haven’t done that. I even did a little extra tidying last week when I filled the tank at the gas station. So far, so good.
And if my motivation starts slipping, well, I have five episodes of Hoarders on my DVR.