Tiffany’s words rang in Kat’s ears. She had said, “There’s no room for me here. Grandma loves her stuff more than me.”
It stung. But it also reminded her of her own feelings at the same age. She has spent her childhood growing up in a house so crowded with stuff there was no room for her.
At the age of 11, the same age Tiffany was now, Kat’s childhood bedroom had been crammed with heavy old furniture, stuffed full with clothes. They weren’t her clothes. They were her grandmother’s.
The large oak dresser drawers were full of petticoats, girdles, night dresses, lace handkerchiefs and moth-eaten woollen jumpers.
In her wardrobe hung cotton house dresses, a couple of chenille dressing gowns and many coats – woollen coats, raincoats, car coats. There were hats and scarves, shoes and bags. There was a vinyl travel bag with a TAA logo on the side from the time grandma had gone to visit her cousin in New Zealand.
There was no room for Kat’s toys or clothes. And it smelled strongly of mothballs.
Kat remembered a time when she’d played dress up with those strange clothes in her bedroom. She had felt so glamorous and walked out to show her mother her new outfit. But she didn’t get the loving smile she’d hoped for. Seeing Kat wearing a lacy petticoat, Sunday best hat and evening shoes had turned her mother’s face stony. In clipped tones, she ordered Kat to take it all off and put it back where she’d taken the items from. Confused, Kat slunk back to her cluttered room.
Kat’s clothes hung on the outside of the wardrobe, on the back of the door and lay in piles on top of the dresser. Her toys filled the corners of the room but it was hard to find space to play easily.
Kat had seen the bedrooms of her friends and they were much different. They had drawers of their own for underwear, pyjamas, shorts and skivvies. They had hanging space for their school uniform and summer dresses. They had clear space on the rug to play board games.
Kat plucked up the courage to ask her mother if they could take grandma’s things out to make space in her bedroom for her own things. Kat remembered how her mother’s eyes filled with tears at the suggestion. “How will we remember grandma if we get rid of her things?”
Another time, Kat had collected a few of her own things for a school charity drive. Carefully she took a box and filled it with toys and clothes she’d outgrown, and some pencils and colouring books she had no interest in. But her mother cut her off at the door. “Where do you think you’re going with that?”
Kat explained about the charity drive and how all the children were asked to bring something from home that they didn’t need any more. It didn’t make any difference. “What makes you think we’re so well off? It’s ok for you to give our things away. Your dad and I worked hard for those things!” So Kat was the only kid who didn’t contribute to the charity drive.
Every time Kat tried to make room for her own childhood needs, she was rebuked.
It wasn’t just her mother who hoarded everything that came into the house. Her father had his own collections out in the sheds in their back yard. He would keep every matchbox, every bottle top, every scrap of wood that came his way. He would talk about all the things he would do with those scraps, but for all his projects, nothing ever seemed to get completed.
That was until the year she turned 13. Dad presented her with a dolls house. There was furniture made from matchboxes, wallpaper from wrapping paper, tiny people from bottle tops and wool. It was the nicest thing he’d ever done for her.
She was well past the age where little girls longed for a dolls house, but she cherished it anyway.
That warm feeling came back to her now. She still had that dolls house somewhere. She resolved to dig it out and put it into Tiffany’s room. One day, when the room was set up and ready and Tiffany came to stay, they could share the memory together. She’d help Tiffany to understand the value of family and heirlooms.
If you have questions about childhood trauma and hoarding, Dr. Suzanne Chabaud offers some specific resources.
Catch up on all the past Adventures of Kat here…