Doing good to others blesses us
It started with a relative who became demented. He was a collector for years and had poured his earnings into these collectibles. You could even say that he verged on the edge of being called a hoarder as well just that among the stuff, there were valuable ones. The couple had bought and hoarded stuff for over forty years.
Max (not his real name)is now nearing 70 years old. He had lost his job at the age of 50 and was not able to secure a job again. His wife, Lucy (fictitious) continued to work until she retired at 65 five years ago.
Suddenly, reality hit. She had a meager pension and when Lucy fell and suffered both fractured legs, the duty of caring for Max fell on me as the closest relative.
It was a shock to find that the house was utterly cluttered. Though we had gone out together quite often for meals, I was never invited into their home.
While Lucy was recovering in the hospital, it was an onerous task for me to see to Max’s needs and go to work at the same time.
I brought him to work every morning (fortunately, he did not go out in the evenings and would just look over all his collections in the house). It was a challenge watching over Max while I attended to my patients. I entertained him with a pile of glossy magazines which kept him busy with its beautiful images.
Ding-dong! Sometimes the doorbell went and through the camera, we noticed that Max had gone out of the clinic. It was nature’s call and my dental assistant would run after him to direct him to the gents and see him back to the clinic.
In the months ahead, a mammoth task loomed in front of me. Clearing the house to attain a sane living environment and for Lucy to return home to rehabilitate were my main aims.
If the house was not cleared somewhat, she would not be able to negotiate the narrow path from the main door to the bedroom and I was not exaggerating.
The 1000 sq ft apartment was effectively only 200 sq ft in living space with stuff stacked up on both sides, sometimes reaching the ceiling. The windows were locked and out of reach due to the obstacles. The air was stifling.
It was no wonder that they were often ill with coughs and colds.
Looking back, I am amazed that somehow I had summoned strength and courage that could only come from Providence, Love, and a sense of urgency. A determination to fix the situation. A strong feeling to help this couple get back on their feet.
Every morning at 6.30 am, I headed straight for Max’s apartment to first check on him. Usually, he was not up yet so I could set my mind to clear a section of the house. I had to work fast as I needed to get him ready for breakfast and his medication and then head to my workplace with him.
I started with the entrance which was partially blocked. Over the days which included evenings after my work, I set to clear the clutter. Every free time that I had was spent sorting stuff, disposing, and cleaning the place.
There was no time to ask if it was alright to take matters into my own hands when they were not my property but their health was at stake including mine, in trying to clean out the filth.
The kitchen itself took almost a month to declutter. I took a very decisive attitude to ‘look at the things and keep’ or ‘Look and throw’ as this clearing project seemed impossible given that they have hoarded stuff for almost forty years.
I had to decide what to keep or dispose of knowing that Max has been an avid collector and some of his things were valuable. It was my judgment call and I had to be very sensible as I did not want to throw away his hard-earned money. But there was simply no space to move around the house. It was not a healthy home environment.
There was the living room, the dining room, and in between, the master room to make them more livable. It took a whole four months but one guest room remained cluttered due to the lack of time as Lucy was coming home soon and also due to exhaustion on my part.
Fortunately, the new helper that I engaged for them arrived and we could speed up the work together.
One day, the garbage collector traced to their apartment while I was doing some clearing. He told me that he would report to the town council if I continued to create massive trash downstairs. I told him that we had stacked the discarded stuff properly next to the bin. However, the neighbors, who have heard about the ‘big clearance’ had rummaged through the stuff, many of which were usable. They had created chaos at the trash collection site.
I recalled how I went downstairs several times with the trolley bearing tons of their old clothes, damaged appliances, disintegrating books, and other paraphernalia.
Each time, I brought large card boxes of them to the trash site, the earlier card boxes of stuff had already been ransacked by eager neighbors who got wind of this ‘windfall’.
Indeed, due to my desperation to declutter and provide breathing space for the couple, I had many times disposed of usable items even utensils and glassware which were excessive in numbers as well as at least a hundred handbags, forty umbrellas which really should not belong in boxes blocking the hall. At least some younger people could use them.
Most of the collections were books, old documents, and tons of broken stuff which filled the cupboards to the brim and lined the walls.
I tried to salvage what I felt could be sold later by shoving many things into the storeroom.
I felt pain for Max who had invested most of his earnings into these collectibles which he once enjoyed but failed to cash in on them to get good returns.
When the house was reasonably cleared, a round dining table that was submerged among their belongings now sat proudly in their dining room. The kitchen was made functional again and the pipes were unchoked with the service of a competent plumber.
With the windows opened, fresh air filled the rooms, light streamed into the unblocked spaces and everything became bright and cheery. The putrid smell was gone. Max’s chronic cough was gone.
Lucy came back from the hospital and she was both relieved and regretful. But all’s well. They became aware of their spending and hoarding habits and are far more organized today.
The challenges remain of having to care for a demented spouse and Lucy did a great job after her recovery. With the live-in maid’s help, the apartment has now become more conducive to peaceful living. There is music being played from the recorder that was hibernated for years, home-cooked food served instead of always eating out.
What did I learn from after four months of my life immersed in rectifying this matter?
1 One can accomplish a lot if pushed to the brim of despair. You need grit, determination, and purpose. In the process, I conceded that I might have disposed of some of his valuable items like the vintage badges placed inside a biscuit tin(I only recalled that he had shown me before after the whole episode). That would have fetched a tidy sum on auction.
2 As we grow older, our stuff would have grown with us. The regular clearance and organization of personal property are necessary not only for our sanity but for loved ones who live beyond us.
We often would have excess items that the less privileged could use. Otherwise, they would just become obstacles and dust collectors.
3 We gained new knowledge when challenged. Out of their necessity to raise cash, I had learned to sell off their Max’s collections with their approval on the Carousell App.
This platform has allowed many people to cash out on their items that they no longer need and yet benefit others who could purchase them at a cheaper price.
It is akin to recycling and is a form of ready cash for many people. Selling their stuff placed me in contact with some buyers and it comes in handy when one needs to sell off specific items. One could buy our desired items from them too.
4 It is a tremendous sense of fulfillment helping others in real dire needs. It may feel bitter and bothersome in the journey but everything would end well. It pushes your mind to quick thinking about resolutions, makes you more decisive, and at the same time inspires change in others.
Four years on, I am still helping Max and Lucy to recoup their investments by selling some of their stuff on a regular basis and it is rather successful.
That is a source of income for them and nothing has gone to waste. The store-room and the extra room of stuff are still regularly being cleared and cleaned.
Max and Lucy’s lives now have a sense of normalcy to everyone’s delight. Life will present new challenges but isn’t that what is all about? Overcoming them as they appear, learning along the way, and enjoying the fruits of our labor?