Hoarding in Pacific Palisades

This story comes from a close friend who will rename anonymous. 

“It is six o’clock at night and I am watching the last junk removal truck pull away from a quiet neighborhood in Pacific Palisades. It is a small and wealthy community. My eyes are focused solely on the blue green dump truck disappearing over the horizon, towards the 405 and out of my life, but I can feel the eyes on me. Neighbors peaking out of their windows. Staring at me, judging me and my family. And inside I feel a deep pang of shame.

I never knew my Aunt well. I never knew her at all upon second thought. I saw her maybe three times in my adult life. The last time after I graduated film school at UCLA. Even in a family of oddball artists my family was one of the oddest balls. She was an isolated person who closed herself away from the rest of the world in her Pacific Palisade’s home. My aunt had done this ever since her husband (her second my “step uncle”) had died ten years ago.

I wasn’t shocked when my Mom called me and told me my Aunt had died. After a person reaches a certain age you begin to expect death. In the right sort of light you can see death waiting in the shadows and creeping around the corners. I was surprised however when I was tasked with cleaning up and clearing out my Aunt’s estate. I guess I received that honor because, being a film industry dreamer I don’t have a “real job” unlike the rest of my family, and I could take the time to do it.  

 I said yes. I didn’t want to but family obligation is a heavy thing to wear.

When I entered my Aunt’s house, the first person in my family to do so in maybe ten years, I realized I had crossed the line between family obligation into a whole other  world. The house was literally stuffed with, well, stuffed. Boxes were piled to the ceiling. Bloomingdales shopping bags and Macy’s shopping bags, filled with five year old new clothes, covered the living room. Maybe three feet high. The kitchen was even more of a horror. Appliances in various states of filthy and food in various states of decay covered the entire kitchen. The rest of the house … three bedrooms and a bathroom … were in mostly the same state. Mostly shopping bags filled with clothes and toys and random trinkets that had never been worn or used.

When I talked to my family about it, they refused to believe the obvious. That our Aunt, our crazy Aunt, was in fact a hoarder and that most of her behavior was either caused or the cause of her hoarding disorder. No one believed it until I took them to the house. Then it finally sank in.

Shortly thereafter it fell to me to find a junk removal company in Los Angeles that was qualified enough to clean out such an extensive hoard. We could have done it ourselves and a part of me felt like we were obligated to do it ourselves because we had so spectacularly let down my Aunt in her lie, the least we could do is help her clean up in death. But we didn’t. The shame and guilt swamped us and we pawned off the task to a company that tackled hoarders junk removal instead.

I stayed to supervised. I watched as that junk hauling company methodically cleaned out my Aunt’s house. And as I watched the last truck disappear in the distance all I could think was, We should have done better.”

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