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1013 Living With a Hoarder

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1,013 – Living with a Hoarder.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 1,013. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. Become a member of ESL Podcast and download the Learning Guide for this episode.

This episode is a dialogue between Julio and his mother, who apparently doesn’t like to get rid of things – even things she doesn’t need anymore. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Julio: Mom, don’t you think it’s time to get rid of some of the stuff in this house?

Mom: Why? This house is fine the way it is.

Julio: There are parts of this house that are nearly inaccessible. There are stacks of magazines and bags and boxes everywhere.

Mom: I need all that stuff. You know I’ve always been a pack rat.

Julio: I know, but I think things are getting out of hand. You have stuff on every surface and you can’t find anything in here.

Mom: You can’t find anything, but I can put my hands on anything I want at any time. I collect and keep useful things, unlike you young people these days who throw away perfectly good things just because you don’t need them this minute.

Julio: I think your hoarding is becoming compulsive.

Mom: That’s nonsense. Just because you prefer living in a sterile environment doesn’t mean I have to. I don’t mind a little clutter.

Julio: A little clutter?! You have junk mail from 15 years ago!

Mom: You never know when something will come in handy. Now, don’t you have some room in your garage where I can store a few extra boxes?

Julio: No, I don’t!

[end of dialogue]

This episode is called “Living with a Hoarder” (hoarder). “To hoard” means to collect things, usually things that you don’t need anymore but don’t want to throw out. A “hoarder” is usually someone who collects so much of something that they don’t have room for anything else. Their house begins to fill up with things. Some people hoard only certain kinds of objects; other people hoard everything. They don’t like to throw anything out.

You can also use this verb “to hoard” when you are buying a lot of something because you think that in the future there perhaps won’t be any of that thing. If I think, for example, that the price of, say, rice is going to go up in the future, and/or that perhaps there won’t be any rice available to buy in the stores, I might decide to go to the store and buy a hundred bags of rice. I would hoard the rice. I would keep them until I needed them. In this instance, however, we’re talking about someone who keeps things that they don’t need.

Julio begins by saying, “Mom, don’t you think it’s time to get rid of,” to throw out, “some of the stuff in this house” – some of the things in this house. His mother says, “Why?” The house is fine “the way it is.” Everything is fine, she says. Julio, however, says “There are parts of this house that are nearly inaccessible.” The prefix “in-” often means “not.” So, “inaccessible” means not accessible. “Accessible” means you can get there. You can reach a certain place. Something that is “inaccessible” is something that you cannot get to, you cannot reach.

Julio says, “There are stacks of magazines and bags and boxes everywhere.” A “stack” is a vertical pile. It’s a lot of things put on top of each other. You could have a stack of papers, or a stack of newspapers. A stack of newspapers would be one newspaper on top of another newspaper on top of another newspaper, and so on. Julio is complaining about the stacks of magazines and bags and boxes in his mother’s house.

His mother says, “I need all that stuff. You know I’ve always been a pack rat.” A “pack (pack) rat (rat)” is a person who likes to collect many things and not get rid of anything. It’s quite similar to a hoarder. Julio says, “I know, but I think things are getting out of hand.” The expression “to get out of hand” means that the situation is becoming uncontrollable. It’s becoming so extreme, so difficult, that we won’t be able to handle it. We won’t be able to manage it.

Julio says, “You have stuff on every surface and you can’t find anything in here.” We use the word “surface” to describe the top of a table or of a shelf or of any flat object that you can put something on top of. Mom says, “You can’t find anything, but I can put my hands on anything I want at any time.” Julio’s mother says that maybe he can’t find things in her house, but she can. She says, “I can put my hands on anything I want.” “To put your hands on” something here means to locate something, to find something. She says she can find whatever she wants.

“I collect and keep useful things, unlike you young people these days who throw away perfectly good things just because you don’t need them this minute.” Mom says she collects and keeps useful things. “To collect” means to get a lot of the same item, the same thing. She complains that “young people these days” – meaning nowadays, in the present time – “throw away perfectly good things.” They get rid of perfectly good things. The use of the word “perfectly” here means completely, entirely. It’s really used for emphasis: these are really good things.

Why do young people throw them away, according to Julio’s mother? “Just because they don’t need them this minute.” She’s saying that young people throw things away whenever they don’t need them, even if they may need them in the future. That’s the implication of the phrase “this minute.” “This minute” means right now, at this exact point in time, not in the future – not tomorrow, not next week – but right now. Sometimes a parent angry at his or her daughter or son might say, “I want you here this minute.” The parent means immediately.

Although it has other meanings that we explained earlier, “hoarding” nowadays often describes people who collect so many things, have so many things in their house, that it becomes perhaps even dangerous to go in the house because it’s so full of stuff. Julio thinks his mom’s hoarding is becoming compulsive. “Compulsive” (compulsive) means you are unable to stop doing something, often because of some psychological or mental problem. The implication of this word is that perhaps the person isn’t responsible for his own behavior. The person can’t help, can’t prevent himself, from doing that activity.

Mom says, “That’s nonsense.” She says that’s wrong. That’s incorrect. “Just because you prefer living in a sterile environment doesn’t mean I have to.” “Sterile” (sterile) means, in this case, very “bare” (bare) – very clean, very empty, without anything unnecessary present. “Sterile” is often used in the medical field at hospitals and clinics to describe an environment where there aren’t any germs or bacteria or things that could make you sick. We talk about “sterilizing instruments” before surgery; before a doctor cuts into you with a knife, the knife is sterilized. It’s made clean so that it doesn’t have anything that might make you even more sick.

In our dialogue, the mother is describing a place that doesn’t have hardly anything in it, and because of that wouldn’t be very comfortable. She says, “I don’t mind a little clutter.” “Clutter” (clutter) refers to things, objects, that take up a lot of space and are not organized in any way. If you look at my desk, for example, you’ll see a lot of clutter – papers here and papers there – not very neat, not very organized. My wife can’t even look at my desk at home. She doesn’t like it. It bothers her because she likes everything to be very neat, very organized. Anyway, enough of me and back to our dialogue.

Julio says, “A little clutter? You have junk mail from 15 years ago.” “Junk (junk) mail” is mail that is sent to you that you don’t really want or didn’t request. Julio’s mom says, “You never know when something will come in handy.” “To come in handy” (handy) means to be useful, to be something that might be helpful. “Now,” Mom says, “don’t you have some room in your garage where I can store a few extra boxes?” Julio’s mother is asking him if he can take a couple of her boxes of things and store them in his garage. “To store” as a verb means to keep something in a place until you need it sometime in the future.

Julio does not want to store any of his mother’s stuff. So, he says, “No, I don’t,” meaning no, I don’t have any room in my garage to store your boxes. A “garage” is normally a place where you put your car, but many Americans park their cars outside and put things in their garage that they want to keep but they don’t need right away. They store things in their garages.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Julio: Mom, don’t you think it’s time to get rid of some of the stuff in this house?

Mom: Why? This house is fine the way it is.

Julio: There are parts of this house that are nearly inaccessible. There are stacks of magazines and bags and boxes everywhere.

Mom: I need all that stuff. You know I’ve always been a pack rat.

Julio: I know, but I think things are getting out of hand. You have stuff on every surface and you can’t find anything in here.

Mom: You can’t find anything, but I can put my hands on anything I want at any time. I collect and keep useful things, unlike you young people these days who throw away perfectly good things just because you don’t need them this minute.

Julio: I think your hoarding is becoming compulsive.

Mom: That’s nonsense. Just because you prefer living in a sterile environment doesn’t mean I have to. I don’t mind a little clutter.

Julio: A little clutter?! You have junk mail from 15 years ago!

Mom: You never know when something will come in handy. Now, don’t you have some room in your garage where I can store a few extra boxes?

Julio: No, I don’t!

[end of dialogue]

All of our dialogues contain expressions and phrases that will come in handy in speaking English. Thank you to Dr. Lucy Tse for writing those dialogues.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2014 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
to get rid of – to give away or throw away; to make it so that one no longer has something

* When are you going to get rid of all those baby clothes? Your kids are already teenagers!

inaccessible – not able to be accessed; impossible to reach

* The earthquake caused rocks to fall, making the back of the cave inaccessible.

stack – a vertical pile; a large number of items placed on top of each other

* Her desk has three stacks: bills, correspondence, and outgoing mail.

pack rat – a person who collects many things and does not like to get rid of anything; a person who keeps almost everything

* Dmitry is a pack rat who has all the artwork and school papers he has ever done, dating back to preschool.

to get out of hand – to become uncontrollable; to become too big, challenging, or extreme to handle

* We were pleased when Bradley first started exercising, but now he’s at the gym up to six hours each day and it’s getting out of hand.

surface – the outer, usually flat side of something, such as a tabletop or a shelf

* The top surface of the desk has been painted green, but you can still see the original wood on the other side.

to put (one’s) hands on – to find and touch something; to grab something

* I know my keys are somewhere in my purse, but I can’t quite put my hands on them.

to collect – to bring together many of the same or similar items, especially when those items have some value and can be sold

* Carmine collects perfume bottles, and her brother collects matchbooks.

perfectly – entirely; completely; a word used for emphasis

* That was a perfectly good orange! Why did you throw it away?

hoarding – the practice of keeping too many things so that they begin to fill one’s home and create an uncomfortable and/or dangerous environment

* The police were shocked by the woman’s hoarding, which had filled the entire home with worthless junk.

compulsive – unable to stop doing something, especially as a result of a mental illness

* Cleo is a compulsive housekeeper who vacuums and mops at least four times per day.

sterile – very bare, clean, and empty, without any impurities (things that make a thing not pure) or unnecessary objects

* At the beginning of the school year, the classroom felt sterile, so the teacher brought in a lot of plants and hung her students’ artwork on the walls.

clutter – objects that take up a lot of space and are not stored in an organized way; disorder

* The kids’ bedroom is filled with clutter. There’s toys, books, games, and clothes everywhere.

junk mail – mail that is not requested or wanted, especially advertisements

* Usually we recycle the junk mail without even reading it first.

to come in handy – to be useful or helpful

* These flashlights and candles will come in handy during a power outage.

to store – to keep something in a place until it is needed in the future

* Where do you store flour, sugar, and other ingredients needed for baking cookies, breads, and cakes?

Comprehension Questions
1. What does Julio mean when he says, “things are getting out of hand”?
a) His mother’s habits are getting out of control.
b) His mother has more things than she can hold.
c) They don’t have enough money to buy anything else.

2. What does Mom mean when she says, “I can put my hands on anything I want at any time”?
a) She knows exactly where everything is.
b) She is still agile and able to move around freely.
c) She is capable of buying new things and bringing them home.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
perfectly

The word “perfectly,” in this podcast, means entirely or completely and is used for emphasis: “That children’s book was perfectly delightful! I wonder when they’ll make it into a movie.” The phrase “perfect timing” describes something that happened at the best possible time, or precisely when it needed to happen: “Are you home early? That’s perfect timing! Dinner is almost ready.” When one has been criticized by another person, the phrase “nobody’s perfect” is used to lessen the severity or seriousness of that criticism: “Sure, she made some mistakes, but nobody’s perfect. It could have happened to any of us.” Finally, the phrase “practice makes perfect” is used to remind people that the only way to get better at something is to try to do it many times: “Wynona spends hours practicing her violin playing, because practice makes perfect.”

to store

In this podcast, the verb “to store” means to keep something in a place until it is needed in the future: “How long can you store oil before it becomes rancid?” The phrase “in store for (someone)” means that something will happen to someone soon, or something is waiting for someone: “If you think being a parent is easy, there’s a surprise in store for you!” Or, “The boss has no idea we got a new client. We sure have some good news is store for her!” Finally, the formal phrase “to set great store by (something)” means to consider something to be very important or to have great expectations for something: “Marcus sets great store by his athletic abilities to help him succeed in life.”

Culture Note
The Collyer Brothers

In 1947, the Collyer brothers “became a household name” (became well-known and a normal topic of conversation) when they were found dead inside their home in New York City. The brothers were “obsessive” (cannot stop oneself from doing something) collectors and hoarders who had filled their home with more than 140 tons of books, furniture, instruments, and other items. They had created “tunnels” (passageways through things) that they could “crawl” (move on one’s hands and knees) through, as well as “booby traps” (a small device that surprises or harms someone who unknowingly touches it) to catch “intruders” (people who enter a building or property without permission).

In 1947, a neighbor called to complain about the smell of “decomposition” (the process through which a body breaks down after death) coming from the home. Police officers had trouble getting into the home, because there were so many things inside it. They began pulling items out of the home and, after five hours, found the body of one of the brothers, Homer Collyer. Eighteen days later, as they continued to pull items out of the home, they found the body of Langley Collyer. “Apparently” (seemingly), Langley had died when he “tripped” (activated) one of the booby traps and was “buried” (with one’s body covered by something) under the “debris” (garbage). His older brother, Homer, who was “paralyzed” (unable to move his body), apparently died of “starvation” (a lack of food to eat).

Most of the items in the home were “deemed” (determined to be) “worthless” (not able to be sold for money). The structure of the home was unsafe, so it was destroyed. Today, a “pocket park” (a very small park between buildings in large cities) stands at the “site” (location) of the “former” (no longer in existence) home.

Comprehension Answers
1 - a

2 - a