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My Mom Was a Food Hoarder

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I grew up with two refrigerators and three freezers consistently stocked with 27 bars of Philadelphia cream cheese and 10 half gallons of Breyers ice cream.

There were also eight containers of cottage cheese, a 64-ounce jar of mayonnaise, six jars of pickles, nine salamis (plus the three hanging in the pantry), a sleeve of 96 slices of Kraft Velveeta, assorted bags of Lender’s Bagels, seven varieties of mustard, five boxes of Tastykakes and 14 cans of frozen orange juice. I’m barely exaggerating here. This was for a family of five.

That’s not the end of it. There was a small Keebler Elf warehouse on one side of the walk-in pantry and 22 cans of tuna facing three dozen packages of cake mix with coordinating cans of icing on the other. Stacks of cans doubled as step stools to “get to the back.”

I don’t believe expiration dates mattered much to my mom. After all, “if it was good when she bought it, it was good now.” Bottles of soda lined the pantry, overflow from the 10 cases kept in the garage. There was also food we were not permitted to eat because it was being saved for an emergency.

Sound familiar, anyone?

Supermarket shopping with my mother was quite an experience.

We were schlepped to at least three local markets— always on a Wednesday. This did not include the Jewish delicatessen on the way to my grandmother’s house which was a good forty minutes away. Each market had their specialty, so the task of figuring out where to go was determined by the weekly circular and the stacks of coupons neatly clipped and allocated to category-specific envelopes.

My brother and sister and I pushed separate carts so multiples of coupons designating one per customer could be doled out to each of us. We were not allowed to make eye contact with my mom, because God forbid the supermarket manager would figure out what she was up to. Although I highly doubt anyone believed a 7-year-old had a stack of coupons and a few twenties in her pocket. Yes, four carts of food.

Buy one get one free became buy four get four free which is probably how we wound up with 27 packages of cream cheese in the first place.

Growing up, I assumed my mother’s behavior was “crazy.” Now, I believe it was hoarding. Personality profiles of hoarders directly point to perfectionism, overcoming stressful childhood events, fear of not having enough, excessive shopping urges, psychological attachments to items, and, lucky for me, strong genetic links.

In part, I think my mother’s insane shopping habits were also due to a Depression Era mentality. After all, when we cleaned out my grandfather’s house after he died, the surplus of bomb shelter essentials were still intact. Coffee and canned goods were stockpiled high and around the mildew laced cellar. This was done with organization and care 30 years earlier, but left wasted and unusable to the generation saddled with the task of disposing it.

I suppose it was a way of life back then. To always be prepared. It must be that same mentality that compels us to buy numerous loaves of rye bread when snow is forecasted.

As a single mom raising two children, I vowed not to repeat the Wednesday Tour de Supermarkets of my youth. Working full time ensured that I never was able to. But as it had for my mom, coupon clipping became an art complete with color coded paper clips and envelopes. However, when the cashier rang up the total, I began counting loose change and putting food back, this time avoiding eye contact to hide the guilt of knowing my coupons were expired.

For me, “the buy one get one” deals were courted out of desperation and necessity, not a high five score of how much I can fit in my cart.

Supermarket shopping has taken on a new place in my life now—a nonexistent one. My significant other owns a family supermarket. Talk about Karma. Every afternoon, he calls, I read my list, and two hours later (take that Amazon Prime) everything is in my house, put away, with nary a coupon or crumpled dollar bill in sight.

There is no thrill of a “buy one get one free” offer. I am instructed to order only what we need today – not next week, not for an emergency, not even for the twelve inches of impending snow. If I order an apple, I get an apple. Not two, or three or God forbid, an assortment of fruit to put in a bowl on the counter.

I often complain that I miss shopping, that I don’t open the refrigerator to a full buffet of choices, that I don’t know about the new cookie Pepperidge Farm has baked because I don’t get to peruse the aisles, insatiably hungry, seeing which flavor is valid with my bonus card discount.

But I know better than to look my grocery gift horse in the mouth. I no longer need to load groceries into my car in the rain, or decide which is more cost efficient, the six or the eight pack of toilet paper. My coupon clipping is reserved for my grown children who undoubtedly roll their eyes, and toss them in the trash when I’m not looking.

Today, I only have one refrigerator and freezer. It is not neatly organized like a television cooking show, but everything is fresh. Nothing is wasted. It is a beautiful thing.

Except, we are out of cream cheese.


here now
This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.


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