Yesterday I decided to address some “projects” that have been bugging me for
years months. Constantly nagging in the back of my mind: the guest room closets, the family room pantry, my “office,” which has clearly become a dumping ground. The need to sort these things out pops into my head on a steady basis, but then I push it aside and do something else. Yesterday, when I finally decided to tackle my office, I was feeling pretty motivated and positive. Instead, I came face to face with the shocking reality: I am a hoarder.
Maybe you’ve seen those shows (Hoarders), the ones where they send in a team and clean out a house that most of us find unfathomable. Piles of papers, magazines, newspapers towering from floor to ceiling. Collected items stockpiled and lost in the crush of more collected and forgotten items. The people for whom the interventions are planned are generally decent people who have had some kind of tragedy or hardship and then life just piled up around them, literally. Cats seem to be a general theme in these situations as well. There are almost always lots of cats… occasionally dogs. It is no joking matter, in the cases that make the airways. Lives are pretty much ruined, and need total overhaul and therapeutic intervention. I don’t intend, in any way to mock those real situations, but I admit that watching the clip above, I can see how they got there. I’m not there… yet.
However, standing in my office: the very cool space that I put together by converting a small bathroom, a section of garage and a small sliver of front porch/alcove, has become a potential hoarders den. The closets, are on their way to the same fate. I have a problem. I stood there looking at all the
crap stuff that I’ve collected, ignored, allowed to pile up, and I was totally paralyzed. I went into the room with motivation and determination to just toss stuff into the recycling bin. I thought I was ready to just let it go, the mantra I’ve been whispering to myself (and blasting in my posts) for a year now: let it go! Cue screeching tires, ’cause that just isn’t what happened. Instead, I stood there and began rationalizing all the reasons to keep things. The only things I managed to toss easily were scraps of paper and tags, from when I was gift wrapping over the holidays. The rest, I started putting in: “Keep; Donate (but to who?); Not sure; Maybe; and There must be a place for this” piles. Essentially, very little left my office. (Peanuts never get old! I can use this calendar…from 2005)
I kept looking at the piles, the clutter, and hoping that I’d have a moment of clarity and just get rid of it; like those rare but delicious moments when I go through my closet and get rid of clothes that I really don’t wear, and probably never will again. I feel such a relief when I drop off huge baskets of items to the YWCA’s Back to Work program for women, or to the men’s shelter in town. Things that are still very useable, but not being used in our house. The clutter sticks in my head. It holds me back, even when I’m not face to face with it. Those closets have been popping up for me for years! My office has been an albatross around my neck for far too long… symbolic of not letting go in general. Yet, there I stood, with these pointless piles and very little cleared away. My intentions are so good, but then I fall down a rabbit hole of indecision and rationalization as I try to let the stuff go: Maybe I’ll use those magazines for Reflections (a kid’s art program I haven’t done for the past two years). Oh! I want to read all about the 5 things I can do to de-clutter my life; I’ll keep this issue. This was my mom’s. This was my grandmother’s. Maybe someone else will want to read this? I need to keep these airline stubs, for the scrap book I will make for this trip (that I took five years ago!).
The problem is, the magazines that I’m stewing over are from 2004. Yes, you read that right, eight years ago! They are still in the plastic sleeve, and some have the reminders to renew my subscriptions! Progress: I didn’t renew. The de-clutter articles and health things I hold onto thinking I could still read them, have no doubt been replaced by much better theories and revolutions. I missed those, waiting to read these old articles. Reality: I am not a scrap booker. I love the idea, but I am not that person. A few scrap books might be appreciated by our family, or my kids one day, but really: do they want all my stuff, when they have their own homes one day? These boarding passes to Africa are not going in any album, they have just remained buried on a desk that doesn’t get used for the writing I could be doing there… but can’t because I can’t find the desk. The clothes in the closet, that I’m sure my daughter might want one day– They will be very cool vintage— may never get used, and instead are piled in a closet that I’m afraid to enter anymore. They say that if you haven’t worn it in two years, get rid of it; I have things from college! When will I ever wear Gap overalls? I shouldn’t have been wearing them when I did. Great, my mother may have knitted that silk sweater, but I didn’t like it then, and I haven’t worn it in the twenty years it’s followed me around. (I have been known to write “Save” on things, to keep others from pushing me toward sanity… Johannesberg to Dakar, who can throw that out?)
I have a much more sympathetic understanding of my mother in law, who saved everything and often passed the stuff on to us. I thought it was so ridiculous then, but I have actually caught myself thinking lately: Hmm, Principessa might want this for her apartment; Middle Man might like this vintage coat of his dads (after all Smart Guy looked pretty cool in his father’s vintage coat!). In reality, will they ever really want all of the pictures, notes and stuff that I’ve saved from their childhood? One or two items might be nice, but folders and folders of old class notes, etc? What am I really going to do with the old letters I have from high school, college, etc from friends I don’t see anymore, old loves, from a time that is long gone. Do my kids want to sort through this stuff one day? The fact that I inherited my grandmother’s pile (stuck in the office), my mother’s, and now have my own, suggests a potential vicious cycle that could poison generations to come! At this rate, I am destined to become the old aunt/mother/mother in law, who has all that crap!
<— (Perfectly good storage bins, crying out: use me, use me!) This stuff is taking up creative, psychic (don’t run away with that word, I’m not going Shirley MacClaine here…), emotional space. I know it. It’s bad emotional feng shui to have all this clutter… And while I may be able to toss around all these esoteric phrases, I’m still a pretty snarky, well grounded sarcastic chick, who knows that I just need to get my shit together. The fact that I catch myself avoiding a closet or pile, or the fact that those same things pop up in my thoughts so much, is a clear sign that I need to just jump: and get rid of it. If I haven’t opened a box since we moved, 11 years ago, chances are I don’t need what’s in there. And yet, the job seems so enormous, the mental effort so huge, that I end up paralyzed, as I was yesterday. I’ve had offers from well meaning friends to help. “Hey, I can come over and just go through your closet; I’m great at that! I love organizing.” Well meaning. However, these offers set my heart racing and cause me to sweat. This fact alone justifiably suggests that I should retract my December 3rd post: Extra! Extra! Passive-aggressive Control Freak Surrenders… and Survives to Celebrate It! I may have made some progress, but that post was definitely jumping the gun. As long as I have eight year old magazines piled up, and refuse to let anyone even take a look at the project, I think it’s fair to say that control freak still fits my profile. I’ve had a few passive-aggressive slips of late too… since I’m purging.
<— (I’m out… of the closet from hell.) So, the first step in any rehabilitative process is admitting you have a problem. Houston, I have a problem. I have trouble letting go of things… most things: Emotional or concrete. I am a boarder-line hoarder. I may not have any cats, but I’ve been wanting a second dog for a while, and clearly the signs are all over my office. The signs are piled up in storage boxes of photos that cover years and years, not in albums. The signs are abundant in an overstuffed drawer of (just) t-shirts, from every concert or cool thing I’ve done… when I don’t really wear t-shirts. Some might be vintage; they could be worth something! The signs are clear when the consignment shop refuses a pair of Ferragamo pumps, but I put them back in the closet, because these
were are worth something. The signs are in the Cape Cod sweat shirt that I never wear, but I once loved going there, so the sweat shirt still sits on a shelf in my closet. The signs are in the Transformers, children’s books, pain-your-own pottery kits, and all the other little kid stuff I still have in a closet, just in case one of my kids gets invited to a birthday party and I don’t have time to go get something, and this is on sale now… even though my youngest child is now 15 and never goes to those kind of birthday parties anymore. I love to buy storage bins, but I need to start using them. Yeah, those sandals were once my favorite, and they went to India twice and Africa once, but when they’re that ratty and torn, I imagine a sane person just throws them out. (That thought just made my pulse jump). Houston! I HAVE A PROBLEM! (“Current magazines and catalogues, circa 2011-2012)
<—(Some of these books, from one of 6 book shelves, will go to a book fair. Really.) For now, baby steps. I vow to try and put a half dozen magazines in recycling and accept that no one wants to read eight year old health advice. Dr. Oz wasn’t even around then. The ones from 2009 might still be relevant; Oz is on the cover. I vow to actually look through my books and find ten books that I know we will not read, but the book fair could actually sell (honestly). I vow to clean that office first, so that I can work in there, and then tackle the closets. I will use the organization bins I purchased, instead of putting them in said office or closet. I vow to fill two storage bins with stuff to go in the storage room we have, and then put them there. I will not adopt a second dog until the office and closets are done. Smart Guy, if you’re reading this, you can throw this one back at me, but if you mention any thing else I’ve printed here, I will go psycho on you. Instantly. I’m not kidding. Baby steps. No cats. Love them, but with my profile that seems a true sign of darker things. Houston, I have a problem, but… I am really going to work on it.
What do you struggle with? What one thing, two things, would you like to change, but feels stuck on? Do you hold on to stuff? Feelings? Do you have too many cats? Leave a comment and share your thoughts. Check out the Facebook page! I want to see that number grow.
Follow up: Before posting, I actually put all of the 2004 magazines in our recycling bin, and a few current ones, 2010. I shredded the boarding passes (except for the one to Africa). I am currently shredding 350 pgs of hand-typed (pre-computer youngins’) graduate work, with notes from professors, in my maiden name. Um, I’m pretty sure I won’t miss them, but this one was hard. And, a huge step: I put my mother’s teeth in the garbage. Thanks for all the feedback on that one. It was the right thing to do. I’m singing an optimistic song as I work. (Graduate work, en route to the shredder, to the screams from Denmark and Little Man of “Don’t do it!” I have the Masters, I don’t need the papers. Baby steps.)
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