Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Conquering My Home, One Room at a Time

Hmm, maybe "conquering" is too strong of a word.  How about "taming"?  "Domesticating"? 

Anyway, I've always been a clutter bug.  My school desk or locker was often alarming.  My family witnessed me sleeping on a bed half covered with possessions.  Doesn't everyone sleep with old school assignments, binders, rocks, stuffed animals, books, and dirty clothes?  Just my ten-year-old self?  Right...

I've been coming to terms with my near-hoarding tendencies.  And, yeah, that's a self-diagnosed term, but I read a book on hoarding, and while I don't have a home filled to the brim with everything I do have a lot of anxiety when it comes to chucking, well, anything.  And reading one book makes me an expert.

Besides, I believe I come from a short (maybe longer, but I only observed two generations) line of hoarders.  My paternal grandparents lived through the Great Depression and could never face going without again.  Therefore they saved everything.  I remember as a child going to help the entire extended family clear out my grandparents home and property because they had to move.  It was...disturbing.  You name it, they probably had it.  Piles stacked near the ceiling, trails to reach their rooms.  Their home was a fire trap and I'm grateful that things didn't end up that way.  They even kept their clutter with them, in any car they used or in bags hanging from my grandmother's wheelchair.  My grandmother was diabetic and they re-used her needles until they were blunt, and sometimes (if memory serves me right) sharpened them.  And (again, hopefully my memory is correct) they didn't really have a shortage of needles.  But there was always the pervasiveness of "not-having" due to their, well, not having during the Depression.

My father grew up in this "Must not waste!" environment.  Everything had it's uses and value.  What if he needed it someday and the store had run out?  What if he had no money?  Safer to save than to go without something important.  So my father collects every usable thing.  Multiple coffee cans filled with nuts, bolts, and other fasteners?  Check.  Car parts?  Check.  Fifty sets of skis?  Check.  An enormous garage filled with stuff?  Yup.  A vast amount of property with possessions strewn about?  You betcha.  So much saving and hoarding, anxiety and fear.  Fear of wasting.  Fear of not-having.

This angst over tossing things was passed onto me.  My dad would sometimes not even allows us to throw out something of ours.  To illustrate the point here is a pretty typical experience.  It was spring and the family decided to clear out some unneeded things.  Among all the objects that landed in the garbage bin was a little woven basket.  When my father came home from work he looked in the bin and pulled out this basket.  He came in the house and admonished us for throwing out something so useful.  "Who threw this away, this little basket?  I can't remember how many times I've heard someone needing a little basket, and here someone threw this away."  The basket was returned to the offender and is probably still packed away in their junk.

As a side note, if The Hubby or I are having a hard time deciding on our belongings, all one of us has to do is mention the little basket and it helps us get out of the rut of, "What if I need this someday!!??"  Useful phrase to have around.

My mother has a different kind of stockpiling situation.  She does hold onto things that have usefulness, but they are usually purchased items destined for a particular project or event.  However, my mother does seem to have issues with sentimentalism.  It's like she fears forgetting memories if she doesn't have a physical object to trace them.  After my wedding my mom gave me box after box of school work, art, notes, toys, and other items that were once in my ownership or created by me.  A lot of it was stored by me, but it was encouraged by my mother's questions, "Are you sure you want to get rid of that?  What if your kids would enjoy looking at it?  What if you want to remember *insert event here*?"  A different kind of fear, the fear of loss.  The fear of letting go of the past, of forgetting.  Of giving yourself permission to forget.

So, two different hoarding heritages, uniting in one person:  me.  I have a very hard time letting go of anything useful or sentimental.  Scraps of fabric?  I could use those!  Objects that bring back painful memories?  What if I forget the lessons involved?  Anything connected to my children?  What if they resent me for disposing of it?  Something of monetary value that I do not value?  I could sell that...someday.  Gifts given to me that aren't a good fit?  But they thought of me!  Tangible evidence!

Right.  I have so much stuff.  Junk.  Trash.  And it's kind of ironic that I own so much clutter, because when I think of my ideal home I imagine houses like these:

Warm.  Airy.  Light.  Minimalistic to a large extent.  Uncluttered.  Roomy.  Only the necessary and beautiful things.  Only the things that elicit happy memories.  An embodiment of who I am, not who I was.  Focusing more on quality than quantity, and only keeping enough.  Being happy with less, realizing that having more actually makes me feel more stressed and anxious.

So I've been de-cluttering.  Many things make it to the local charity thrift shop.  Many things get tossed.  Some things were sold.  Many vital but currently unused items are being systematically stored.

I've found the process to be similar to a fever.  I have to contemplate a specific area, recently the coat closet.  I peek in it, assess the belongings, and ruminate.  I methodically examine each item in my mind, asking the pertinent questions:  Is this vital?  Is it beautiful?  Does it evoke happiness?  Do I already have one?  The internal agitation grows, roiling energy and anticipation through me until the fever breaks.  Instead of shivering and sweating I'm purging and organizing.  Ruthlessly.  I immediately take the trash out to the bin or recycling, the donate-able goods out to our bike trailer to drop off, and the items for deep storage into the garage.  Then I stand back and soak in the loveliness.  Space.  Breathing room.  Positive energy only.  I'm well again.  Until I find another spot that's ready for cleansing, and then I start all over.

I've done well.  And I'll be posting more about it in the future.  But for now I will tell you of my simple but astounding success.  And, again, those that know me best will understand why I consider this amazing.

With the help of BuggaBoo and Doozer we have cleaned BuggaBoo's room every night for a month.  A month.  It helped that we have partially gone through what we store in his room, throwing out or moving what doesn't belong and giving homes to the things that do.  I have been calmer knowing we will wake up to a cleaner space.  BuggaBoo and Doozer are happier knowing they'll have a place to play or escape as they need.  And I'm finding as these nightly cleanings become ritual I'm able to progress to other parts of the household.  It is too soon to proclaim it a habit yet, but the sink has been empty of dishes two nights in a row.  And those who really know me know how much I hate dishes.

The most amazing part to me was what ignited the transformation.  For years I've felt guilty for being a poor housekeeper.  I thought I was lazy, too distracted, not motherly enough.  I had felt judged and found wanting.  I had never grown up from my young self sleeping with my hoard.

It took me getting away from that to change.  The guilt didn't make me keep my house clean, it made me feel like a horrible person.  It was reenforcing my worthlessness.  It reminded me that I was lacking, not complete, not a person.  I had to realize that I am complete, exactly how I am today.  How clean my home is will not be a reflection on my worth.  My achievements are not me.  I am already whole. 

At the same time, for me to be able to let go of the object weighing me down, I have to give myself permission.  Permission to throw away useless things.  Permission to pass on useful things to others.  Permission to have faith in the availability of things.  Permission to forget.  Permission to give up potential.  Permission to appreciate people as they are now, not as they were.  Permission to enjoy moments instead of cataloging them.  Permission to grow and change.

Giving up my hoard is allowing me to change, to become a different person, because it will not anchor me in the past anymore.  Instead, I will fly.


  1. Good for you! I'm getting better too. As I continue to go through all the boxes of stuff I'm getting rid of so much and it feels good. Yes, finally parting with all the stuffed animals from everyone's childhood was a bit traumatic, but taking the pictures of them all cozied up on the couch still invokes the memory. And that's good enough. What I've discovered is that my memories aren't necessarily my children's memories - so why hang on to something they don't even remember. As I've been going through school work I'm just taking pictures of the construction paper art - journaling a bit about it and in the garbage it goes. Yes, it feels like I'm somehow throwing a part of my child's life away, but the picture and the journal entry are good enough. I'm getting better right along with you; and you've been helping me in that journey. Thanks for teaching your mother some new tricks! Love you!

  2. This is awesome Krista! A MONTH! Aaaand dishes for two nights in a row!! I'm celebrating with you! So proud of you love!

  3. You inspired me! I went through all the kitchen utensils on the counter, and weeded out about half. I only need one grater. How many spatulas does one need. After all if you find yourself in need of one, you can always go to spatula city! I think I will take your path and concentrate on one thing at a time. I did put all the left over cooking things in a plastic bag in the garage and will donate them as soon as possible. Thanks for the kick in the pants.