I spent last week off of work on Spring Break and ended up cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. I am in a MAJOR cleaning mode, just plowing through stuff. I am so sick of the clutter in our house. I am famous for having stuff. When we were in the process of buying our house, every time we showed a new family member they would inevitably comment about how the three cubbies would be good for all of my stuff. Our Realtor finally asked me how much stuff I had since everyone commented on it.
I’m a borderline hoarder, if I’m being honest. I read an article in Parade Magazine that caught my attention about 5 years ago (September 2005) called Are You A Pack Rat?. I was the definition of a Pack Rat. As I read the article, it became apparent that I was hovering on the line between Pack Rat and Hoarder. As I looked around my house, I saw stuff. Too much stuff. Now, it was not piled to the ceiling, or in mountains that were dangerous for my son, who was then just 2, but it was too much. I was at a cross roads. Either continue down the path of accumulating more, or start purging.
This article came out right before I had my first miscarriage and not long after I struggled through a period of depression. All of this made it hard for me to get through the everyday stuff, so the house, and all of the stuff, just sort of stayed. We lived around it. We shoved it into boxes in a mad dash before people came over and pushed it into another room. We were able to present our home nicely when needed, but not without warning and a room off limits. It was embarrassing, but I wasn’t able to deal with it just yet.
Things started to change for me when we went on vacation in September of 2006. We rented a beach house on the Outer Banks in North Carolina and it was lovely. It was clean. Because we didn’t live there, we didn’t have stuff everywhere. There was a clutter-free living space, a kitchen that had room for us to cook in, a table that didn’t need cleared off just to eat at. It may seem obvious, but it was an eye opener for me because I had lived with my stuff for so long, I didn’t realize how nice it was to live without all of the stuff. I loved it. I came home and started getting rid of stuff. I donated at least 10 car loads to Goodwill. I threw stuff away. It was a dent, but it was a good start.
Not long after our vacation I had a second miscarriage. This one was harder for a number of reasons, but a few months later I became pregnant with Sassafras. Being pregnant and having a new baby are times when you just get through every day the best you can. The hardest thing, as far as the stuff, is that babies need it. I had kept everything that was Buddy’s, then got new girl things. The baby stuff, as it tends to do for everyone, overtook the house. But When Sass was 1 we purged. We didn’t need the swing, the baby exersaucer, the under-12 months clothes, my maternity clothes. We were pretty sure we were done having kids, so we had a huge yard sale and passed the stuff on. I purged my huge crafts collection. I let go of 90% of my scrapbooking stuff because I simply didn’t have time to use it. It felt great! The rest went to Goodwill.
As my kids have gotten older, I’ve passed their things on to friends and family or donated them to Goodwill. You see, I feel a responsibility towards the items. My husband would just as easily throw it away, but I can’t throw away something someone else can use. Why not pass it on or donate it if it’s still useful? This is a classic hoarding symptom. The anxiety I feel when getting rid of something is real, but for me it’s not debilitating. I am also able to easily toss trash, whereas some hoarders can’t do that so easily. They can’t pass items on or donate them. It’s something I have certainly gotten much better at. I can be honest when I tell you that walking into a clean room and not having to deal with the stress of so much stuff has been so freeing, it makes it easier to get rid of stuff. I used to worry that I would need it, but then I wouldn’t be able to find it and end up buying another one anyway, then having to store 2.
Last week I went through my books and magazines. I used to keep every magazine – in case I would need it. Then I started keeping only the crafts and decorating ones. Now, I tear out the articles I like and store them in labeled binders, then recycle the rest of the magazine. I spent hours last week going through probably 50 magazines. My husband didn’t understand why I wouldn’t just toss them, but I needed to go through them and make sure I didn’t toss anything I’d need. Yes, I realize that I would be able to find most of those things online, but there were some articles that I am really glad I have, and now they’re organized. It’s easy to grab my Decorating binder and flip through it for ideas – not just any ideas, but things that I already like. I cleared off two shelves, which now hold puzzles and games. I set up a table for the kids to play them on, which they love. I moved some things around the living and dining rooms. And, perhaps most importantly, I got rid of the clutter. And I am trying really, really hard to keep it that way.
My biggest challenge is mail and incoming papers (from school day care, etc.). So far my organizational attempts at getting this under control have failed. But I’m not giving up. I am continuing to make improvements. I still have three rooms to get under control: our bedroom/closet, Buddy’s bedroom which was sort of a dumping ground before we moved him into it, so a wall in his room is our stuff), and my craft/laundry room. We’re on the right path. I actually see an end in sight, a light at the end of the tunnel. I want a home that I can be comfortable in, that doesn’t stress me out because it is always messy. I want my kids to grow up in an environment that is a good model for them. I want to be a good example for them.
If you’re not sure if you have a problem with stuff, then use this checklist from the Parade Magazine article:
- An excessive amount of clutter that limits living space.
- Difficulty categorizing and organizing items.
- Holding onto possessions that seem of little or no value.
- Severe anxiety when trying to throw out an object.
- Trouble making decisions about possessions.
- Feeling anxious, embarrassed or depressed because of clutter.
- Fears about needing items that could be thrown away.
Any of this sound familiar? I can tell you that when I read this article, I could relate to almost all of these. I watch the show Hoarding: Buried Alive and I can relate to the hoarders. I understand what they feel when they see their items going out the door. I can relate to them feeling like it’s hopeless, that it will never get better. It’s an awful place to be, living around your belongings. I am so thankful that I recognized my problems before they got out of control, before I put my possessions above my family, before it became so bad it became a barrier between me and my friends and family, before it ruined my marriage (which it would have, eventually).
If this checklist is familiar, if you look around your house and can’t see the table, the floor, the furniture, your children, because of all of the stuff, if you have pathways through rooms, then you need help. If you’re like me you need a place to start. I really like Fly Lady. She’s a true inspiration. I’ve read her book, visited her website and I listen to her podcast occasionally. If you need more help than what you can do on your own, see your doctor. When I was depressed, the hardest thing for me was telling someone. But I finally told my doctor (OK, my husband dragged me, but the point is, I did it). It was the best thing, because I got the help I needed. So ask for help. Your life can be whatever you want it to be. I have had to work towards the life I want. It has taken years and I am still working towards it, but it can be done.