The phrase which I have used for the title of this post is one which always intrigued me, perhaps mostly due to the fact that I grew up in a household in which various areas were “clutter zones”. This is not to say that I grew up in a messy home. My mom was actually quite tidy, and a neat freak. But I never saw more than half the surface of the dining room table, since the other half was covered with one foot high stacks of bank statements, other financial documents, greeting cards and letters from family. In like fashion, about a third of our coffee table was piled with astrology guides, tv guides, and other books which my mom was reading. Stacks of papers and magazines sat next to our living room sofa. My mom’s bedroom had banker’s boxes instead of furniture at the foot of the bed.
I also was witness to my mom’s extensive collection of jewelry and clothing. Though we had six closets, only one was filled with my clothing, while all the rest were jam-packed with my mother’s clothing. Some of the clothing had never been worn and had the price tags still attached. I admit that I knew this behavior was unusual, but I did not know how pervasive such behavior was in my mom’s family until I went to Hawaii and saw that my aunts and uncles also practiced the same behavior. Some of my relatives were so extreme in their tendency to hold onto things that they earned the label of pack rats. In fact, when one of my uncles had a severe stroke and had to be placed in a convalescent home, my cousins discovered five-foot high stacks of newspapers throughout the house in a serpentine pattern (leaving just enough room for a person to wiggle through the house), moldy food in the refrigerator, Japanese antiques which were stuffed in a room collecting dust, and a plethora of other collectibles and junk which made it next to impossible for him to use the kitchen, toilet or sleep in his bed.
When my mom became ill in 2006 and had to be placed in a convalescent home, the task of cleaning her apartment fell upon me. The enormity of sorting through all the things my mother had collected was overwhelming, and I shut down emotionally numerous times. I was shocked to find collectibles that had never been displayed, bank statements going as far back as the 1950’s, hundreds of pairs of earrings and shoes, about 150 handbags, etc. Suddenly it was left up to me to determine what items of my mom’s were worthy of being kept. Since these items could not be stored at the nursing home, they were stored in my garage and my closet. My mom still asks about her things and becomes angry if I tell her that we had to sell or give away many of the items she had collected over the decades. I did my best to keep what she deemed most valuable, either monetarily speaking or in terms of sentimental value. It always breaks my heart when I see her upset over losing her things.
My favorite aunt, two years older than my mother, was probably the worst-stricken in the family when it came to hoarding. She never had children and was a widow for 34 years when she finally passed away in 2017 at the age of 86 from ALS. Before she became ill, I remember hyperventilating upon entering her house, because the clutter was so extreme. I used to marvel at her insistence on keeping 60 plastic Smurf miniatures in her tiny bathroom, and used to wonder why she had a collection of about 200 plastic food storage containers when she lived alone. My aunt’s collections were numerous and extensive.
If you have ever tuned into the show “Hoarders” you would get a sense of what my aunt’s environment was like. My aunt’s belongings swallowed up her living space so severely that she was unable to stretch out on her bed, and could barely get to her toilet because there was so much junk in the bathroom. My aunt didn’t have access to her front door for over ten years because she had so much junk stacked up in front of it. Instead, she used the side door leading out from the kitchen to access her residence.
In January of this year I had to move from a place I had been in for close to six years. Though I have gone through my entire adult life very successfully squashing any hoarding tendencies that may be hidden in my genetic makeup, I had still acquired many things over the years. Once I was in the new place and had to sort through everything, I was ready to enter full purge mode, and got rid of a lot of things I no longer needed, and it felt FANTASTIC. That is saying a lot since I go through the bulk of my belongings three to four times a year and perform regular purges.
When it comes to your belongings, don’t allow yourself to become encumbered by them. Don’t hold onto feelings of guilt. If you haven’t used something in a while and it is collecting dust, get rid of it. There is probably someone out there who will use it and will appreciate it. If there is something you haven’t used or worn because you are waiting for the right occasion, either USE IT or let it go! I used to frequently argue with my mom about our differing philosophies about objects. She always told me I was hard on things. Scratches on my watches and my shoes were deemed by my mom to be marks of carelessness, when in contrast, my mom sequestered similar items in boxes and tissue paper for decades, never to be worn or used, in a static, pristine state and hidden under a bed or a drawer. I will continue to use the things I possess and will not worry about wear and tear. I will also make sure that tables and all the living areas of my house serve only their intended purposes, and that my storage areas never get to the point where they are overflowing.
If you know a hoarder, please GET HELP. http://hoardershelp.org/