I’ve been hiding a secret. No, not that one. Not that one either. And some of you already know it: I have OCD. I’m not to some incredulous extent. I don’t have to touch every post I walk past or avoid certain sidewalks, but I do have some strange quirks only Kurt gets to endure, and some traits common and mild, but overall, they put me somewhere about the middle of the scale. Not crippling, but definitely inhibiting enough to alter having people at our house, using all of our home and generally impacting our lives in an ongoing negative and stressful way. In my case it is a constant struggle against an all-or-nothing mindset, against excess and deprivation. I do some funky oddities, like counting swallows when I drink – there, are you entertained? But hand-in-hand with OCD, though still arguable on whether or not it’s a trait of OCD or a separate disorder (cuz yeah, I really need two) is my problem as a hoarder.
Here is a glimpse of one small section of my basement, and a tiny peek at the mentality which goes into hoarding… As I open boxes, I will explain why each of the items have been kept and ask for input…
I’m sorry to shock you if you’re in the group who has been recipient to my powers of organization in the past, because it really is a polarization. If I commit to something for other people, I hyper-organize, pre-plan my pre-planning and obsess every little detail to make sure it’s as perfect as I can make it. You might now also understand why I try to be as noncommittal as possible.
I did a rough count. I have between 500-1000 boxes covering several rooms of our house. We use our bedroom, great room, kitchen and bathroom. The office, spare bedroom and loft are unusable due to “stuff.” The attic and basement are beyond full.
Recently, I had a mini revelation. In the early 80s, after my dad left and before he died, he wrote me letters from the places he lived. Those letters have been buried somewhere in a box for decades. I miss him and would like to read them, but I don’t have the slightest idea of which box or even type of box I will find them in. I don’t even know if they have survived the red squirrel raids from when we lived in Aliquippa, or the mouse raids if we don’t keep up on attic traps here. In assigning importance to everything over a lifetime, I have lost the types of things which are truly important, like those letters from Dad.
Help me. If you obsess over old junk, genealogical items, old photographs, collectibles, and old books or just enjoy the writhing of misery as another hoarder is forced to unload 41 years of collected memories, then you’re going to love this. If you are eco-minded and agree with my need to do this in a way that doesn’t result in a landfill of horrors, then you are my ideal de-hoard helper. If you are fascinated by seeing someone come across boxes of items, new with tags still on them, stay tuned, because that will also happen.
Because of our traveling lifestyle and because of that other thing, the thing we don’t talk about, we need to have a usable house that others can live in while we’re away. This doesn’t work if it’s floor-to-ceiling boxes of anything and everything. We will still need to store some essentials and important items while we’re on various assignments, but we can’t afford, physically or emotionally to keep keeping ALL THIS STUFF! My poor Kurt, my wonderful, sane husband only collects goodwill wherever he goes. He has never asked me to part with one single item, but I know this will take as much stress off him as it will me…eventually.
So here’s my plan. I’m going to start with one room at a time, take a photo of the room, and then open one or two boxes per day (the majority of my day has to go to completing my master’s degree so I have to keep this to a minimum).
I’m going to blog about what’s in each box (with pictures) and get input (from you, hopefully) on what to do with them. Remember, the goal is no landfill so I need lots of suggestions on how to re-use and recycle items, and what groups or individuals might make use of things we would normally throw away. And please give specifics. It doesn’t help to just refer me to a general site on repurposing things. That’s part of what stalls my progress in the first place – I am easily caught up and lost for hours in researching and studying and planning things instead of just doing so the less I am left to peruse those sites myself, the better. I am a compulsive buyer of gifts for others, so we will also come across boxes of items meant for friends or family, things which weren’t given to them because they would become lost before the next birthday or holiday rolled around.
I thought about contacting one of those hoarding shows, but frankly, it doesn’t seem like the organizers give two shits about the environmental impact of garbage, or know one shit about the value some older items.
Here are my “issues” when it comes to all the boxes we will open:
1. I hate adding to landfills when there might be another use for something. All my eco-friends – please let me know how to re-use or recycle as often as possible.
2. If I invested time and money in obtaining something, I would like to be able to get something out of it, so those of you with any knowledge of ebay or antiques or collectibles, please put in your 2, 4, 6 or 10 cents!
3. I am not going to stop enjoying giving gifts to friends, so maybe I’m going to need a system for this. Yeah, yeah. I know I need to cut down on buying gifts for others, but for the gifts I’ve already bought, how do I make a system to ensure they get their gifts without them disappearing again into the fray?
4. I don’t mind donating, but I also don’t mind taking a tax deduction for those things when I can, so be thinking of smart places for the donations instead of just a general goodwill “dump” site – because again, I’ve heard horror stories of things just getting pitched instead of used. So, for example, I’d like to donate audio cd’s to places that will use them most and that I can deduct when possible.
5. This should probably have come earlier because it’s the most important of all – I have tons of genealogy stuff – both mine and boxes of others for the next book on the Work family. I need good ideas for sorting, saving and etc. the myriad of papers, letters and journals we’ll come across. I did read something recently in a magazine that you should take a photograph of yourself holding an important memory item and then donate or discard it. That seems smart but not sure it’s ideal and how permanent are photos or digital archives anyway? Hmmm – #5 might be the most difficult of all.
To understand more about what OCD really is, or to understand hoarders in your life, here’s a link which might help: http://www.ocfoundation.org/hoarding/ In my case, I have only ever figured out one trigger to explain my extreme behavior. If you didn’t clean up your room, Mom would go through it with a garbage bag and get rid of whatever wasn’t cleaned up. When my older brother left home, all the things he left behind were packed in garbage bags and tossed out. When Mom decided we were old enough to be done playing with my great-grandmothers’ dresses in the attic, those antique cinderella ball gowns made of lace and chinoline that hooped at the waist went into a garbage bag and out the door.
Knowing your trigger doesn’t change your habits. I believe practice does.
I have no idea whether or not this will work. I am hoping enough of you can engage and give feedback and we’ll figure this out together. I know I will be resistant to suggestion, but I’m putting it out there, so I’m ready to try. Maybe you will even be here with me when I finally find those long lost letters from Dad.
If you’re willing to help, get started by giving me feedback on my first photograph above. In it, I’ve put a few notes about some larger items in the basement. What do you think about my rationalization? What suggestions would you give for changing my mindset?
P.S. Books are somewhat sacred, and don’t even think about asking me to share any of my McSweeney’s. 😉