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…

Hoarding rationalization

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. 😉

24 thoughts on “Hoardzilla

  1. Oh, I just remembered- there’s a website- http://www.stickk.com/ -where you can set up a goal and stakes- like “Every time I smoke a cigarette, I will give $10 to the Westboro Baptist Church” or “Every week I do not get rid of X boxes of stuff, I will give $Y to Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS”. It’s received a lot of good press, and puts a self-imposed pressure on you with a real cost of the action you want to modify. It also has support for a “referee” who can verify if you have or have not done the action that’s relevant. You can pick your cause- whether it’s something you agree with, have small issues with but kinda support, or absolutely loathe. Picking something you loathe to receive your money kicks it from “paying for the action” to “actively working against myself” and has been shown to have good results, but as that might be a bit much, paying for the action may be enough.

  2. It still bothers me to this day (thank you for reminding me yet again) all the stuff (some fairly valuable today) that I lost when I moved out…hmmm, I wonder if that’s where I developed MY penchant for hoarding??!
    Although Nancy may give me a hard time, you know that you can store a modest amount of any really valuable stuffs at my place. Lord knows I never throw anything out!!

  3. i like your idea to begin de-hoarding. your hubby is a good sport to allow our involvement. i’m looking forward helping if i can. from your first pic you asked about the mattress. yes to dog bed(s). great idea. hubby can do that one. Re the lamp…i couldn’t see it very well but i’m thinking either get an electrician to fix it, or ‘plant’ it somewhere outside and hang a candle in a jar from it. Keep the wedding dress. sounds like there are many items of less sentimentality to consider for new homes. Linda

  4. Marla,
    I am catching up on your blog. Thanks for sharing as there is alot of helpful information and websites that your friends have posted. I also have stuff that I need to get rid of!!! If I can be of any help please let me know!

    Miss ya! Amy

  5. Louelle, thank you so much for replying and for these incredible insight and understanding about my genealogy items. These are very smart suggestions and I’m glad you agree about those shows dismissing and discarding to the extreme. I think they like to sensationalize by making the people break down and cry, and that’s the surest way to do it.

    I am growing more and more confident with all of these comments and suggestions. It feels like there is so much more support and understanding for how difficult this process is than I ever realized, and I’m so glad everyone took the time to give input.

    Please feel free to continue giving input as the process goes on.

  6. For all your genealogy stuff, can I suggest as you find the letters and other flat objects, scan them into your computer and then put them into a nice scrapbook. Possibly start with a filing cabinet until you are done finding all of them so that you can sort them by years and keep them together. As for journals and any other types of book type stuff. KEEP. Find a nice book shelf where you can start making books of all this stuff and keep organized so you can always find them. There is nothing that makes me more upset than seeing those awesome old photos in antique stores and flea markets.

    I am actually in the process of getting copies of all the old photos from my family I can. I don’t have many and my family keeps dying off so I’m not going to have anything to show my kids someday. My mother-in-law keeps photo albums lined up on an old tv stand and each photo album is labeled with the year(s) and most photos (or groups) are labeled throughout the book with tape. Simple, but great to look through.

    If you have old slides or negatives, I will highly recommend this item. or something like it. http://www.amazon.com/Wolverine-Digital-Converter-2-4-Inch-TV-Out/dp/B002TKMG92/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1326681002&sr=8-6
    We got ours for much cheaper, but just make sure you read reviews because they aren’t all good.

    I would recommend making a digital backup of everything because it doesn’t take up room and you never know what could happen to originals. You could then burn the digital photos onto CD or DVD and keep with the albums. That leaves you with 3 copies of most items. You could also turn those digital copies into professional books later on with a site like mixbook.com, blurb.com, etc but that takes a lot of time and money so that would be something you could do later down the road if you have the time, money, and/or desire.

    IF it is bulky and takes up a lot of room then consider taking a photo and donating or giving away to someone who would enjoy it but books do not take a lot of space.

    My husband and I have also been in the process of converting old film reels (his family) and VHS (mostly mine) to DVD since it’s getting harder and harder to find ways to view those media types plus film deteriorates over time. On another plus side, DVD’s also take up less room.

    I think it’s awesome that you are doing this on your own. Those hoarding shows tend to make people toss stuff that they don’t want to get rid of. I think you can do this. Ernest has some great ideas and I’d love to help if I can. Good luck.

  7. Hiya, Marla. =) I’ll follow along and I’ll give my input on stuff in general. If there’s anything that comes up that I actually know anything about, I’ll definitely put in. I will also argue with you about how I’m right and you’re wrong, and you should just __ (insert action)__ with/the __(insert item)__. 😉

    As for the picture (suggestions based on the rationalization aspect): 1) carpet: rationalization fail. It would succeed if you didn’t have the hoarding trouble, but as is, get rid of it. 2) Keep the wedding dress…for now. 3) The lamp and the mattress fall into the same category. If you’re going to fix up the lamp or make the mattress into a dog bed within the next two months (you’re a busy person), then put those things on the list-of-things-to-do and do them. If you don’t get them done in two months, get rid of them.

    Here is a short, hopefully not too distracting list of donation links that might be useful for the carpet, lamp, and mattress: http://pittsburgh.about.com/od/charity/tp/donate.htm

    1. Thanks Kris. I really appreciate it, AND I appreciate your sass. It’s good for me to have voices of reason whilst living in the insanity of myself. 😉

      This is really exciting and I’m going to have to be careful how much time I apply to this so I make sure I still graduate, haha.

      That list is very helpful. I’m going to print and put on the fridge.

      I think you should write a horror blog and then I can follow it.

      1. I would say this: don’t expect to get this done before graduating. In fact, I’d take it easy with this until you’ve graduated, if that’s possible. Getting your thesis done and keeping up with your classes is already a *lot* of work–adding the stress of a serious de-hoarding project might only aggravate things at home. I would take it slow, do only what you can do, and don’t let it interfere with graduating. That stuff will still be there waiting for you to de-clutter it once you’ve gotten you expensive little piece of paper. 😉

        Also, I actually had a mildly successful zombie-related blog a handful of years ago. There are about a zillion horror blogs out there and it is *way* too much work to keep it up (if one wants to be anything more than just one of many horror bloggers). =) Don’t worry–once I get a project rolling, I’ll probably blog it. =)

  8. Hi Marla: My thoughts pertain to organizing and sustaining your effort. I suggest doing the following:

    1) Create categories you can live with – GIVE (however you define that)- SELL – UNDECIDED – KEEP.
    For GIVE items, move to designated area and set a time limit for the stuff to physically exit your house ( 7 days?).
    For SELL items, move to designated area and set time limit to post ad, etc. and goal for sale (7/30?).
    For UNDECIDED items, move to a designated space. Establish time limit to decide (14 days?)
    For KEEP items, move to a designated space or absorb into household.

    PS: If you’re keeping more than tossing then you’re not getting the job done.

    2) Going through stuff takes lots of energy, so you might establish a schedule to get it done (e.g. work on it once/twice a week for so many hours).

    3) Sustained effort requires some appreciation of progress, so:
    If feasible, clear one room entirely before beginning another. Take pictures of empty room (post!).
    If possible start with the easiest things.
    Save receipts for donated things and review when feeling down…


    1. Hi Ernest, these are great suggestions, thank you! I especially love having the receipts available to review, to remind me of why I’ve done the donations and keep me from missing all the “stuff.”
      I saw you have a blog, so I’m following you now – looking forward to reading more of Witness in Writing!
      Those time limits are a smart idea too, because I know I’ve tried putting stuff in piles of “to-do” etc., but then didn’t follow through.

  9. I am conquering some of the same demons. I don’t have as much because my husband doesn’t get it, he just pitches things. It is hard, but I’m slowly bringing my house around. I’ve been sorting, purging and organizing for weeks and almost have my bedroom where I want it until the weather warms up this summer and I can paint. I feel your pain, except it effects my kids too. Makes me feel like a horrible mom.

    1. It really is amazing how much we are all in similar situations when we put ourselves out there. You are a wonderful mom, I’m sure. I read an article recently that said no matter what you do, your kids will be messed up. Sounds depressing at first, but I think the point is that there is no such thing as perfect parenting.

      I’ve been trying to change my own mindset to think it’s the journey, the effort, that matters the most anyway, not the end result or the perfection we will never really achieve.

      And even if it impacts the kids a little bit, it will make them more interesting adults 😉

      Thanks for your comment, Carrie and thanks for sharing. I hope you’ll keep following and posting about your own successes!!

  10. Oh Marla……I will be following along and trying to help if there is any way that I can. I do a little ebay and know the values of some sorts of things, so I will let you know if I see anything that I know the value of. Unfortunately, I also have trouble with “keeping” a lot of things that I don’t need; thus creating a bunch of disorganized junk in my house. But I am not organized about it like your photo shows. I just have crap everywhere in the garage and all kinds of hiding spaces. Love you, girl. Hugs.

    1. Hello Mon! Thanks so much for following along and especially for commenting. It makes a difference to know that all of you are here with me, even if you aren’t sure what advice to give. Sometimes just bouncing these things off fellow clutterbugs is enough to help me figure things out.
      Thanks for the organized comment. I started in the basement because it’s the most organized of the stuff. You’ll notice when I start into other rooms, it’s unfortunately just piles of mess. Kurt is mortified people are going to see the insanity that is our house, but he says if I think it will help, he’ll just pretend he doesn’t know that our friends and complete strangers are seeing our innards. 😉
      Here’s to my mess seeing the light of day helping us all.

  11. I am super excited for this new adventure you are about to take! Maybe a little scary, but you can do this! I LOVE going through boxes of “STUFF”. If we go through YOURS, I can forget about mine until my attic warms up a little! I look forward to your adventure & hope I can be somewhat helpful! 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Mishelle! I am excited and nervous. I do hope that others will find it interesting and maybe helpful as a vicarious process. Please feel free to keep commenting and sharing any of your own adventures if it warms up enough to begin!

  12. Thanks guys! Alyssa – we will go through it together then!
    Athena – thanks. I signed up. Step 1 accomplished. {pauses, drags feet, frets over step 2…}

  13. You can do it! Have you signed up for freecycle yet? Their mission is to keep things out of the landfills. People will take anything and everything. Like for example, someone out there might know how to fix that antique lamp, so they would come take it off your hands for you.

    hope that helps!

  14. I think my obsession with keeping things will be detrimental input…as I’ve rationalized the need to keep each of the items you’ve noted…so I’ll enjoy the journey and hope for some motivation to get my household into a lean, fabulous organized machine. 🙂 Love your blogs.

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