Besides my coffee and doughnuts this morning (doughnuts are more rare now, but coffee is my morning thing), I’ve been trying to cope with our youngest daughter Leah moving out last weekend by a 5-day frenzy of cleaning, organizing, and decluttering.
I guess I’m doing this to grieve empty nest. But there is something savagely satisfying to me about giving or throwing things away. My husband Ray, who is a hoarder (although not as severe as those on the TV show) just doesn’t get this.
He keeps everything; it has gotten worse every year, and it has caused strife for the 26 years of our marriage. It makes me feel claustrophobic and suffocated, and makes me want to run away to the beach.
Not that I need an excuse for going to the beach. It is my place of peace and refilling.
Hoarding is not the same as collecting; true hoarding is defined as the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. [Source: Hoarding: The Basics, Understanding The Facts: OCD, Anxiety and Depression Association of American)
Everyone saves things. But the quantity of their collected items sets hoarders apart from other people. Commonly hoarded items are newspapers, magazines, paper and plastic bags, cardboard boxes, photographs, household supplies, food, and clothing.
Some people even hoard pets, collecting hundreds of them, inside or outside, putting the people and animals at risk due to improper care and unsanitary conditions. Ray has seen people who do this, in his work as a paramedic, with people’s stuff and animal urine and feces making their homes inhabitable. (Ya’d think this would encourage him to get rid of things at our house!)
Some reasons for hoarding are:
- The hoarder believes an item will be useful or valuable in the future;
- They feel the item has sentimental value, is unique and irreplaceable, or is too big a bargain to throw away;
- They think the item will jog their memory, believing that without it they won’t remember an important person or event;
- They can’t decide where something belongs, so it’s better just to keep it. [Source: Hoarding: The Basics]
Are you a hoarder? Here’s a checklist of some symptoms and behaviors:
- Inability to throw away your stuff (YEP!);
- Severe anxiety when attempting to get rid of them (Yes, again!);
- You have a very hard time categorizing or organizing your belongings;
- Indecision about what to keep or where to put them (There’s no decision; Ray usually just keeps them!);
- You feel distressed–overwhelmed or embarrassed by all your things (I would add, or your spouse feels this way!);
- Suspicion of other people touching your stuff (Ray has asked me this at times);
- Obsessive thoughts and actions, such as fear of running out of an item or of needing it in the future; you check the trash for accidentally discarded objects (Ray’s fear of me not accidentally doing this, when he leaves town);
- Functional impairments, such as loss of your living space, social isolation, family or marriage discord, financial difficulties, and/or health hazards. [Source: Hoarding: The Basics]
All this has happened in our marriage. It’s actually kind of scary, because hoarding can be a mental illness. (I’m not saying Ray is mentally ill, although I do believe he needs counseling for it.) By middle age, symptoms can be severe and be harder to treat. If hoarding is a problem for you or a loved one, you should seek help with a mental health expert.
Hoarding may be present on its own or a symptom of another disorder. Those most often associated with hoarding are obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), OCD, or ADHD, and depression. [Source: Hoarding: The Basics]
(This is very strange and although it occurs less often, hoarding may be associated with an eating disorder, pica (eating non-food materials), Prader-Willi syndrome (a genetic disorder), psychosis, or dementia. Ray doesn’t have any of this. At least, I don’t think he munches on his old work papers!)
But seriously. Hoarding can cause anger, resentment, and depression among family members, and it can affect the social development of children. Unlivable conditions may lead to separation or divorce, eviction, and even loss of child custody. Watch the TV show Hoarders or videos on YouTube. (Yes, I have threatened Ray with leaving him for this at times, because it stresses me out so much! And he has threatened me for other things I do. We even fought at a marriage retreat once!)
Hoarding may also lead to serious financial problems. One example is renting (for months or years) a storage unit filled with the hoarded items. Or refusing to have old furniture or equipment fixed or replaced because of suspicion of new, modern models or of distrust of repairmen.
Fear of new technology isn’t limited to hoarders; many people thought trains would melt people’s bodies and were suspicious of the TV, believing it would be harmful to people’s conversations, reading, and the patterns of family living. This is at least partly true about the TV!)
You can’t change others. Obviously even though I’d love to, I can’t go around throwing away Ray’s stuff. I only did this a couple of times in all the years we’ve been together. The first year of our marriage, I threw away a pair of his old, worn-out, holey cowboy boots that I saw at the back of our closet. They were his beloved Tony Lama’s, and he’s never let me forget it!
Since then, I’ve bought him several pairs of new boots, because you just can’t separate Ray, a native Texan, from his cowboy boots. However, I can do whatever I want with my stuff!
So for the last several days since Leah moved out, I’ve been majorly cleaning, organizing, and purging. It feels wonderful! This will set you FREE!
I threw out an entire, HUGE garbage bag of binders, of notes I’d taken on business webinars and teleseminars. I narrowed my binders down to only three. I love buying cute binders and use plastic sleeves to put the notes in, and then insert the sleeves into the binders.
I use plastic tubs from Walmart or the Dollar General to store my journals. Since I’m a voracious journaler, I have 3 tubs filled with diaries! And these aren’t even all of them. Years ago, I had Ray burn many of my diaries. I felt I needed a brand new start and burning them was symbolic.
My journals are my one form of hoarding. I talked to Ray today about burning all my journals again. We could make a fun night of it, and have a huge bonfire with grilled hotdogs and s’mores!
I often pour out my heart into my journals, which means they are sometimes full of pain! Journaling is a great catharsis, though.
The 3 tubs on the right are my journals! The smaller tub is for a friend, who went to Israel, and asked me to keep it here for safekeeping. It’s some of her most treasured items.
Throughout the year, I often save gift bags and tissue from friends who give me gifts, for my family’s birthdays and gifts for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and other holidays. I throw the boxes away at Christmas, and then start all over in January saving bags.
Our daughter Heather bought Ray a gift once, a pickle Christmas tree ornament and using a bag with pickles on it. We both busted out laughing when he opened it.
Ray loves pickles–pickled anything. Pickle spears, pickled asparagus, pickled okra, etc. I have a few gift bags and tissue in this box in my closet. You can see the pickle gift bag that I’ve used over and over again for Ray’s gifts.
I buy pretty folders for our current bills, that I have in a metal file holder on a black card table with other office supplies. (Leah’s birthday gifts are there right now, too. We’re taking her out to eat bang bang shrimp tacos on her birthday).
I keep our most important papers, such as our house mortgage papers, in a waterproof, fireproof safe.
I’m praying for Ray and I to become debt-free, and have the past due bills in in a plastic file folder in my office closet, with other files.
I have a shredder that I just used this week to shred a bunch of paper like old bills. People keep way too many papers. Shredders are great for this.
One thing I remember is that I wouldn’t want our kids having to deal with getting rid of a bunch of junk from our estate when Ray and I die. Why not make it easier for your children or relatives?
I keep my to-do lists, speaking engagements, book deadlines, appointments, and other important info in my pretty desk calendar. I bought this one at Walmart. It’s called The Happy Planner. This keep me organized and on track–and yes, happy! I love sticky notes, to-do list pads, and planners!
I like to surround myself with things I love in my office–pictures of my family, books, little knick-knacks, stuffed animals of mine (like funny Snoopy) and our kids, gifts Ray and others have given me, pretty art on the walls. It inspires my speaking and my writing. I just took two bags of books to the thrift store.
As I was blogging this post, I asked Ray to please go get me a cold drink at Casey’s convenience store. He also bought me this big chocolate bar that reads, “You are amazing!” What a guy! (Despite his hoarding!)
At any rate, I’ve been working so hard the last several days to clean, organize, declutter, and purge. I will continue to do this. I don’t think you’re ever really done with this. It’s a life-long process.
I think it’s also important to purge spiritually and emotionally–to let go and let God, to forgive, to repent to Jesus. Clutter makes your soul feel cluttered, too.
Don’t let it overwhelm you. You can start with just one area, like your purse, your car, a closet, or a corner of a room.
This week practice letting go and letting God. Including your stuff.
It’s so liberating to go through your house, garage, and car and clean and get rid of things (or sell them or give them away to bless someone). I encourage you to do this before 2019 ends, to start off the new year 2020 with more space in your home and heart for the better things God has for you.
You have probably heard of beautiful Japanese author and organizing expert Marie Kondo, whose minimalism-inspired KonMari method is the latest rage to spark joy, bring more prosperity, and reduce stress in your life. She also has a Netflix show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.
While I don’t agree with bowing before your home and things as she does (she has Shinto beliefs), I greatly admire her encouraging people to tidy up their homes and pursuing the life they want.
The KonMari philosophy is that the question of what you want to own is how you want to live. How do you? We can’t take any of this stuff with us when we die or when Jesus returns soon! Let it go.
“Let go of something old that no longer serves you in order to make room for something new.”–
“I realise there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.”–