Tag Archive | hoarding

A very good place to start

“So…you mentioned ‘epic’ in your last post. Care to elaborate?”

Oh, yeah.

I should probably explain that.

And why I know this time is different.

(I know…how many times have I said that. I have journals and diaries going back decades that attest to my high failure rate at making any lasting changes in any aspect of my life. So why is it different now?)

After my last Maci-related posts here, I drifted in apathy and sadness and nothingness. Slept a lot. Ate more. Wallowed endlessly. Got further out of control in pretty much every aspect of my life.

Cut to November 9.

That was the day that I decided I needed a new start — an extreme new start.

[I grew up in a household full of wonderful clutter. The difference between that home and mine is that my mother was neat and tidy by nature (where I’m messy and lazy) and so our houses were always charming and homey in their clutter. And my mother was a serial collector — giving away the contents of one collection when another was started — rather than a hoarder.

When my mother died, my attitude towards “stuff” began to change. You can’t take it with you, and if I were to die, there was nothing I owned that anyone would struggle to (or want to) keep — at best, things to be sold off to get rid of them; at worst, they would just be tossed out. If it wasn’t making me happy to have it around me, then why keep it? My attachment to my “stuff” was weakening, but the situation I was in was overwhelming.]

Trying to fix things while staying put where I was wasn’t working for me. It was long past time for a change.

“Portable” became my new mantra.

I put in my notice on my apartment and found a room to rent in someone else’s house. Rented a small storage unit and a mail box.

I threw away most of my belongings, and I do mean “most”, including almost all of the books that I’d been desperately holding onto for decades, every piece of furniture I owned, my television, and most of my computer equipment. (I know — it seems a waste to have thrown out so many functional and usable items, but ultimately that excuse has been keeping me from decluttering properly for years and if I held onto things now long enough to sell or give them away, I’d never be free. It had to be a quick and clean break and that meant throwing things away while I could.)

I couldn’t manage to do it all myself — not because I was holding onto things, but because I wasn’t in the best shape or health and trying to do this huge a job on my own while working 12-hour shifts was hard. So I hired the 1-800-Got-Junk guys. Unfortunately, one completely-packed-to-the-rafters truckload and many personal trips to the dumpsters later and my apartment still looked like a squat. That’s when I realized that I’d never finish it if I stayed, so I cut and ran before the new year. One of these days I’ll get a bill from the landlord for the final clean up. And that’s a small price for the sense of relief that doing a runner brought.

So now I live in a rented room in a house with dogs and a small yard. My phone and my Internet are mobile and contract-free. My electronics are all portable. The only furniture I own is a new twin mattress set. Everything else that is here with me is in a half dozen plastic storage containers. My small storage unit is severely underutilized and contains pretty much only those items that I wanted to keep but didn’t need with me: my mother’s paintings, my technical writing and other reference books, photos, my guitar, some tarot/oracle card decks, and some papers I didn’t have time to sort through. If I were to lose it all tomorrow, I’d be disappointed but not heartbroken, and that’s very liberating.

I live closer to where I work so I’ve virtually eliminated my taxi addiction and I’m walking more. I’m working on cleaning up my finances and my health. I’m coming out of my hermitage and beginning to actually interact with the Real World in ways I’ve avoided for over a decade. I’ve returned to the spiritual quest I paused years ago. And I’m working out what phase II is going to look like.

I am still very much a work-in-progress. I don’t know where this is going, but I’m no longer afraid and no longer hiding. And that’s a very good place to start an epic journey.

Filling the hole

In the minutes/hours/days after Maci’s death, I went on a grief-fueled shopping binge. Anything remotely spiritual, cat-related, grief-related, or (better yet) cat-grief–and-spirituality-related brought out an urge to spend, spend, spend. Over the course of two days, I’d spent several hundred dollars on things I wouldn’t likely never have bought otherwise, including making a number of small, spur-of-the-moment donations. The only thing that really stopped me from spending more is a lack of money.

I’d done something similar when my mother died, buying things that I’d hoped might help me to come to grips with the emotions I was feeling…I still haven’t finished reading most of the books I ordered during that period. (Hell, I haven’t even *started* reading most of them.)

Most of the things I ordered this time around won’t arrive for several weeks, but I’m already over the initial rush of gut-wrenching emotion that prompted their purchases. It’s the ultimate in binge buying. The act of shopping filled the aching void in my heart, made me feel like I was actually doing something at a time when I was feeling particularly helpless. (In the weeks before this, I’d been on a smaller buying spree, ordering things that might help me get Maci to eat more. Those items are now arriving in my mailbox and I’m finding myself now trying to figure out where I can donate them.)

The whole situation has me thinking about the issue of hoarding in general. Hoarding is the current topic du jour on TV, the new train wreck for all of us voyeurs. And most people cannot comprehend how a person gets to that point in their lives. I can. While I’m not (quite) at a point where I would be featured on one of those shows, I do live in constant clutter. Before this, the clutter made me kind of depressed. Now, it’s comforting in the sense that it muffles the emptiness that is Maci’s physical absence. It, like the binge shopping, fills the gaping hole in your heart. Of course, it’s a stop-gap measure that causes its own problems in turn that can be even worse than the grief, but at the time you’re not thinking about the future, just about stopping the pain or anxiety.

It’s done what I needed it to do, but I think it’s time to release the clutter, release the bubble I’ve wrapped around myself over the last few decades.

I have much to do, and time’s a wasting.

Well, there’s your problem

So, despite some 5-hour Energy and a (mostly) willing spirit, I did not actually get much of anything accomplished today.

I’d like to say that I was distracted by some meaningful activity, like job hunting, but no. I got lost doing mostly meaningless crap, though I did get several blog posts written and published. (Yes, I hoard blogs like I hoard everything else; that shouldn’t surprise you.) I also changed the header image on this blog — thought it was perhaps time to retire the moody, black and white Winter shot of the Rideau River in favour of a more upbeat, Summer panorama shot* of the Ottawa riverfront — and finally uploaded some photos from my flight home from Halifax on June 30. (They’re in my Flickr photostream. Have I mentioned that I love Porter Airlines?) Sure, you could argue that all of those items were really low on my “to do” list compared to so many other things, but at least they were on the list. I could have spent the day just watching TV or sleeping.

In any case, I’m sitting here tonight (er, this morning) thinking that I can get stuck into things full on tomorrow. Except that tomorrow I really *do* need to finish up some freelance work that I’ve been putting off (payment would be nice and, so far, no one seems willing to pay me for doing nothing), and it really has to take priority over everything. So the declutter gets put on the back burner for another day. Aw, who am I kidding? Another couple of days at least.

Before you know it, another week rolls by and there I am, exactly where I started, saying to myself that I won’t do this again. Except where I do. This is where this all starts, where it all balloons into a situation you’ve lost complete control over.

How do you choose between activities when all of them have the same importance? (Forget that I’m sometimes choosing between activities that have no importance at all. I’m talking about those times when the activities really are things that have to be done sooner rather than later.) How do normal, sane people cope with this? Do they just never put themselves in situations where there is no hierarchy, no clear choice? Or do they artificially inflate/deflate the importance of conflicting obligations in order to ensure that there is no question which one must be done first?

* Panorama image purchased three years ago from iStockphoto for a different blog, but never used. See? I guess I did actually accomplish something today after all.

Round and round she goes…

…where she’ll stop, no one knows.

Spinning in endless circles, revisiting the same issues over and over and over again. Sidestepping them rather than dealing with them, only to meet them again on the next spin around the dance floor. Good evening, Mr. Clutter. How are you tonight, Mr. Procrastination? So kind of you all to stop by. Well, must dash.

I have a lot of, well, let’s call them “challenges” that I am trying to work through. Or rather, that I’m considering trying to work through. (Mr. Procrastination is a persistent suitor who keeps distracting me from actually doing much of anything, and I let him. Mr. Clutter reaps the benefits.)

The one common root running through almost all of those challenges — financial, health, career, spirit, life — is clutter. Clutter in my environment, clutter in my head, clutter on my computer, clutter in my life in general. Stuff. Loads and loads of unnecessary crap. I’ve let Chaos run rampant through my life, providing me with a ready (though pathetically transparent) excuse: “Oh, I’d could fix <whatever> if only I didn’t have this clutter problem. Oh, well. Too late now.”

I’m calling “Bullshit!” on myself.

It’s been over a year since I completed stage one of dehoarding. You won’t be surprised to learn that not only haven’t I moved on to stage two, but I seem to have gotten worse. (It’s much like dieting — you lose 20 pounds only to gain back 30.) I forget too easily how nice, how much lighter it felt after stage one, how much better I feel without the clutter. (If you’ve never been a hoarder, you can’t understand. It truly is like being a drug addict — you know it is bad for you, you know you’d feel better if you stopped, but you just can’t; the pull of the drug is stronger. And it feeds upon itself. The more clutter, the worse you feel. The worse you feel, the worse the clutter gets. )

I was sitting here today, thinking of all the things I need to do and all of those thoughts led back to this intense need to declutter first. I can’t properly concentrate on anything else while the clutter exists so I’m doing a half-assed job of everything else in my life. That can only lead to heartache, so it’s time I smartened up. (How many times have I said that?) Instead of thinking about all of the other stuff on my mind — job hunting, freelancing, health stuff, my mother — I need to spend the next week (or however long it takes) just concentrating on the one thing with the power over all the rest, the 500 lb gorilla on my back.

Edited to add: Ha, just noticed that my Jonathan Cainer horoscope for today includes the following:

You’re tempted to do whatever’s easiest. But if the path of least resistance leads round in a circle, it may be time to embrace the possibility of change, regardless of how much courage this difficult decision demands of you.

Well, there you go.

Hoarding in the digital age

In the early 90s, I signed up for one of those NRI distance education courses that included a personal computer. I remember being impressed because it came with a 20 MB hard drive. Twenty whole megs! What on earth would you fill that with?

Back in those days, before hard drive sizes were measured in gigabytes or terabytes, when storage space meant floppy disks or (if you were lucky enough to have a very expensive burner) CDs and hard drive space was at a premium, people routinely deleted old e-mail messages (perhaps after printing off the ones they truly wanted to keep on their ridiculously expensive printers using ink that cost more than the printer).

The result is that most people don’t have copies of most of their old e-mails. (I still mourn the loss of hundreds of megabytes worth of Hotmail emails I’ve lost over the years.) Not me. My e-mails go back to 2001 (with a couple dozen from back as far as 1999), since shortly after I lost the first batch of Hotmail e-mails to their 30-day activity requirement. That’s 107,815 as of right now in my Yahoo account. One of these days I’ll go through and weed out some of the e-mails I no longer need, but looking occasionally at the oldies is kind of fun. Like pulling out photo albums and reminiscing about the good old days. Snapshots of your life as it was.

Still, saving all those old e-mails is yet another symptom of a general hoarding mental illness. Takes up less space than traditional clutter, but it’s just as pathetic. It’s the bulimia to hoarding’s anorexia: less visible but still an illness.

Book pushers

I love books. Not just to read them, but to have  them. I love the feel, the look, the smell. I think I should have been a librarian…or perhaps an archivist. Play to your strengths, I’m told.

First, some definitions:

  • bibliophile –  someone who likes to collect books, usually rare and collectible ones
  • bibliomaniac – someone who obsessively collects books of any kind, regardless of content or quality
  • bookworm – someone who loves to read (alternatively, it is also a type of insect — though not a single species. Some of them, during their larval stage, bores holes into the edges of books to pupate and then emerge in their adult form. Includes carpet beetles, furniture beetles, and other annoying little bastards)

I know what you’re thinking. I’m not a bibliomaniac. I’m a bookworm with a hoarding problem. There’s a difference, mainly that I only collect books I actually like and/or intend to read. And I’ve probably given away or thrown out more books than I still own over the years.  Still, books that I’ve read and have no intention of rereading and/or don’t need as a reference tend to accumulate. It’s an ongoing, long-term process.

Anyway, I’m watching Clean Sweep this morning (with Tava Smiley and Peter Walsh). I’ve mentioned decluttering/organization guru Peter Walsh before. So far, he’s written four books on the topic of decluttering. You get the irony there, right? You’re a hoarder, but please add my four books to your clutter. (I will say that at least he also offers free advice: on his site, on Oprah, on Clean Sweep. But you know that most people with clutter issues are going to go out and buy the books, thereby adding to the clutter.) David Bach, prolific author of such books as “The Automatic Millionaire” and “Start Late, Finish Rich”, does the same thing — pushes his financial freedom books and expensive counselling while advising people to save their money.

Way to take advantage of the behavioural problems you’re both purporting to be trying to stop. It would be like Richard Simmons selling candy wrapped in pithy weight loss affirmations.

[As a complete aside, while looking at some old David Bach posts and articles tonight, I came across one where someone made some complaints that, based on advice from a particular investment company, his father would only have $150,000 when he died instead of the million he could die with if he had different investments. Is that really what people are investing their money for, so that they can leave scads of money to their greedy offspring? Where does this feeling of entitlement come from? If the guy was really concerned about his father’s well-being, he wouldn’t be talking about how much his father would be worth at his death.]

Essential computer books

Found these gems while I was cleaning out two of my bookcases in preparation for the second  stage of hoarder reformation:

  • Everything You Wanted to Know About the Mac, Second Edition — Unless it has to do with OS X. Or OS 9. Or OS 8, for that matter. Of course it was written in 1993 so that might explain it. 😉
    Everything you wanted to know about the Mac front cover Everything you wanted to know about the Mac back cover
  • Macworld’s Mac and Power Mac Secrets — 1994. Comes with a floppy diskette of awesome utilities….of course, you need a floppy drive and those haven’t been standard on a Mac since before the first iMacs. Details, details. If this book (or the one above it) is up your alley, I have a Mac IIsi in my closet that you might like.
    Mac Secrets front cover Mac Secrets back cover
  • Idiot’s Guide to the Internet — 1994. Everything you need to know about the key Internet stuff. You know, like UNIX shell commands, Telnet, Archie, WAIS, and FTP. (The World Wide Web and HTTP only warrant an 11-page afterthought at the end of the book.) Comes with a “SuperHighway Access Sampler” floppy diskette.
    Idiot's Guide to the Internet front cover Idiot's Guide to the Internet back cover
  • The World Wide Web Complete Reference — 1996. A third of the book is devoted to listing “nearly a thousand businesses that have established a presence on the World Wide Web”. Wow. A whole thousand. Surely you need look no further.
    World Wide Web Complete Reference World Wide Web Complete Reference back cover
  • Great American Websites — From 1997. Ah, for the days when you could put a Web directory in a book instead of actually, you know, on the Web. Notable because almost all of the links in book are subsections of larger sites, rather than separate domains.So very 90s, back when Network Solutions had a monopoly on domain registrations and the .com of your dreams would cost you $35 US a year.
    Great American Websites Great American Websites back cover

Think I could get anything for them on eBay? No? Not even as collector’s items?

Dang…

Drowning in drafts

I have a lot of e-mail accounts that I use for various purposes. Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, organization-specific, work-specific, job hunting-specific, hosted domains — I like to keep the various parts of my life separated. My primary account is a Yahoo account that I’ve had since I first got online in 1998. I’ve paid for a premium account since about 2001 so that I can use that account to reply from my various addresses from the same place, and so that I can keep an archive of all of my e-mails from all of those addresses that is accessible from anywhere. Currently, the Yahoo account holds over 65,000 e-mails, including 121 drafts that have never been finished or sent.

(I know that that looks like yet another serious hoarding problem, but it’s really only a minor hoarding example. Yes, it needs a good clean-out — there are probably only about 20,000 e-mails that must be kept — but I have frequently had to refer back to e-mails I sent or received several years ago so having a long-term archive in general is not an issue. Better an electronic archive than a printed one, which is what I used to do.)

The drafts are a little worrisome. Especially when I see that I’m rapidly building up a comparable drafts pile here on this blog. I have started but then not published over 60 posts here. Some may yet see the light of day — some I could have sworn I’d already published — but most, from last year, were about news articles or events that are no longer relevant. My goal for February 2009 (as a part of my dehoarding efforts) then is to go through those draft posts, delete the ones that are now pointless, and rescue the ones that can still have life breathed into them.

Hoarder rehab continued – stage one complete

16:30

So, 48 hours later, my apartment is now clean and ready for the start of decluttering. It’s been a long two days — and a good example of the obsessive part of OCD. I hurt all over. Even my fingers hurt . (One of the many drawbacks to being a nail biter is that the flesh to the sides of the nail tip get very sensitive and scrubbing and the use of cleaners makes them very sore. If there are typos or missing spaces in this post, this is why.) I’m almost dizzy with lack of sleep. I just about asphyxiated myself with over zealous use of bleach. My allergies are in overdrive. My tongue is swollen (enough that I’m lisping slightly and keep biting the sides of my tongue). But it’s done.

Living room, pre-declutter
Living room, post-clean, pre-declutter. The pile on the right is about 5′ high and runs the length of the L-shaped couch to the wall.

I found I started feeling lighter as I cleaned more and more. I need to remember this feeling. I broke the hose on my steam cleaner so no more carpet cleaning until I get that replaced — I have mixed feelings about that. And I got so into cleaning the bathroom that I decided to sacrifice my toothbrush to the cause. Unfortunately, I have barely slept and haven’t eaten much more than a few Pop Tarts so I’m a little loopy.

23:00

Managed to get a small nap in, but got woken by someone knocking on my door at 18:30. My leg was asleep so I didn’t get to the door (and almost broke my neck falling) before they moved on to the next one. Now am wide awake again. The tongue swelling is starting to go away, and I’ve eaten. So I’m feeling somewhat better.

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Winter cleaning…or rehabilitating the hoarder

Thinking positively about the job interview I had last week (I WILL get one of the jobs, I WILL get one of the jobs), I decided a winter cleaning of my apartment was required. I’ve been cleaning for many hours and it’s all a little overwhelming. (Kids, this is why you should listen to your mothers and clean up regularly.)

You see, I’m a hoarder. (Oh noes! According to Wikipedia, it’s a slippery slope from hoarding stuff to becoming the Crazy Cat Lady.) Hardly surprising given my other OCD issues, I know. I’m not quite at the level of the people who have 20 years of newspapers in their front room, but, in my own not-so-small way, I’m very much like them. Books, papers, receipts, bills, boxes of floppy disks, computers and computer parts (there are currently six computers here, only two of which are actually useful at this very moment), empty cardboard boxes, miscellaneous junk…it only gets thrown out if it is broken or damaged beyond repair, if I really expect to never have a use for it, or if I do a seasonal cleaning like I’m doing now. I don’t do seasonal cleanings nearly as often as I should.

Have you ever watched the TLC show “Clean Sweep” before? If you have, picture the big tarp they use for the initial sorting, when they take all of the stuff out of the room they’re cleaning and dump it in one massive pile. That’s what my place looks like right now. There’s a five-foot stack of boxes and bags of stuff mounded on the L-shaped couch and coffee table in the living room. Haven’t slept in my bed in ages because it is covered with more boxes of stuff I haven’t found a home for yet, left over from the last seasonal cleaning. A friend of mine keeps recommending Peter Walsh‘s “Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?” (my environment and weight issues are siamese twins that reflect the mess that is my head), but do I really need another book I probably won’t read? It’s been in my Amazon.ca shopping cart for months, but I haven’t bought it yet. (Aw,crap, my massive “save for later” Amazon.ca shopping cart is yet another hoard, isn’t it.)

So far, so good. I’ve cleared the floor (even steam-cleaned it) and have started organizing bookcases and cupboards. (I know, you’re thinking that couldn’t possibly have taken hours and hours and hours, but it really did.) Need to finish cleaning the kitchen and bathroom and doing the mounds of laundry that have piled up (hey, cool, I have a ton of clothes I’d forgotten I had) . Then I can start on the decluttering. 

Happy thought for the day? I found  my missing citrine worry stone and some items that I’d forgotten I even owned. (Even found an eBay purchase that I hadn’t ever opened — sorry, eBay seller, I clearly never left you feedback for that item.) Sad thought for the day? I have so much work — probably several weeks’ worth — left to do. *sigh*