I grew up in a home filled with clutter and messes everywhere. That was before the days when hoarding became a household word. The term pack-rat was used, but I’m sure the pack-rats lived much cleaner and organized then we did. It was not as bad as the homes you see on television, those are the extreme cases and level 4 hoarders, but it was definitely a hoarders situation. My mother had a hard time letting go of things. She had plastic sacks full of mail that had never been opened, three microwaves in the kitchen, but only one worked. Piles of clothes and stuff stacked everywhere making it hard to move around. One of my vivid memories of my mother is her looking for something that she wanted or needed and as she was digging through a pile another pile would fall. She would get so mad and overwhelmed that words would fly and I just wanted to hide. This was pretty much a common occurrence. The effect that it had on everyone was devastating, the shame and guilt I felt was overwhelming. I didn’t have friends over and worried that I might turn out like that.
I got married, left home and eventual moved several hundred miles away. Each time I visited, the mess got worse. I had many conversations with my siblings about all the clutter and mess and how we could get it cleaned up or at least get mom started. I had talked with her about doing one area at a time, but she wasn’t interested or would just say ‘yeah’ and wait for me to stop talking. I made it my mission on one of my visits home to clean things up. I got up early one morning to get started and was moving things around, she asked me what I was doing, I told her I was cleaning and it was time to make some decisions to get rid of some things. I looked at her and the hurt in her eyes stopped me in my tracks, I knew right then and there that this was much bigger than I was, and I wasn’t going to get rid of anything. I tried another approach one time to clean when she was not there, making sure not to throw anything away that she might miss, but that didn’t work either because she accused me of throwing away important papers, which I had not touched because they were buried in some pile. I learned never touch a hoarders stuff.
My mother was a wonderful person despite her horrible childhood, spending several years in an orphanage with her three siblings and then reunited with her alcoholic mother. She was finally forced to leave home at the tender age of sixteen. She wanted a better life for her children. She was so kind she would do anything and everything for her family. She was a hard worker and as strange as it sounds she cleaned private homes. Working for the same people for years and she did a fabulous job. I Learned to clean from her she had very high standards, and everything had to shine. In her own home it was chaos, but I don’t think she saw it was as bad as it really was.
When the hoarders show made its appearance, I could really relate to the family members and it really shed some light on the disease, but some of the facts were upsetting. The one I find the most disturbing is that it tends to run in families. So that has me asking myself some serious questions and searching for answers. I asked myself why do we have so much stuff? Since the 1950’s the average american home has doubled in size yet the number of family members has decreased. 1 in 11 households rent a storage unit and many don’t even know what they have in storage. The average 3 bedroom home has about 300,000 items in it. I have 4 bedrooms, and I would never think I had that much stuff. According to the statistics I probably have more. That has me a little freaked out, and that’s a whole lot of items to manage and half the time I feel like they are managing me.
All that excess of things add so much extra stress in my life. I know it can’t be good for my health. I open the freezer and something falls out, things fall out of the cupboards and break, I can’t close the drawer without moving things around. I can’t park in the garage because it is being used for storage. Clutter costs money, monthly storage payments for things you don’t even remember having. I can’t find an item that I know I have so I have to buy another. I end up with three or four of the same thing! Clutter makes it difficult to make decisions, like too many clothes in an unorganized closet. I can’t find anything to wear! Time and energy is lost trying to clean and dust all the stuff. I avoid having friends over becauseI have not picked up or cleaned all the junk.
I ask myself why is it so hard to let go of things, and there can be a number of reasons. Holding on to the past. Sometimes it hard to let of things that remind us of a happy time. An item may remind you of your youth or a success you had, even though it doesn’t really serve a purpose now. I have an old Letterman sweater hanging in my closet, it’s too big, needs some repair, and I have never worn it. I have kept it for many years I just can’t seem to let it go. I always envision myself wearing it to a class reunion even though I have only attended one and they are in the summer and too hot for a sweater. My high school years were not exceptionally happy and It is the one thing I have allowed myself to keep. Why, I don’t really know, but maybe I’ll figure it out. Another reason it’s hard to let things go is that they cost so much when they are purchased, and it feels like a waste to give them away. Maybe it’s the fear of losing memories or the sense of obligation, this is a hard one for me. It might be a gift or a hand-me-down, even if I don’t love it or display it, I don’t want to let it go. I think this is probably the most common reason I hear why we don’t throw something away. I might need it some day and I become attached to something with no real meaning. How many times have you thrown something away and really needed it? I could honestly say maybe a couple of times in my life, but that is no excuse to hold on to the over 300k items I have.
When I look around my house I see clutter, I open the pantry and a can falls on the floor, I get this feeling I’m turning into my mother. Yikes! It’s time to take action, and this is the plan. I will start small in an area that is really driving me crazy and causing a lot of unneeded stress, and that would be my linen closet which seems to be a catch-all for things. It’s out of sight and out of mind until you open the door. I started with 3 containers marked Trash, Donate, and Keep. I worked from the top, left to right and eventually made my way to the bottom and every thing is touched. I ask myself do I need it, when was the last time I used it, do I love it, how many of these do I need, and when will I use it again. When I find it hard to make a decision, I take a short break and start again. I have a vision of what I want the area to look like and I’m committed to see it through.
Once I’m finished I immediately deal with my three containers full of items marked Donate Trash, and Keep. The Keep is neatly put away, the Trash is taken to the dumpster, and the Donate is taken to wherever I feel its needed the most. It’s important to donate your items as soon as possible because they will find their way back into your home in no time. Deculttering and organzing is a commitment and with a routine it will become a way of life.
My linen closet is done and I’m happy with the way it turned out. Everything is in its place, It’s labeled and I can open the door without cringing. I know I will save time and energy next time I need to find a certain tablecloth. When we have guests spending the night I won’t have to make excuses for the mess in my closet, and that’s a lot less stress! I’m ready to tackle the next area. Organizing is a commitment and with a routine it will become a lifestyle. This is week one of organizing my life.
You can go to my Organizing My Life – Week One page to see the linen closet make-over