Monday, April 30, 2007

The Despair of Hoarding

A friend sent me this news story today, from Portland, Oregon

KOMO story on Hoarding

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Off Topic: Guest Post over at Happy Jet Baby

I'm a guest over at my favourite travel with kids blog, Happy Jet Baby!

Back on topic, some thoughts about travel. Despite my clutter, and my tendency to hang onto things, I am a very light traveler. In fact, one of my favourite sites on travel is the Travelite FAQ. Lani, an Internet presence for decades now, has a passion for traveling light. She offers hundreds of tips.

Why am I able to travel light, despite my clutter bug status? Well, frankly, it's because I like to be able to carry my luggage easily. I like low-budget travel, public transit rather than taxis, trains rather than planes when in Europe, and to be able to pack up at a moment's notice. It's even more important with kids in the mix, since packing for four can take up a lot of space. If you Travelite it, you'll still be able to carry your bags without waking up stiff and sore.

But still, why can I do it on the road but not at home? This I still don't know. Perhaps because all my stuff is waiting for me at home. I do always worry that I've forgotten something, and my mantra, "as long as you have the kids and a credit card, anything else is gravy", is repeated numerous times on the drive to the airport or the final destination.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Outdoor Clutter

I've mostly discussed the damage and frustration caused by clutter inside the house. Well, there's also clutter outside the house. Everything from a neglected flower bed to a rusted out car can show up in your yard and create clutter. Outside clutter is often one of the later signs of the disorder, when the house has become so hopeless that the clutter spills outside. Outside clutter is usually what initiates a civic response, from social workers to firefighters to parking personnel.

Today's clutter is not so exciting.

We have a nice little fence that surrounds our front yard. When it was built, it was set back just about 8" from the sidewalk, leaving a small border in which to plant. Well, it stayed weedy grass for sometime, and then, in a fit of energy, I cleared the grass and weeds and planted some lovely flowers. Mulched them in well, and they thrived. Until the fall that is, when they died (they were annuals, it was their time), and, since I neglected to add more mulch, the weeds took over. Same thing the next year. And, frankly, same thing this year so far. Older daughter and I cleared out the weeds, grass and old plants (some turnips planted by Younger daughter had thrived!), and, after a delightful trip to the nursery, planted snapdragons, marigolds, pansies, and a few other things, the names of which are lost as we tossed all the little plant sticks. I used to keep all of them, but I never referred to them and would end up with little piles of plastic all over. Better to just say good bye and not worry that I don't remember the name of plant x.

Here's the before:

And the after:

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Why We Keep Things: Part III: Pure Inertia

Here's a fun one. Guess another major reason we keep so much junk hanging around? Because we just can't seem to get off our duffs and deal with it! I have piles around the house that are things I have already made decisions about, but haven't implemented those decisions. Bags of items to be donated? Well, I tend to want to have more than one bag at a time ready to go before I take them to the thrift store. That results in bags, boxes, stacks of items that I know are going to go away but that are just sitting cluttering up my living space. Why don't I just pop that bag in the trunk when it's full? I drive right past two thrift stores on my way to most of my errands, how hard would it be to take an extra two minutes and drop those items off?

Also, think about how we deal with items that are borrowed or that we mean for others to have. My FIL likes to listen to books on tape in his car, and he only has a cassette deck. I have had a book on tape sitting around in various places in my house for a couple of YEARS meaning to send it to him. Now, it's in a small box and in my to-be-mailed pile. A couple of things like these aren't a big deal. When you have enough to fill a large laundry basket, well, you have a problem.

Today, Clutter Buddy and I worked over here at my house. She generously gave me her "time off" (that is, her time while her little ones are watched by a friend). We tackled a portion of the basement--the notorious bottom-of-the-stairs. If you'll recall, I discussed this part of the house before, with pictures. Well, that pile just seems to reappear! It's supposed to be where the donations to go OTD go, but it seems to grow. I had a metal rolling shelf unit that tucked between the wall and the support pillar. It was supposed to be where donations and things to be returned would go, but other stuff seemed to end up there, gosh, wonder why? All those lovely flat surfaces, of course! CB insisted that it had to go out to the garage, after, of course, we cleared it off.

What was on it? Well, mostly items that belong to or are meant for, other people. So, CB asked for bags and a Sharpie, and she labeled the bags and we went through the items, one by one, and put each person's stuff in their bags. Things that need to be mailed went to my mailing center on/near my desk.

The actual pile at the bottom of the stairs turned out to be mostly donations, with a "scary" bag mixed in for good measure. The scary bag was a stash & dash from the kitchen junk drawer (which, as you know, is no longer a junk drawer because I installed a sorted tray and keep it nice and tidy, yes I do!). In there were a postcard and letter from my mom (tears), lots of bits and pieces like rubber bands, pens without caps, those little plastic things that keep bags of bread closed, and crayons. One of the crayons was from Tony Roma's, where we'd dined with my mom on her last visit to me here, in November. Tears, many many tears. Man, I couldn't stop crying. Bless CB's heart, she let me cry and then suggested we take a break.

Here's how that space looks now. It's storage for the extra carseat.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Feeling Hopeless

Sometimes the clutter, the chaos, the lack of control overwhelms me. At times like this, it seems that nothing will improve, that there is no point to even trying. It's really a form of depression (studies show that people who live in cluttered spaces tend to experience depression more frequently than those who live in less chaotic surroundings).

At times like this, I realize that there are choices. I can be stuck or move forward. I so want to move forward.

Today, I am tempted to rent a storage unit and just dump everything there. Peter Walsh, of It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff and CleanSweep fame, would throw his hands up and shout "Nooooo!". But he's not the one living in this chaos. He doesn't have to face it every single day.

Most things that go to storage units just stay there. I mentioned some stories told by the gentleman who helped my sister and I to arrange a storage unit for our mom's things. Well, frankly, I fear that if I did book one, that's what would happen. I might visit every once in a while, become overwhelmed, and then leave, after paying another month's rent.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Why We Keep Things: Part II: Trust

It's been said before, and frankly, each time I read this thought, it resonates with me. We keep things because we don't trust ourselves. The Flylady has particularly astute observations on trust and clutter. However, because she declutters her homepage, I can't link to a particular article. Just trust me on this.

Think about the phrase "what if I need it someday?". What thoughts does that phrase inspire? There are two unknowns there, the 'if' and the 'someday'. We don't know that we'll need the item, we just wonder 'if' we'll need it. The need is unknown. The time we might need the item is also unknown, 'someday'. Someday could be tomorrow or next week. It could be next decade. It could be, and mostly likely is, never.

Yes, NEVER. How many times have you actually needed something that you had given away? I've given away truckloads of stuff and I can count on ONE hand the times I've wanted something, genuinely wanted something, that I had given away. And do you know what I felt? Momentary regret, and then I moved on. *I*, hoarder, keeper of all sorts of junk, just let it go.

I try hard to remember that feeling when I am struggling with decisions about what to keep and what to let go. That feeling doesn't stick, it is quite fleeting. The knowledge that, yes, it will be all right. That I will make it through life without that sweater, that book, that game. That pan with the clear glass lid that lets you see how the soup is doing (but that doesn't match my kitchen or wash up well).

Trust. Trust that I can handle what the world will give me, trust that I can take care of my family, of myself, mentally and physically. Trust that my husband will as well. I don't need to keep a life's worth of extras around, I can get what I need when I need it.

And so can you.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Why We Keep Things: Part I: Aspirations

As anyone who has read a book on organizing or decluttering, there are many reasons why we keep things. Of course, 'reasons' may not be the best term, because so many of them aren't actually 'reasonable' but rather imaginary or irrational. Still, let's proceed with that term for the moment.
Of all the reasons, there's one that has been rumbling around in my brain lately. It's the one that has us keeping those old magazines, that shirt that we bought but that doesn't quite fit, those tarot cards or yoga mats. They're the things that represent someone we WISH we were but aren't. Those things are the tangible expressions of our aspirations. Who we want to be. And what we actually do with them, allow them to sit in closets, exist stuffed on shelves or corners, hide in the garage. Think of those things not as items but as the physical manifestation of personal traits. We wish we were the type of person who would take their yoga mat to the park at six in the morning and do asanas. We wish we could always be stylishly dressed. We wish we could creatively express ourselves, through art (those dried out watercolours we bought in a fit of inspiration and hope), tarot or other divination tools, musical instruments.
In the meantime, while we continue along the same paths we've always taken, those wishful things sit and sit, waiting for us to be that dream person. The hard truth is that, if we actually do want to become that 'dream person', we need to let go of the present. The ruts we are stuck in include the clutter. The dream things are clutter until they're actually used. Until we become happy and content with the person we are, the fears that hold us to our old paths will rule. Letting go, not of our dreams themselves, but of the physical things we told ourselves represent those dreams, will actually allow us to truly pursue them.
Free of the clutter that keeps us stagnant, we may actually have the space in our lives for that morning downward facing dog, for an hour spent reading that tarot book or sketching the local wildlife.
So, don't let fear dominate. Don't let those dreams and wishes keep you stuck. Reach into your closet and let it all go. Let it go. And suddenly, there is room for joy to come in the door.