It’s a coffee AND gum kind of morning today. I got up feeling very nervous and apprehensive. I swapped a cig habit for a gum habit three years ago. No, not nicotine gum. Bubble gum. You know, because I’m mature. *whooooosh POP* And some days, I need it right off the bat. Makes the coffee taste funny, but I make funny-tasting coffee to begin with. It evens out.
Also turned on the music to soothe the savage beast. Right now I’m listening to Awolnation. You may have heard the huge hit “Sail” put out a few years back. The rest of that album kicks ass, and I’m listening to “Kill Your Heroes”. If you haven’t heard it, you should remedy that right now.
“Bubblegum and b-side album recommendations? Are you…are you turning into a..a.. HIPSTER??”
Egads, man! I already told you I’ve got a nervous constitution this morning. Don’t add to it! Hipster? ME!? *shudder* Sheesh.
“Okay, okay. Calm down, killah. I was just joking.”
*sniff* I’m not a hipster.
“I know. Now, what’s got you all wound up today?”
Gah, I don’t know. Everything. Things are up in the air, changes are afoot. And I’m cleaning out my hoard with reckless abandon.
Look, I joke a lot about being a hoarder because as long as I keep saying it and making light of things, it’s okay. The second I stop talking about it and poking fun at myself over my tendencies to gather junk is when I start having a bad problem again. The second I stop talking about it and start stashing secret piles, then you all can worry.
Now, to be clear, I’ve never been diagnosed and treated. I’m like an alcoholic who wakes up after another bender and just knows they’ve got a problem. I found something while attempting to clean out my closet (not a metaphor…seriously, I was cleaning my closet) that was very eye-opening…but more on that in a sec. Let’s first look at hoarding.
Hoarding is a psychological issue in the same family of mental illness as obsessive compulsive disorder. It’s categorized by the sufferer collecting and keeping items that may or may not seem to have any purpose to an outside observer. The Oxford Handbook of Hoarding and Acquiring says, “Among the features associated with hoarding are difficulty making decisions, perfectionism, emotional sensitivity, and strong attachment to objects.” They say that up to 6% of US and European adults suffer from this mental illness, and that “hoarding symptoms commonly begin during childhood or adolescent years.”
So basically, hoarders see something and instantly form an attachment to it and must have it and keep it. It’s a compulsion. Something inside says, “You need to find a way to have this thing because this thing is the thing you are missing and if you walk away and don’t pick it up you will regret it and the memory will haunt you and DEAR GOD YOU MUST TOUCH IT RIGHT NOW AND MAKE IT YOURS.”
Yep. That’s pretty much how it happens.
I’ll see something and my mind will instantly say, “Ooh, I could use that for project X.” Then before my logical side can step in, the monkey on my back that just wants a new toy starts listing ten other ways I need that object in my life. I can look at anything and tell you ten different ways it can be useful.
Yes, that’s good in some ways. I can MacGuyver the hell out of anything. But, it’s also simply a way to justify getting the thing in question.
I’m not a money spender. I don’t pay for the stuff I pile up. I get it all for free, either given to me or from the free pile across the street at the junk/antique shop. Or, I strip down things we’re throwing away, like a broken couch or lamp. I’ll completely disassemble them to take out any bits I deem useful. A lot of times I get things I truly do use in something else. But, I also end up with another little box of pretty bits that in all likelihood I’ll never really re-purpose.
I think it’s interesting that this is a disorder that begins to manifest in childhood. Remember when I said I was cleaning out my closet? Well, I found an old jewelery box. I used to collect jewelery boxes. At one point, I had eight. Now I am down to two. I was cleaning one of them out and I found that the four drawers were full of collections I had when I was probably about 8 or 10. I had forgotten I had them, but as soon as I looked I could clearly remember gathering them up, the processes, deciding to keep them, etc. Wanna know what was in the drawers?
In one was bottle caps. Not good ones. Flattened or old and rusty ones. You can’t read the labels, and they honestly look like garbage.
The second drawer had a handful of magnet strips that I popped off the back of fridge magnets. I didn’t keep the picture parts, just the magnets off the back.
The third drawer contained ripped stamps. Some were together on a sheet that clearly had kool aid spilled on it, promotional snowman stamps from March of Dimes charities that they used to send to guilt you into donating a few bucks. Most of the stamps in the drawer were just torn off letters, common stamps of the day that are so ripped and ragged that there is no worth, use, or purpose for them.
And the last drawer contained pistachio shells. I used to love pistachio shells. This wasn’t from like one incident of late night pistachio eating or anything. I’d pop a few in to add to the collection when we’d eat pistachios. It was a conscious collection gathered over time, not just once on a little kid whim. I just loved the way they sounded when you jingled them in the drawer.
All of it crap, and all of it kept for almost 30 years.
I dumped those drawers into the trash. Yesterday alone I threw out 7 trash bags of junk. That makes about twenty five in the past two weeks. My house is getting emptier, which we really need. But it also sounds emptier. It’s starting to sound echo-y. Even the ambient noise is telling me I just lost a bunch of stuff. The monkey on my back is missing his shinies.
See, the other thing about hoarding is that it’s so very comfortable. Yeah, you look around a room and know you’ve got a problem. You KNOW that most people don’t have stacks of junk piled very nearly to the ceiling in the corners of all the rooms. You know, and while consciously you feel guilt, deep inside, you don’t care. When you shut that light out at night and nestle in to sleep, you can’t see the piles and feel the guilt they bring. You FEEL that stuff there around you and it’s like sliding into an old pair of sweatpants. It’s safe. It’s warm and cozy. It’s comfortable.
It is not comfortable to hear the air swirl around in the room and remind you that your pile is gone. It’s not comfortable to get up to go pee at night and feel bare floor under your feet and not have to walk around anything to get there, because you know that means you lost all your stuff.
I love feeling an empty and open space. I really, honestly do. I look at my older sister, the one I want to be my life coach *AHEM HINT AGAIN*. Her house is magazine-neat. She’s got elbow room and doesn’t trip over a stack of disassembled computer parts. I do like that, I honestly do. I want that, really.
And yet, I don’t.
The light goes off and the walls of my castle are gone and it just feels like I made a huge mistake throwing all that away. I mean, I can’t ever get it back. Ever. And while I truly am logically okay with that, there is an undeniable sadness associated with losing all of that potential.
I’ve gotten better with hoarding over the last five years or so. When our boy was diagnosed with cancer, it became clear there needed to be massive changes to keep him as healthy as possible during the treatment. No, as I’ve said before, I am not the kind of hoarder that has filthy dead animals and piles of garbage all over the house. I have junk, not wrappers and molding food. Piles. Huge piles. The thing is, those collect dust. And with the type of treatments he needed, any contamination was the enemy, including dust. My wonderful family pitched in and went holy hell on my piles…I think that was the moment when I knew just how bad a problem I had. Seeing it through their eyes, watching the parade of stuff fill up boxes of trash bags and an entire U-Haul that was rented to take things to the dump. That was the moment.
And while I’ve slipped, it has never gotten as bad as it was then again. I DO make myself go through things and have a two year rule that seems to be working well. If I haven’t touched it in two years, then it can go and I will live just fine without it.
Come on, I can’t get rid of my childhood jewelery boxes. That’s simply unreasonable. I can, however, get rid of the trash inside. Even if it does give me a stomach ache.
I need to get my kids up in a minute. I’m working in one of the boys’ bedrooms again today. My eight year old is here to help, and he’s a hoarder, too. No, I’m not kidding, and as we’re going through paring down the piles, he’s making comments that actually make it far easier for me to huck the shit while he watches and, hopefully, learns. He’s saying things I used to say. “Oh, I know! We can use that as decoration on a lamp shade!” “Only one part is broken. I can still use the rest.” “No, I haven’t used it for awhile, but I might.”
I tell you what. That’s the best reason in the world right there to keep filling up these trash bags.
I don’t want him to be like me. Not like that. He’s my fellow MacGuyver. Since he could walk he’s been helping me build and repair and make contraptions with all sorts of found materials. He’s also clearly been paying way too much attention to my less-than-awesome traits. I want him to see me throw things out, and I need him to hold the bags open while I do it. I keep trying to stress that he can keep things he legitimately still uses, but it’s time to let the broken crap go. By the end of the afternoon yesterday he was taking the dust pan and just scooping stuff up without looking from the bottom of the toy box and throwing it away.
Let’s just hope that’s the lesson that sticks.
Thus concludes a cluttered Musing for Saturday, August 9, 2014. I’m listening to Goyte’s “Night Drive” at the moment. Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. It wasn’t a…HOLY CRAP. Okay, I am officially giving you permission to slap the hell out of me if I even so much as reach for a Pabst…