Small Victories

Tonight, I threw something away.

It was a phone charging cord.

Now, that doesn’t sound like much.  It wasn’t much.  Just a phone charging cord.  It was blue.

But…

It still worked.

Well, sorta.  Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t.  I could plug my phone in at night, and the next morning – no charge.  Pick up the phone and look at it, and it would suddenly start to charge.

But not always.  So I decided to throw it away.  I picked it up – and then the internal dialogue started.

“Anything that still works, even if it is only sometimes, should not be thrown away.”

“After all, what if my good cord should quit working?  I could still, maybe, use that as an emergency back-up.”

“It is WASTEFUL to throw something away that can still be used.”

Those thoughts ran through my head.  I started to put the cord back.

Then…

I CHANGED the dialogue.

“Stop that, Melinda!  You have two cords that work perfectly fine.  You do NOT need to keep a cord that does not work properly!”

And…I THREW IT AWAY!!!

Such a small thing.  And yet, so significant.

And there is more.

As I was writing this just now, as I was writing that sentence “It is WASTEFUL to throw something away that can still be used,” I made a connection to my past.  And I started to cry.

When I was young, my mother used to tell us to always clean our plates.  She talked about starving children in other parts of the world, starving children who would love to have our leftovers. We were not to waste any food.  If we did leave something on our plates, usually my dad would finish it off.  No waste.

To this day, I tend to clean my plate when I’m eating.

I also hold on to things that I don’t use, because they are too good to throw away.  Some of them really are too good to just throw away.

But others?

I have a huge pile of old shirts – stained, missing buttons – but I can still use them as rags.  Or recycle them into weaving projects.

I have old towels that are ragged, ratty, I don’t use them in the bathroom anymore – yet I don’t throw them away, because they still have some use in them.

I have a pile of mending – some of these clothes I have not worn for years.  But they only need a button, or a few stitches in a seam.

And in thinking about how much I don’t want to “waste” things, I had a thought.  One that I have never considered before.

Do I hold on to things – things that are too good to throw away, things that still have a little bit of use in them – because of a message that I internalized as a child?  Did my mother’s message of not wasting food become a personal message of not wasting anything?

Tonight, I threw away something that still had some use.

I might have gained a new insight into my personal hoarding issues.

Small victories.

But oh, so great…

 

 

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Choice? Or Compulsion?

It has been a long time since I have posted on my hoarding blog.  I wish that I could say that I have been spending the time decluttering my house.  I can’t.

I wish that I could say that my paths were wider.  I can’t.

I wish I could say that I am bringing less things into my house.  Well, maybe.

But maybe not.

I think that I am, maybe, getting rid of at least as many things as I bring in.  The piles of stuff, for the most part, are not getting bigger.  And I know I have been putting more things in the trash.

But I want to do so much more.

Or do I?

I was talking to a friend about something last night.  He said that he couldn’t do a certain something.  I replied that it wasn’t a matter of “Couldn’t” it was a matter of choice.  He was choosing not to do something.  I truly believe that.  It is a choice that he has decided to make.

But ever since that conversation, I have been thinking about my own hoarding issues.  Is my hoarding, are all these piles of junk in my house – is this a choice?  Or is this a compulsion?

I believe that it has been a compulsion, for years.  However, it is a compulsion that I am working on changing.  Although I haven’t been posting on my hoarding blog, I have been talking about hoarding to a counselor.  I have been working even more on understanding my compulsion to collect and save.

As I understand my compulsion to hoard, I am working on changing that compulsion.  My counselor commented a few weeks ago that I don’t refer to the excess things in my house as treasures anymore.  It has become “stuff.”  And even more often, it has become “Junk”  or even “Trash.”  I look at my house and I think “I don’t want to live like this anymore.  I want my house free of clutter, free of junk, free of trash.  I want space and beauty in my life.  I want this to be a home, not a junkyard.”

And as I work on the compulsions to hoard, I am trying to change the compulsion into a decision.  One of the trademarks of hoarders is that they have a hard time making decisions.  It is hard to get rid of things because there are so many possibilities for each item.  It is hard to decide what is best to keep, what is best to discard.  One time, I cleaned out one of my kitchen drawers, and found four or five working cheese cutters, and two broken ones.  I threw the broken ones away, kept two, gave my dad one, at his request, and put the rest into a get rid of bag.  And as I did that, I asked myself “why did I keep the broken ones, when I had several good ones?”  It was “Just in case.”  Just in case the broken parts might be used to fix other broken ones.  Did I keep those broken ones by choice?  Or by compulsion?

Choice?  Or Compulsion?  I believe it has been compulsion.  Subconscious mechanisms to protect a wounded heart.  But the protective mechanism of hoarding ends up hurting even more, in other ways.  I am tired of hurting from my hoarding.   I have been working on changing the compulsion to choice.  Why?  I can’t do a lot about compulsion.  But choice?  I can choose to make a different decision.

And while I have been pondering that conversation I had last night, and while I have been pondering the differences between choice and compulsion, today I have put away some stuff that was just lying around, I have thrown away some old mail/trash that was cluttering up the place, I have sorted through and emptied three boxes, and I have filled three bankers boxes, and started on three more.  They are labeled Misc., Kitchenware, Clothes, Kids stuff, SCA interest, and Books.  I plan on labeling more, as I go through more of the piled up boxes that are in my living room.

These boxes are full of items that I am choosing to let go.

My hoarding might still be a compulsion.  But I am slowly learning to make the decisions, like starting counseling, that I hope will turn compulsion into decision, and decisions that I can choose to change.

I can decide to make my life better, one step, one box, at a time.

Achievement. Abandonment.

I haven’t written anything on this blog in quite a while.  I have been in counseling, for grief, my hoarding, and some other things, and instead of pouring my soul on paper for the world to see, I have been pouring my soul into my counselor’s ears.

But something happened to me tonight.  Something that is puzzling to me.

Here is my story.

A couple of weeks ago, I was put on bed rest by my Dr.  I have  circulation problems in my leg, and it was swelling quite a bit.  I also had injured my knee earlier this summer, and have not recovered from it.

So, there were some things that needed to be done, and I hired a family member to come do them for me. I didn’t have much money to give her, but I gave her what I had, she came over, spent an hour or so doing the immediate tasks that I needed done, and left.  When she left, she told me that if I needed her again, to let her know.

Well, I did need her again.  My van is persnickety, and the hatchback is currently not opening from the outside.  There is a rope attached to the latch, but you can only pull it straight up, so you have to get into the van and close to the back to open it.  I had pulled out as much from the back as I could, through the side door, but I had things that I needed to get out, and put in.

I wasn’t sure, between my leg, my knee, and the pain that I have also been having in my lower back, if I could crawl into the back and open the door.  But I knew this family member could do so.  So I called. And texted.  She asked me what I needed, I told her, she told me she wasn’t at home but would come by when she got back.  So I waited.  and waited.  And she never came by.

A few days later, I asked again.  I had a school program that I needed to unpack my van, and pack for.  No response.

Today was the last day that I had available to do this.  I contacted her once more.  She responded enough to tell me she was at home – which is just down the road from my house – in fact, her family are my next door neighbors – country next door neighbors, but less than half a mile.  I told her what I truly needed – my van to get opened, and that I had more work that I would pay her to do, if she wanted.  Opening my van would take her less than five minutes.  I was in town, but would be home in about 15 minutes.  I got home. And sat in my car.  And waited.  And waited.  I actually dozed a little bit – in between texting her.  And calling her.  With no response.

I finally texted her brother – no response from him, either.

By now, it was getting dusky, I have to leave tomorrow.  I knew it would hurt for me to crawl in and open that door.  But I had no choice.  So I crawled in.  It hurt.  It hurt a lot.  I cried.  And cried.

I finally got the door open.  And then I sat in the back of the van and sobbed.

And while I was crying, I was asking myself why?  Why was I crying.  Part of was physical pain.  Part of it was emotional pain.

I had accomplished something that I truly wasn’t sure I would be able to do by myself.  But I did it.

I DID IT!

With pain.  But with grit and determination, I did it.

And yet, I was crying my eyes out.  I felt so alone.  So lost.  A person whom I love, who had said they would help me – just give a call – had ignored me.  Had left me to my own devices.

I had accomplished something that was difficult.  Yet instead of feeling triumphant, I felt desolate.

But why should this be so?  And while I sobbed, and cried, I wondered about that – why would I feel so sad when I had just successfully done something that I had both dreaded and that I knew would be hard.

I cried even harder.  I realized that I was feeling so bad for two main reasons – first,  the fact that I ended up being the person to do this difficult and painful task was evidence that I was alone in life.  I had asked for help.  Even begged.  And the person who had said they would help me if I needed it ignored my plea.  I felt a loss of relationship with my own family  – it is always hard for me to ask for help, and when I did, my pleas had gone unanswered – not once, not twice, but three times.

But the second reason that I was crying so hard was this – I had no one to celebrate my success with.  I had no partner to rejoice with me, to cheer me on, to tell me I could do it.

I felt totally abandoned, and totally alone, and those feelings overwhelmed my success.

And while I thought about that, I realized some things.  Often – I discount my successes.  I have often allowed things that I have accomplished on my own to bring me down – if for no other reason, it reminds me of how alone I often feel.

And my feelings of abandonment, of loss, might not even be legitimate.

This person that I had hoped would help me – well, she is young.  A teenager.  Her phone might be turned off, on a charger.  She might never have gotten my messages, she might be doing something with her parents – there are all kinds of legitimate reasons why she might not have responded to my plea for help.  I truly hope that is what it was, rather than that she was unwilling to take five minutes from her day to do something that was so difficult for me, but would have been so much easier for her.

I’m not crying anymore, and even tho the light was gone, I was able to get some of the things done that I had to do.  Despite my feelings of loss, of abandonment – I am learning more about myself, and how I react to things.  Hopefully, next time this happens, I will be more aware, more able to rejoice in my success, and not feel so alone.  I need to learn to allow my successes to lift me up, not bring me down.

 

It is Okay to celebrate my successes.  I can let success build me up, not tear me down.

 

 

 

Loving yourself

Today, I loved myself.  How?  Well, first of all, I threw away something.  Something that I liked, but was broken, that I would never fix, and never use.  It was the top of a blue glass pedestal candle holder.  Years ago, it had gotten dropped, and the base snapped off.  The top was still good, so I had it on my kitchen window sill, where it collected dust and cobwebs. So I threw it away.  And almost cried.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to cry because I was sad or happy that I threw it away.  But I made one more small step towards climbing out of the mountain of clutter that I live in.  So – I loved myself.

Today, I loved myself.  How?  I have finally, finally started counseling.  Two sessions, so far.  My counselor, who is totally awesome, gave me homework.  I have two weeks to clean off my table.  She wants to see before and after pictures.  I laughed (to myself) at the thought of needing two weeks to simply clean off my table – until I actually got started.  You see, if it was just a matter of cleaning off the table, I could grab a box and dump everything into the box.  Voila.  Done.  But, no.  I have to get everything on the table at least into the room or area that it is actually supposed to be in.  So the pile of cds is now on top of the table – mainly because I can’t get to my cd holder where they are supposed to be – too much stuff in front of it.  As I run across dirty dishes, they go in the sink or dishwasher.  Books, magazines, etc are going near the full bookcases.  One piece at a time, my table is getting cleared off.  And yes, it probably will take two weeks to go through it all properly.  But it is getting done, a few items at a time.

Today, I loved myself.  How?  I actually cooked for myself in my kitchen.  So what is the big deal about that?  Well, I haven’t cooked a complete meal at my house in probably over a year.  And I could count on one hand the number of times in the last 3 years or so.  I have had an issue with running water.  My pump quit working.  A poor quality one would cost over $300; a better quality one over $600.  And everytime I would get a couple hundred dollars saved up, my car would break down, and transportation had a higher priority than running water.  So I have been showering at my dad’s house, cooking my meat over there in quantity and bringing it home to freeze and reheat in my microwave, saving rain water to flush my toilet, and even, when the pipes weren’t in the well, lowering a bucket down to bring up water to heat on the stove for various washing needs.  After over 3 years with very little running water, you can imagine what my house is like.  Especially since I struggle with hoarding disorder.  The last 3 years, the majority of my food prepared at home has been microwaved, tv dinners, disposable plates and utensils. So the very fact that I was able to cook in my kitchen meant several things:  I have running water.  My dishes are beginning to get caught up enough that my sink was empty enough to wash the vegetables and prepare things.  My stove is accessible and safe to use.  My microwave does not have anything blocking the door from opening.  My kitchen is still obviously a hoarder’s kitchen.  But it is slowly getting better.

Today, I loved myself.  How?  That meal that I cooked?  Broiled salmon.  Fresh steamed vegetables.  Twice cooked eggplant.  Sliced cucumbers with spices.  Herb tea (only because I didn’t have any wine) I ate on fine china.  With a matching cup.  And I sat down to eat at my partially cleared table.  Without a book, without a computer, without a smart phone or tv.  I simply ate, slowly, with deliberation, and enjoyed a wonderful meal.  That is amazing.  You see, I hate to cook just for myself.  It seems too much trouble to put together a fine meal for just me.  But tonight?  I did it.  I told myself that I was worth the time to fix a nice meal.  A good meal.  One with left overs (yum!) that I can enjoy tomorrow.  And while I was eating, I enjoyed the sound of my dishwasher running.  Music to my ears.  And I savored every bite.

Today, I loved myself.  How?  I told myself that I am a worthy person.  And I treated myself with respect and love.  It felt wonderful.

 

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What is your identity?

A few weeks ago, I was in at a reception with a small group of women.  The conversation moved to organization and hoarding issues.

Somewhat jokingly, and somewhat seriously, I said, “Hello, my name is Melinda, and I’m a hoarder.”

One of the other ladies looked at me and asked me a question something to the effect of “Is hoarding part of your self identity?”

That stopped me.  I had to think about that for a minute before I answered.  I said that while I struggle with it, I didn’t think it was part of my identity.  But I have been thinking about that question ever since.

In most 12 step programs, you have to acknowledge this issue.  “I am Bob, and I am an alcoholic”;  “I am Andrew, and I am an addict”;  “I am Susan, and I am co-dependent”.  It is very important to accept and acknowledge the issue.  That is a step to recovery in those programs.

I am Melinda, and I am a hoarder.  But is that part of my self-identity?  If my identity is that of a hoarder, then I fear that to try to no longer be a hoarder will be to destroy a part of my self.  And that feeling, however non-valid it might be, might lead me to subconsciously sabotage my own efforts to improve my life.

As I pondered the question of whether or not hoarding was part of my self-identity, I had a thought.  I am a survivor.  And hoarding was one of the tools I used to help me survive.  It is not a good tool.  In many ways, it hurts far more than it helps.  But at some point in my life, it helped me to survive something.  Now I am trying to learn how to survive without hoarding.  It is hard to do.  I take 3 steps backwards for every 1 step forward.  But I am finding myself throwing things away that I kept 5 years ago, a year ago, even a month ago.  But one thing that survivors can do is to grow, change, learn to survive even better.

I hoard.  But am I a Hoarder?  How much of my self-identity is wrapped up in the piles of stuff surrounding me?  How can I acknowledge the problem, yet keep my self-identity away from the things that surround me?

After thinking about this for awhile, I came up with a new way of introducing myself.  A way that acknowledges the problem, yet helps me separate my personal identity from my piles of trash that I am slowly letting go of.

Hello.  My name is Melinda.  I struggle with hoarding disorder.  I am a survivor.

 

 

Attitude

I’m not going to copy the whole thing, but I wrote a post on my other blog on Attitude.   I debated whether or not to post it on my hoarding blog, but decided not to because it didn’t relate specifically to hoarding.  But attitude is important, so I thought I’d post the link to it. Hope my readers enjoy it!

 

Another Year – Another Bag of Trash…

This is probably going to be a rambling post.  I have had so many thoughts about hoarding over the last few months.  Thoughts that I wanted to write down and post.  Somehow, tho, I couldn’t force myself to actually take the time to sit down and actually do it.

That seems to be pretty symptomatic of my life.  I think of all kinds of wonderful things that I need to do.  But I never do it.  Or if I do, I will get it started with all the best intentions in the world.  But I never finish.

Well, here are some of the thoughts that I have had in the last few months…

First off, a few weeks ago, I was sweeping the “path” through the living room.  As I was picking through the pile of trash to see what really wasn’t trash, I came across two hot gun glue sticks.  Now, these glue sticks were filthy.  They had stuff stuck to them.  One of them was bent, and probably wouldn’t fit into a glue gun.  So what was my internal conversation?

“I use glue sticks.  I should save these.”  (Really?  These are dirty.)

“I could wash those off and clean them up and use them!” (Really? What about that bent one?)

“I have a glue pot that I could use with the bent one!” (Really?  Do you even know where it is?  And if you did know, could you get to it?”)

“But they are still useful!”

“Melinda, you have an unopened bag of glue sticks.  It is stupid to keep them! Throw those away!”

And I did throw them away.  Such a tiny little thing.  And so very big.

* * * *

Another thought I had was on encouragement and belief.  That plays a huge role in my battle against hoarding, in a lot of different ways, some good, some not so good.

I have had family members tell me that I am a very strong woman, and they don’t understand why I can’t clean my house.  They tell me this, and I think “I’m not strong, I’m broken.  How can they tell me that I am strong?”  Being told that I am a strong woman doesn’t help me when I live in the middle of the proof of my weakness.

I have had someone, someone who I cared a great deal about, someone who professed to love me, tell me that they didn’t believe I would ever overcome my hoarding issues.  He did not believe that I would ever be able to declutter my house and keep it decluttered.  He said that he wasn’t the kind of man who could deal with my hoarding, and furthermore, that he didn’t believe I would ever find anyone who could deal with my hoarding issues.  One of the components of hoarding is emotional loss.  This was a huge emotional loss, to know that someone that I loved did not believe in me.  And my emotional reaction to that stopped a lot of the progress that I had been making.  It took awhile before I got to the point of being able to work on my house again. I managed it, eventually, but I still hear those words in my mind.

But a few days ago, a friend told me something very simple.  We were talking about my hoarding.  He offered to light a match or drive a bulldozer through my house.  But before he left, he hugged me and he told me that I could do it.

“A little bit at a time.  You can do this.”

He believes in me.  He believes that, eventually, I can lick this.  And you know what?  Maybe not everyday since he said that to me, but almost everyday, I have done something on my house.  I have thrown away more stuff, put away more stuff, taken more boxes of things away from my house in the few days since he said that, than I have in several months.

My son came over the day before Christmas.  We spent several hours working on my stuff – he directed, pointed me to the next thing, and kept me from feeling overwhelmed, but I had to make all the decisions.  He told me what box to get next, I had to get it, pull the items out one at a time, and decide if it was a keeper, a throw away, or a give away.  We did so much together, it was wonderful.  I cried over some of the things I threw away.  My son hugged me and told me he was proud of me.  But all through that, in the back of my mind were the words spoken to me by my friend.

“A little bit at a time.  You can do this.”

The right kind of encouragement, even simple words, can mean so much.

********

So, the new year.

I titled this “Another Year, Another Bag of Trash…”  For the last several years, I have had a simple New Year’s resolution.  It has worked for me for a while.  The resolution is to do more.  Simple.  To do More.

In the last year, I have come to a greater understanding.  I fulfilled an item on my bucket list, to have a book published. (Meditations of a Hoarder, available on Amazon and from Yard Dog Press)  I have thrown away things that I have kept for years.  I have done more.  It is a good resolution, and the one resolution that I have been able to keep.

So this year, I resolve…to do more.

Have a great 2016.