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.

 

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But it is still useful…Really???

Well, I have had so many thoughts that I wanted to write about in the last few weeks.  Have I?  No.  Just thought about it.  I have been a roller coaster of emotion and frustration since I agreed to do that interview.  It was rough.  There were things in the article that I never said, but from the placement, it seemed as if I had said them.  The pictures were horrible.  I cried again when I read it.

But…I learned a few things.  For example, evidently there is only one therapist in all of Arkansas who specializes in Hoarding behavior.  Or at least, there was only one that the reporter was able to find, and the therapist in question said as far as she knew, she was the only one.

There are no physical support groups for hoarding in Arkansas.  There are some on-line support groups, and there is a facebook support group for hoarders, also.

And – The reporter told me that after the day the story came out, five different people came to her and said that they had family members with hoarding issues.  I had friend requests on face book from people I had never heard of before. (one of them worked at the newspaper) One person even looked up my phone number, called me, and said they wanted to help me organize.

But between my emotional state after this article was published, being in a very fun but highly exhausting temporary job, and some family medical issues, I had pretty much given up doing anything with the house.  At least for a little bit.  It doesn’t help that my water has gone out, yet again.

But I have gotten very tired of looking at my junk.  My hoard.  My treasured trash.  And while I am usually pretty good at putting empty cans and food wrappers in the trash, that is where a lot of the things that I keep will eventually end up.  In the trash.

So the rain today cancelled my work.  I had gotten up early, and really should have gone back to bed for some extra rest, but I chose instead to play on my computer, take care of some on-line business, set up my new uverse account, and otherwise waste the day away.

However…I set my timer.  15 minutes worth of decluttering on my kitchen table.  And some more playing around.  And another 15 minutes of decluttering.  And then a little more.  Now, my table is so filled with STUFF that 45 minutes or so of decluttering on it has resulted in me being able to see one small corner.  Admittedly not all of that 45 minutes was done on the table.  But at least 30 of it was.  And I can only see one small corner that is more or less clear, with other parts of the table still covered.  The piles are not as high.  But still covered.  And I went from a trash can with a half full garbage bag to a trash can with a full garbage bag, now ready to go out.

Maybe it sounds like I didn’t do very much.  But I can claim a small but important victory.  You see, one of the things on the table was a headset – headphones and microphone combo, that I used with my computer.  But the mike went out.  Quit working.  So I replaced it.  But I never threw the old one away.  Now, the mike on this headset quit working months and months ago. In fact, I just bought a replacement to the replacement, since the replacement is no longer stereo.

So, Why haven’t I thrown that set of headphones away long ago? Because even tho the mike didn’t work, the headphones did. That made it still “useful” and thus worthy of saving. Even though I wasn’t using them, and hadn’t for months. I still couldn’t bring myself to throw them away.  After all, the new set might go out, and I could use the old one again – or at least, the still working headphones part of it.

Crazy thinking.

Well, today, I claim a victory.  Those headphones, despite the fact that they are still “useful”, are in the trash.  GASP!!!!   I THREW AWAY SOMETHING THAT WAS STILL PARTIALLY USEFUL!!!  But I realized that I would never use it again.  And no one else would want it.  So it has left my table, left my sight, is bagged up in the trash, and will leave my house when I take the trash out for pick-up.  VICTORY!

Every time I overcome that impulse to hoard, to hang on to things that I don’t need, won’t use, and no longer make me smile or spark joy – it gets just a tiny bit easier to toss the next thing.

So – did I waste my day?  Some people would say yes.  They would look at everything that I didn’t do, while I was reading Facebook or playing a computer game.  Maybe they are right.

But I have a corner of a table that I can see for the first time in over a year.  And something that a few months ago I had to keep, could not allow myself to throw away, because it was still “useful” – is now out of my life.

It is a baby step.  But for someone like me, throwing that one item away is as much of an accomplishment as for a non-hoarder to clean an entire room.

Today, I decluttered.  I filled a trash can.  I can see a small result.

Today, I claim victory.

Exposure is very scary…

Well, I did it.  I was interviewed by a reporter.  About Hoarding.  She Is writing an article, a feature story, and heard, through the grapevine, that I had written a book.  So, I got a message – would I be willing to talk to her?  Would I be willing to let her take pictures?

Of course I said yes.  Probably one of the bravest things I’ve done in a while.  I cried beforehand, I cried during the interview, a little bit, and I cried afterwards.

She came prepared with questions.  One of the questions that she asked was when was the last time I had someone in my home who wasn’t family.  I had to think about it.  It was over two years ago.

And sometime, in the next couple of weeks, this story, complete with pictures, will be in the statewide newspaper.  There are people out there who know me, who do not know that I am a hoarder.  Well, if they take the paper, they will.  Pictures of my house.  Statewide.

It is really scary.  I don’t know how people will view me afterwards.  I don’t know if it will affect my professional life.  One reason why people are so secretive about their hoarding is the fact that many of them are good at what they do.  Outside of their home, they seem in control, businesslike, intelligent…

On the inside?  At home? Often a different story.  I can’t speak for all the hoarders out there, I can only speak for myself.  But I wake up every morning to a house that tells me I am a failure.  That something is terribly wrong with me, because I am an intelligent, skilled, talented woman, so I should be able to keep my house clean.   And somehow, I can’t.  So obviously, there is something horribly wrong with me…so I go through life feeling as though I am fooling people into thinking that I am talented, and skilled, and a part of me is always thinking – what if they find out how I really am?  And now, with this story, everybody who takes the paper will know that there is something horribly wrong with me.

But…if this story helps even one person to admit that they have problems, to see that they are not alone, that other people deal with the same struggle, the same pain…

I’d interview again in a heartbeat.

Is it being thrifty? Is it Hoarding? Or is it guilt?

So, it is Monday.  And I have been home all day, spending some time polishing up a story, some time playing video games and on Facebook.  And some time cleaning and decluttering.  I worked on unloading some stuff from my non-functioning van that has been in it for months.  And I worked on unloading stuff from my loaner car that has been in there since my last presentation three weeks ago.  And in the process of trying to figure out how to fit the stuff from my car and my van, I moved around, cleaned up some stuff, and threw some stuff away in my house.

And it has been hot.  Which means my energy for doing what I need to be doing is limited – it is so much easier to sit in front of my computer with the fan blowing directly on me, than it is to work outside or in my house, with its little one room air conditioner for the entire downstairs.

None-the-less, I am trying to get my house into better shape.  My dad is not in good health – as he puts it, he could die this week, or he could last another 6 months or so.  I really really would like for him to see my entire downstairs in a respectable condition before he dies.

So, that was the prelude. Now what I really want to talk about…

While  I was decluttering, moving things around, and cleaning in my house, I came across a small plastic tubby – the disposable food store variety, with something in it.  When I opened it up, I found polymer crystals that I had turned into a room deodorizer – years and years before. If you take liquid potpourri, mix it half and half with water, and pour it over the polymer crystals, they will swell up and smell nice.  You can also do this with essential or fragrance oils and water.  Just a few drops of oil, a quarter teaspoon of crystals, water – preferably sterile water – and you have enough to fill a jelly jar.  Add a few drops of food coloring, put it in a clear jar – pretty, and smells nice.  As they dehydrate, just add more water and fragrance.  I used to make these and sell them at craft fairs.

So, here is a box of some leftovers.  I opened it up – it had been mostly airtight, so the crystals had not evaporated and shrunk.  I cautiously took a sniff – well, it didn’t smell good like it had years ago, but it didn’t smell nasty.  But it didn’t smell good.  So, I should throw it away, right?

OH NO!!!!  I can’t throw that away – it would be wasteful!!!!   I should wash them out, let them dehydrate, and reuse them!!!

Seriously.  That was what I was thinking.  I can’t waste these polymer crystals by throwing them away.  I need to find a way to reuse them, somehow.  I was on my way to the kitchen, to start the rinsing process when I realized what I was doing.

Now, if I had no more polymer crystals, that might be one thing.  They are very useful things – put them in your potting soil and they will absorb water, then slowly release it into the dirt.  They can be used in vases with cut flower arrangements.  They can add interesting decor.  But these?  It had been at least FOUR YEARS – and I think actually closer to five, since I had made those.  And I have a couple of pounds (and one tablespoon goes a LOOOONG way) of unused polymer crystals in a box.  So why was I looking for a way to try to save these?  To keep them?  To reuse them?

Because I had an inner voice telling me – Don’t waste it.

I had an inner voice telling me – You might need it someday.

I had an inner voice telling me – Throwing that away is like throwing money away.

I had an inner feeling of GUILT for even contemplating wasting that good stuff.

And I realized that I live everyday with a feeling of guilt.  I feel guilty that my house is the way it is.  I feel guilty that my father has “enabled” me by letting me live in an unfinished house rent free.  I feel guilty that my arms were not long enough to cut panels to finish the house, or strong enough to lift things to the ceiling.  I feel guilty that I do not have the tools or the skills to repair my leaking roof.  I feel guilty that despite not having to pay rent, I don’t have the money to hire someone with the tools and the skills to fix my house.

And more than that – I feel guilty for my dreams, my dreams of artistic creation, of writing – because I keep getting told “you can’t do just anything that you want – grow up!” by all those inner voices.  I feel guilty that I don’t have a 9-5 job, despite the fact that the specialty work that I do with students is very important, and if I had a 9-5, I wouldn’t be able to do that.  I feel guilty that right now, at this minute, I have about $16 in the bank, and although some of my August bills are already paid, I have no idea how I will pay the rest, or how I will pay September’s bills – because the work that I love, and that I am so good at, and so important – won’t start until the end of September.

Guilt for this, guilt for that, guilt for everything.

Everyday, when I wake up, I look at my house, and I feel guilty, unworthy, inadequate, subhuman…

Every single day.

And all those inner voices were yammering at me as I headed towards the kitchen to rinse out those old polymer crystals.

But today…today I realized what I was doing.  Today I realized that I was listening to too many voices from my past and present.

And I told them to shut up.

And I turned around, and threw the box in the trash.

And started crying.  Because one baby step at a time, I will make it.

Sometimes keeping something is more wasteful to your life than throwing it away.

Why do I carry my clutter with me?

I realized something this month.

I carry my clutter with me.  There is something about having lots of stuff that is, in some obscure way, comforting to me.

I realized this when I was staying with my son this past month.  I was at his house for almost a week, attending a conference in the town he lives in.  It took four trips (or maybe five) to get everything in to the room that I was staying in.  And I was sly about it – because I didn’t want them to know how much stuff I was bringing in with me – some of it stayed in my car, and didn’t come in till the next day.

Now, in my defense – I did actually get into and use something from all but one of the assorted bags and cases that I brought in.  My prescription pillow goes with me everywhere.  I needed my computer and printer for the conference I was observing.  but my toiletry bag?  I only used three items from it.  Why couldn’t I have put those three items in a small bag in my suitcase?  When did I need to bring a big bag full of items that I knew I would not need or use?  Yes, I did do some crochet while I was there – but half of that bag could easily have stayed home.  Why did I think I would need everything?

My car is not much better.  Here it is, two full weeks after the conference is over, and it is still full of the stuff that I used for my presentation.  I haven’t unpacked it yet.  Why?

Why do I feel as tho I need to carry all this extra stuff around with me?  Yes, it is good stuff.  Yes I use it, and I use it on a regular basis.  But why do I think I need to carry it with me?

And this was something that I realized for the first time ever – whenever I have gone someplace, I always have something extra with me.  My car is always full of stuff that I don’t need, probably won’t use.  Always.  Now that I have realized this, I have new questions.

“Why do I feel like I need so much stuff with me?”  and “How can I change?”

Bucket list item: Accomplished! My book is in my hand!

Ok, I have a bucket list.  If you don’t know what a bucket list is, it is a list of things that you want to do before you kick the bucket.  I don’t have very many items on my bucket list.  At the top has been “have a clean house” for about as long as I have known what a bucket list is.  Other items include “Get a book published”, “Visit the highlands of Scotland”, “get a couple more cds out” and “Become a better artist”.  I have a couple more which I doubt will ever happen.

Well, today I hold proof that one of the items on my bucket list can be crossed out.  My author’s copies arrived today.  A book.  With my name as the sole author.  A real book, that I wrote.  And it is not a vanity publishing.  I did not pay a cent to have this book published.  My author’s copies are an advance on royalties.  And hopefully, between me, the publisher, and Amazon, enough copies will sell so that I can earn a little bit in royalties.  Honestly?  I would love it if a million copies sold.  If this went viral.  I would love to know that my struggles with hoarding could help someone else.  I am a hoarder.  The cover of my book is my living room 5 years ago – and it doesn’t look much better today, at least, not right at this moment.  So often I feel like a failure.  But…

I have a book published.  I have the proof, right here at the side of my computer.  I can cross off something from my bucket list.

And more than that…when my book was accepted for publication, I had to read it to make the edits.  Then I had to read it again.  I read the galley.  And in the process of reading and rereading my book.  I started thinking about my bucket list – which I talk about a little bit in one of the chapters.

And I started to paint more.  I am not an artist.  But I am beginning to teach myself how to translate the image from my mind to canvas.  I have a painting in my mind, and it is my dearest hope that someday, I will be able to paint it.

I’ve crossed one item off my bucket list.  I’m beginning to work on another.  Who knows – maybe I will be able to go to Scotland someday.  And, someday, I plan on crossing off the one about having a clean house.

I am not a failure.  I am able to succeed.  And so can you.

If you are interested, my book, Meditations of a Hoarder, is available at Yard Dog Press, and may be purchased as a paperback or an ebook.   http://www.yarddogpress.com/books/MeditationsofaHoarder.html

I am not alone…

Hoarding.  We don’t like to be called hoarders.  “I have a problem with organization.”  “I’m a clutter bug.”  “…clutterholic”  Hoarder is such a horrible name.  It brings up images of the people whose piles of stuff fall on them and kills them.  Or the woman with 60 cats in her freezer, and 100 cats in her apartment.

Hoarder.

It sets us apart.  We don’t want people to know our secret, so no one comes to our house.  We turn down invitations to other people’s houses, because we can’t reciprocate.  We isolate ourselves with our stuff, our clutter, our collections, our things, our treasures, our trash, our grindstones weighing us down.

Isolated.  And so very alone.

But are we?  It is estimated that in America, 2-5% of the population meet the DSM IV – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV – definition of hoarders..  What does that mean?  Six to fifteen MILLION people in America are hoarders.  That is a lot.  And many researchers believe that number is actually much much higher.

So, to put it in another way…The closest town to where I live has a population of approximately 23,000 people.  The county has over 78,000 people.  So somewhere between 460 and 1150 people in my town are hoarders.  Between 1560 and 3900 people in my county are hoarders.  And this is considered a low estimate.

And if these are the numbers of hoarders, how many more people – parents, children, spouses, friends – are also affected by hoarding?

Hoarding.

We isolate ourselves in our guilt and shame.

But we are not alone.