Should Hoarders Get Second Chances?

Should Hoarders Get Second Chances?

Every time my parents read a blog post I’ve written about trying to minimalise, they have a good chuckle to themselves. “It’s easy to be a minimalist when you’ve just stored everything at your parents house!” they say.

When I moved to Australia almost three years ago, I sold and gave away many of my belongings. I had nowhere to store furniture; there was no need to keep trinkets and artifacts and stuff that wasn’t useful. But the stuff that might be useful? That was kept in boxes at my parents’ house until I had a better idea of what might happen next.

When I made the decision to go to Perth, I only had a one-year visa. After that, I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen, so I didn’t want to get rid of everything. I looked into shipping, but it’s expensive, and nothing was really worth taking the trouble to send across to the other side of the world. The boxes were happy enough in storage until I came back and could sort them out.

The boxes might have been happy, but my parents were less so. When I went back to visit in August, my parents want them sorted out. Which is fair enough. Their house is full of their own stuff (I think the tendency to hoard must be genetic), plus I have both a brother and sister who also, ahem, rely on the extra storage capacity of the family home.

The boxes were dragged out of storage and presented almost triumphantly to me.

“Call yourself a minimalist?!” my dad kept saying.

“Your blog is all lies!” he kept adding.

(Note – he doesn’t actually read my blog. If he did, as I keep pointing out, he’d know that I don’t say I am a minimalist, I say I’m trying to be one – and I’m still not very good at it!)

Here is the hoard:

Stuff for Decluttering
Quite a hoard, I think you’ll agree – especially one for a (wannabe) minimalist!

That is a lot of boxes in storage for a minimalist.

The first one I opened was a box of jewellery. I thought I’d got rid of all of it when I left. I remember choosing what would fit in my suitcase, and leaving the rest behind, but I thought it had gone to the charity shop. I had no idea that it was still amongst my possessions!

It’s very strange, opening a box and finding things that you thought were gone. I remembered all of the things that were in the box once I saw them, but if you’d asked me what was in the box before I’d opened it, I would probably only have remembered half. Now the box is open, I find myself asking if I still like any of them? If I’d use them? If I should keep them? Yet minutes before, I thought they were gone and it didn’t need another thought.

I’ve been given a second chance. The problem is, I don’t need a second chance! Letting go of stuff is harder than we think and I really don’t want to go through that decision-making process again.

The other boxes were an assortment of things: camping gear, climbing equipment, kitchen stuff, trinkets (I thought I’d got rid of all of these!), hobby stuff, books, and photo albums. Some I remembered, most I didn’t.

If you had boxes like this in storage and it had been three years since you packed them, would you even open them? Or would you assume that you couldn't possibly need the contents, and give the contents away?
If you had boxes like this in storage and it had been three years since you packed them, would you even open them? Or would you assume that you couldn’t possibly need the contents, and give the contents away?

Some things were easy to sort. The jewellery, something I rarely wear anyway, was neatly sorted and packaged for the charity shop. The hammock that I bought in Mexico and have never used as I have never had anywhere to hang it (and I went to Mexico in 2004, so that is a long time in storage!) was ditched. In fact, the charity shop got quite a hoard.

Some things I was able to sell. My Magimix food processor is currently for sale on eBay – there’s just no point keeping it in storage. I was hoping my parents might use it, but after three years, if they were going to, they would have by now! At least if I sell it, it will remain useful.

Some things fitted in my suitcase. I’d packed the minimum I could on the way over in preparation for bringing back things I thought I might use.

As always, the things I struggle to get rid of are the things I know I can’t pass on or sell, but I know are still useful. Kitchen things that are too battered to be passed on, but still functional and I know I could continue to use them for a long time. Climbing gear that I would like to dust off and use again sometime. Books that I like, but were too heavy to fit in the suitcase. Photo albums that I contemplated getting rid of, but everyone else said I should keep! Surely you should never discourage a hoarder who wants to get rid of something?!

Despite her wish for me to finally rid their house of all my stuff, my mother tells me it’s okay, I can leave it there. (What can I say? Hoarding is genetic!)

This is what remains:

Everything that remains in storage
Everything that remains. Fortunately my intention to declutter is still there too : ) It’s a work in progress…

I’m not proud. That is clearly far too much stuff in storage. It is a step in the right direction, though: this pile is half of what was there when I started, and I’m pleased about that. I truly believe that decluttering only works when we continue to chip away at it. I’d love to be able to do it in an instant; to spend two hours and rid all the unnecessary clutter from my life. Experience has taught me that it doesn’t work like that!

So what next, for all this stuff? Well, I have a wildcard. My parents are coming to Australia in a couple of months, and I’m hoping there will be the opportunity to bring some more bits and pieces with them. That will also give me two months to let go and decide to ditch the rest. I hope I can do it!

Hoarders shouldn’t get second chances. They definitely shouldn’t get third and fourth chances!

What do you think of my decluttering attempt? Do you have anything in storage at family or friends’ places, or have you taken some responsibility for your stuff (unlike me)?! Do you have boxes packed away and you don’t even know what’s inside? Have you got any tips to offer or experiences to share? I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment below!

24 Responses to Should Hoarders Get Second Chances?

  1. I agree with hoarding being genetic, but it does also skip a generation! My parents are hoarders and as a result of growing up with a fair amount of stuff around, I’m totally ruthless with not holding on to stuff. If I don’t use it, it goes (mainly to charity), with the exception of things that have sentimental value, eg from childhood. I’ve recently started getting my partner to clear out more of his unnecessary things (he is also from a family of hoarders!) and have been able to persuade him by getting him to think of the charity angle. As both of us have worked with people who are homeless, giving away clothes we don’t need has become much easier because we know they are going to somebody who needs them much more than we do.

    • Haha, I know what you mean! My parents are hoarders but they like their clutter being everywhere, even though they never seem to be able to find anything, and there’s an awful lot of rooms to clean and things to dust! Whereas I have the genetic tendency, but I am rebelling against it!

      I can hardly call myself “totally ruthless” though, sadly! Maybe one day…

      My boyfriend is totally under the impression that all of the clutter in the house is mine, whereas I am equally sure it is all his! Still, I need to work on myself and my stuff before I can work on his. I’m impressed you’re at the point of working on your partners. Another incentive for me to keep going and something for me to aspire to!

      Thanks for your comment : )

    • Thanks Kathryn! There isn’t, but if my parents told me I’d have to pay to store it elsewhere or they would get rid of it, I don’t think I’d be keeping so much! I actually think it’s a lot to do with not knowing where I’m going to settle. I like the idea of living in the UK again at some point, and so holding onto those things makes me feel like that is more likely to happen. Really though, whether I have a random bag of camping stuff in my parents’ loft is hardly going to make or break the decision!

      You’re right – it’s all about balance.

  2. Hi Lindsey, I have been following your blog for a month or so now. I am so heartened to read your post! It shows I am not the only one needing to keep re-focussing. Here is the blog post I made last night, on the same topic. It will show you where I am at with minimising. There’s nothing like an event or a goal to focus the mind.

    http://minimalistexposure.wordpress.com

    You are doing great!

    • Thank you so much! I’m glad you find it heartening! There are a lot of minimalism blogs out there that are all about the “after”, where they’ve done the hard graft and now they’re reaping the rewards…but the reader doesn’t get to see the hard bit! I’m very much still a minimalist in progress, but I hope to get there eventually!

      Good luck with your move!

  3. I think it’s a journey, I’m not sure I’ll ever reach the ‘final’ destination because I’m human and therefore, fallible. Thanks for all your thought provoking posts, you have inspired me to seriously look at my use of plastics and start finding alternatives. There’s always something to work on, but I’m enjoying the process. P.S. Sorry for spelling your name wrongly!

    • I don’t think there is a destination as such, I think it’s all about the journey. But you know what I mean – the point when you look back and go, wow, I’ve come such a long way, I can’t believe how much further along I am now than when I started. I guess by that I mean the point where it all comes (more) easily, and isn’t such a struggle!

      Don’t worry, I hadn’t even noticed!

  4. We moved to the UK 4 weeks ago with 3x 7.5tonne-Vans full of …
    The third van is still in storage. It’ll come next week. If you see our house now, you would not find anything, what is missing. So what is in the last van??? Shelfs and books of course, they are missing. But what else? Spare freezer, spare washing maschine, spare sofa, spare microwave …
    When we moved in the house there were already 2 freezers, a fridge, a microwave and a lot of other — i would say: crap. I could get rid of this stuff over freegle and in charity shops. Now the clearance of our own stuff is waiting … But the house is big enogh and has a lot of hidden places for storage. How I know my husband and me: we don’t do the clearance, we store everything for the times, that we need things again, or someone will come and needs sth. or our kids will hopefully ask: “”once we had a XXX, where is it?”.

    • Ooh, so you’ve finally moved! Hope it wasn’t too stressful!

      I’m scared of big houses, because there is so much space you can fit everything in! I much prefer having small spaces where I notice if I have too much, or I think before buying something “where will it actually go?” It helps me decide if things will actually be useful.

      Do you honestly think you won’t get rid of anything?!

  5. As you no doubt know, the trouble with a large-ish house is that when you lose something, it is that much harder to find ( e.g. I KNOW I had that library book, I was carrying it around – now where is it?) I must admit, I’m glad to know that de-accessioning is difficult even for you. I think the decision making is the hardest part, and if I could just choose faster, I’d be able to be more ruthless.

    • Yes, it’s hard for me! Fortunately I realised and stopped accumulating way before I had a large house full of stuff! I still misplace things in our flat – and I’m sure it’s because we still have too much stuff : /

  6. Well done! I had four moves in five years and I thought my things were pretty lean but I still have a couple (or so!) boxes that have crept into the loft unopened and probably also gave stuff at my parents! I know that I should put them out because I clearly haven’t missed any of the stuff but once you look it is soooo much harder. I wonder if it’s better just to put the boxes straight to a charity shop without opening them, or get someone neutral to sort them so the quality stuff goes to the charity shop and anything inappropriate goes somewhere else?!

    • Well done?! Really?! Well thanks! I think moving often helps declutter because you have to face your stuff. And physically lug it all about the place. It makes you resent it a lot faster! My parents have lived in their house for over 25 years and have not had a single declutter in all that time, I’m sure : /

      Still, that’s no excuse for me to leave my things there!

  7. As I’m in the process of packing to move myself and four kids into a tiny 2 bed apartment this is definitely something I have been thinking about! My folks (who I’ve been living with) are terrible hoarders and I can’t stand it, but I’ve come to realise that I am NOT and will never be a minimalist. I just can’t help it, I like beautiful things and always hang onto stuff with sentimental value…

    I only buy used, everything I own still has a purpose- even if it’s just making our home beautiful- and if it doesn’t it goes. So while I think aspiring to minimalism is great, I will never get there…you sound like you’re doing pretty well though!

    (I’ve actually spent my day sorting through boxes that have been in my folks shed for over 5 years, and found all my kids baby photos that I’d thought I’d lost years ago :)

    • Lots of minimalists actually say that there’s not a rule for how little stuff you have in order to call yourself a minimalist…as long as you only keep what you need. So if you need beautiful things or sentimental things it doesn’t disqualify you – unless maybe you collect them!

      I could never be one of those “I only own 100 things” or “everything I own fits in a backpack” minimalists! For a start, I love food and cooking too much, and I need the tools to be able to make the things I like to eat! So I consider a cooling rack an essential, whereas many minimalists probably don’t! (But seriously, who wants to eat soggy biscuits?) it’s just that I still have lots of non-useful and non-essentials too…

      It sounds to me that if you only have things that are useful or beautiful them you are there already! That’s where I aspire to be. Good luck with the downsizing, I hope you don’t struggle as much as I have. If you have any tips you’d like to share I’d LOVE to hear them : )

  8. I actually left nearly everything I owned and started again from scratch…not ideal for everyone, but it makes you think consciously about every item you add into your life and whether its really needed (plus I’ve been able to see where my weaknesses are- books and mugs apparently!)

    • I’ve heard of other people doing that, and I’m contemplating doing that next time I move house (which will probably be next year). Not everything, mind! Just bigger stuff like furniture. Everything in our flat was bought second-hand, so was inexpensive and we can probably sell for similar prices to what we paid. Plus it means we can start again and choose things that are right for the new place rather than ones that suited this place. Another bonus – there’s no transport costs! But we’ll see when the time comes!

      I don’t know if I want to see my weaknesses, however! Mugs – that’s a funny one! At least they are practical ; )

  9. I’m not a hoarder, but I did go through the same thing with my parent’s house over in Australia, finding things I thought were long since gone. All I can say is this: give the lot to charity. Ask your parents to give it away. It’s of no use or importance to you, but it may be to someone else.

    That’s what I did in the end, and I don’t regret it at all. I only wish I’d done it right away, instead of having the stuff sitting there for over a decade!

    • Thanks for the advice! I think that’s what I’m going to do – maybe go through and make a final list of the things I know I want, and discard the rest. Just need to make the list…

      • I just kept putting it off and off, and in the end Dad (in a very NICE way) gave me an ultimatum – either I ship the stuff over to New Zealand, or I figure out something else to do with. Fair enough – it had been there for years.

        The ultimatum was what I needed. Next time I came over I looked through it all and realised it was really just junk. So I offered the books to my brother, still living in the same city, for his kids, and gave the rest to charity. I don’t regret it at all. I figure if I didn’t need it for over a decade, I certainly didn’t need it now!

        • An ultimatum is probably what I need, but I’m scared of them! It means making decisions about my stuff! Even though I’m pretty sure I’d get rid of it all and not give it a second thought… : /

  10. I would have gone through the boxes too. ;-) As you know I just moved house and shocked not only myself but family and friends to see how much had been packed into my little apartment. I didn’t have storage so to speak there but some how I had a lot of stuff. I did go through all my hardware and got rid of all the cabinet hinges a couple of months ago, now I wish I still had some of them because the hinges in my kitchen are disgusting. It’s taking forever to clean them and then they still look horrible.

    As for what you have left, I’d have it brought to me, once in my home trying to figure out where to put everything I’d be ruthless and get rid of most. Sad you couldn’t use your hammock I love them and want to put one in my yard.

    • My friend just picked up some boxes she had in storage at a friends while she’s been travelling and then house setting for four months. After that time, she couldn’t remember what was in them and decided she couldn’t possibly need them. I suggested she take them straight to the charity shop. But she couldn’t! Sealed boxes are just too intriguing!

      I’ve skimmed your posts but not had time to sit back and have a proper read. Did you post any pictures of your hoard?! I’d be intrigued to see! You’ll have to be careful now your new place is bigger not to fill it up! : p

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