Posts

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!

The many costs of too much stuff (and some lessons for decluttering)

Over time, we accumulate stuff. Maybe we buy it, maybe it’s given to us, maybe we find it. Eventually our space becomes too full and too cluttered, and we need to do something about it.

One solution is to find some more space. There are a few options here. We can move to a bigger house or apartment, we can rent self-storage or a garage, or if we have amenable parents or friends, we can stash our stuff at theirs.

Getting more space costs us – time, money, or both. A bigger house or flat will mean higher costs, or if we decide to live further away in a cheaper neighbourhood then we spend more time travelling (and on fuel). Plus we have to spend time sorting and boxing our stuff and lugging it across town. If we’ve left our stuff with our amenable friends, there’s also the fear factor – the fear that they’ll appear on our doorstep in a few months with all of our stuff because they’re sick of tripping over it.

Plus this stuff cost us in the first place. If we took the time to look for it, and buy it, it cost us. If it was a gift, it cost someone else their time and money. Also, if our stuff was brand-new, there’s an environmental cost too. The raw materials needed to be mined or harvested, transported, processed, assembled, packaged, shipped, displayed and sold in order for us to have it.

Too much stuff also affects us in other ways, too. Clutter can affect our health. Clutter harbours dust and mould, which we breathe in. It makes us stressed and drains our energy. It can be a fire or trip hazard. Having a messy house that’s too full of stuff can be embarrassing, and make us ashamed to invite friends or family over, meaning we can become more isolated. In extreme cases, people have literally been killed by having too much stuff (I’m not going to provide any links but if you don’t believe me, google it.)

We can become slaves to our stuff. The more we have, the more it demands of us, and we end up trying to make our stuff happy. We spend time cleaning and dusting, rearranging and polishing. We buy more stuff to improve our stuff (a new display cabinet to show off our stuff, a bigger wardrobe so our clothes aren’t so squashed, a new addition to our ‘shiny things’ collection that makes it just that little bit more splendid). It is all consuming.

Of course, there’s another way to deal with having too much stuff.

Getting rid of some of it.

It sounds fairly simple, but it’s something I struggle with. Stuff can have a pretty tight grip on us. Living with my boyfriend in our one-bedroom flat – the smallest place I’ve ever lived in – for the last 18 months has been a great experience in living with less. Slowly but surely though, the amount of stuff has built up and the flat is currently feeling less than zen.

We did think about moving into a two-bedroom place, but it would cost us an extra $3000 a year. That’s a lot of money to spend on an extra room to keep all our stuff in. That money could be spent on a pretty amazing holiday. There was no contest. We’re going to stay where we are and I am going to learn how to declutter.

We’ve had a couple of attempts at decluttering so far, with mixed success, and I’ve learned some valuable lessons. Our first attempt was dedicating a weekend to decluttering, where I mostly just got impatient that our flat wasn’t decluttered already. In reality I didn’t really do much to assist the process. We got rid of one box of things. After reflecting, I decided to try a different approach.

Lesson 1: It’s not enough to want to declutter, no matter how much you desperately want it. You have to put in the physical work too.

Lesson 2: Don’t expect miracles. If you’re new to decluttering, or you’ve been a hoarder all your life, you’re not going to change in one weekend. Change takes time.

Lesson 3: If one method doesn’t work for you, try something else until you find something that does.

My next idea was to try to get rid of 100 things by taking smaller steps, and getting rid of 5 things a day. We gathered together a few bits and pieces for the charity shops and Gumtree, and we recycled some glass and cardboard that we’d been keeping (sorry, that I’d insisted we keep) in case they turned out to be useful. Excluding the rubbish and recycling, we got rid of 36 things. Not the 100 I wanted, but we did clear some more stuff.

Lesson 4: Focus on what you did achieve, not what you didn’t, and celebrate your successes, however small they may seem.

Lesson 5: If it all gets too much, take a step back. Come back to it when you feel ready again.

I decided to take some time out, and now I’m feeling re-energised and ready for another attempt. I’ve decided that this time I’m going to focus on clutter. All the stuff that seems transient, and really should have a permanent home, yet somehow doesn’t actually seem to.

I’m going to tackle the clutter from the other side. I’m going to have a major thorough spring clean, one section of the flat at a time. Rather than imagining a clutter-free space, the idea is that I’ll actually create it. Rather than being a conscious thought, it’ll be a physical manifestation. Maybe if I can see it with my own eyes, then my conscious mind will know what’s going on, can let my subconscious mind in on the plan and we’ll all be on the same page. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I don’t have all the answers to successful decluttering, but I’m learning all the time, and I’m hopeful that if I keep at it, it will get easier!