I have a problem with clutter, with which I have struggled all of my life. I cannot remember ever living in a house that was not cluttered. For 15 years, I have been attempting to address it in fits and starts. I remember when I was about 10 or 11, my father complained that there was never a clean flat surface in the house. I can only seem to keep any surface clean for a few hours at a time.
Today I had an anxiety attack about my house. I was expecting a guest in the mid afternoon, and a few hours before that, I set down my knitting and got up to give the house a quick clean up. I surveyed my kitchen and started crying. I was so overwhelmed by the chaos in my house. I sat down again and opened a chat with my best friend to cry over the state of my home and life while I ate a tortilla that I had spread with butter and cinnamon sugar.
After some commiseration, we explored some of what is behind my anxiety about getting rid of things. It could be my growing up in poverty, and having developed the scarcity mentality that we have to hold on to things in case we need them later. It could be my Yankee frugality of never throwing out something that might be useful someday. It could be religious beliefs of taking care of Mother Earth and not generating lots of trash so as to ease the burden on her. Yes, I know that last one doesn’t really make sense since trash is trash even if it is still in my house. Beliefs are funny things that way.
I looked up information on hoarding, and it looks like I probably have a mild case of it, along with probably 5% of the population. According to the International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation (pdf), a lot of people believe the causes are of their hoarding are very similar to mine. They say that research does not bear that out. They do not say, however, what does cause it.
Fifteen years ago I was introduced to FlyLady, who can do wonderful things for helping people get their lives in order. I have tried her method off and on over the years, but inside, I haven’t been quite ready to make such a big change. One excuse I have used over the years is the lack of my stability in a home. Meaning, as I moved from house to house, I held on to my things as the only source I had for my roots. I have moved 23 times, and at one point I had moved almost as many times as I was years old. The last seven years have been the most stable, with only three different homes.
My wise friend made an astute observation.
Well you’re really setting up lots of roadblocks for why you can’t let it go.
“I hate the dump.”
“I hate a yard sale”
“I’m scared I will need it.”
All that does is permit you to keep chaos in your life. You’re the obstacle. Not the stuff.
Sometimes we just need to hear things we already know from someone else.
I believe I am finally ready to let things go now. We have been in this house for a full three years now, and we have no intention of moving for another twelve. Little A is my only child who has the opportunity to graduate high school in the same district as she attended kindergarten.
My plan of action
When my husband came home from work today to find me crying in the kitchen, he asked what he could do to help. I decided to tackle the biggest eye-catching clutter first and cleared off my kitchen island. I asked him to just catalog what I removed from the island as I called it out. Never before have I cleaned the island off so quickly. It was kind of like a treasure hunt. What was the craziest thing I would find?
Stuff I found on my kitchen island:
- Empty pickle jar
- flat pumpkin (beginning to rot)
- broken drawer dividers
- Rubbermaid container of googly eyes
- dust mask
- gigantic d20
- pine cone
- a paper butterfly that Little A made in school
- aloe gel
- dish towel
- dirty reusable produce bag
- 3 stainless steel water bottles
- broken sunglasses
- hot mitt
- 2 tin cups
- broken thermometer probe
- milk jug ring
- broken spice jar cap
- checker (from Connect 4 game)
- toy truck
- pin impression toy
- Dr. visit discharge instructions
- empty peanut butter jar
- twisty tie
- bread bag tab
- empty flour bin (no bugs! yea)
- 2 quart pitcher lid
- dirty silverware
- measuring cup
- paper remnants
- measuring spoon
- dish basin
- ceramic beer stein with lid
- Dr. Seuss’ ABCs board book
- Where’s Spot? book
- bucket of formerly-frozen-now-alcoholic-fermented blueberries
- dirty bowl
- rotting vegetables
- child’s tea set
- rusty skillet lid
- bubble wand
- container of random hardware/batteries
- 2 used up candles
- cookie sheet
- moldy lemons
- moldy ginger
- bobby pin
And that was just on the island. I still have two other counters, a set of shelves, and the floor. Then the rest of the house. When we were done, my husband asked, “Is that all we had to do to get you to clean the counter? Name everything?” In all honesty, the first step in defeating an opponent is to name them. So I guess so.
Living like this is not conducive to a slow, frugal, deliberate lifestyle. This is a false frugality. When you are frugal, you can find the things you need. This, however, makes it so you can’t find what you already have and then you have to go buy another. That is the opposite of frugality. You cannot live slowly and deliberately when you are stressed by the state of your home, which is supposed to be a sanctuary, and when you are always searching for things that you cannot find.
Do you battle with clutter? What is your roadblock to progress? What helps you face it?