Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Minimalist Home

I think minimalism as a concept is becoming more and more appealing to me. Another goal, besides making the house presentable by the end of the summer, is to make my own room as minimalist as I possibly can. It'll do me good to get by with much less.

This blog really inspired me, and it has a great dejunking message.

Things I'll need to do:
  1. Finally stop procrastinating and thoroughly dejunk my closet.
  2. Design a system into my closet so that I can eliminate the chest of drawers, the top of which is attracting junk and the drawers of which I barely use anyway.
  3. Give away that wall decoration which I thought was awesome 2 years ago and which I now realize is tacky as hell.
  4. Clear as much stuff off my floor as possible.
  5. Put the huge boxes of shelf-stable soymilk somewhere other than my bedroom.
  6. Bring a small filing cabinet in here for the pile of important but disorganized papers laying on my floor.
  7. Get rid of the mini-fridge I never ended up using. Thanks anyway dad.
  8. Finish painting both my closet and bedroom doors.
  9. Put away my ugly tacky silver sequined lamp. Sigh.

Big progress in the living room!!!

I could not be happier today. Mom was in a great mental space today and we must have plowed through 7 or 8 hundred magazines that had been junking up the living room since 1999.

The lesson of the day is, take your cue from the hoarder. If she's interested in cleaning up magazines instead of going through her old records, go with it. Everything has to happen at the hoarder's pace, with gentle(!) cues from the helper from time to time.

It started with mom going through a cardboard box that had been full of magazines forever. Then she kept asking me to bring her another pile. Being from a military family, she's not stereotypically neat, but she does follow through with a task once she starts and gets momentum going. This was an absolute shock to me. I NEVER thought she would part with any of these hundreds of old junk copies of Newsweek, the New Yorker, Scientific American, etc. Lo and behold, she begins a huge pile of "give-away" magazines. All I did was provide her the tools (the recycling box for things too crap to give away) and she did the rest, quickly and efficiently sorting through at least 100 pounds of old dusty magazines and catalogues. I told her over and over how proud I was. I called up my aunt to give her the heads-up about my mom intending these materials for her, she said bring them over, she collages and scrapbooks now and is happy to take them.

Poof! Like that, one of the biggest slices of the junk pie almost totally removed. She did save a small, neat stack of current publications, but she ruthlessly dejunked all the others. Something she never would have done 5 years ago. I'm seeing a change in her and it's so inspiring. When I cleaned off the mantelpiece I made sure to keep and proudly display a small but lovely piece of art she made about 40 years ago (when she was the age I am now). It's a reminder to me, and hopefully her, that there was once a wonderful, clever, strong, creative spirit inside her often thorny exterior. The more junk gets removed, the more that spirit can emerge.

Plus we put an entire blue recycling bin full to brimming out, and filled up a bag for charity. I also cleaned off the entertainment center and put the old Playstation and its games into a bag to truck down to the local thrift shop.

My dad wasn't as happy as I would have liked him to be, but that's his personality. I totally psychoanalyzed him and told him that I understood how painful the house must be for him, and how I know he's negative about it b/c he's been dealing with it for much longer than I have. He immediately opened up to me and told me about times in the past when he was working 2 jobs and all he wanted was to come home to a nice house. And he couldn't even have that. So eventually he gave up beating his head against the wall. He resigned himself to living with a hoarder. I know he probably only stayed for us kids.

Overall I'm very happy with the progress we made today, emotionally as well as junk-ily.I feel like it won't be quite "real" until we cart all that stuff out tomorrow.

I've got everyone in the house working on dejunking now. In addition to my mom's sudden surprising fervor today, I had my brother clear his comic books out of the living room and my dad chose to recycle all his old HOME magazines that we had sorted from the piles. Even my boyfriend is dejunking the house he's currently living in. Let's start a minimalist trend! Less stuff for everyone!

I would be overjoyed to see a dejunking trend hit this country - let's all try having just enough instead of much too much.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Living Room, Day 1.

Started on the living room today...ugh. What a slog. It is the most difficult room, because mom refuses to acknowledge that much of the furniture and the empty bookcase and the never-used wood stove could be classified as junk. She only thinks of spare papers as junk. At least I "cleaned up" (by which I mean, restacked) a few piles of magazines we've been stepping over repeatedly, we filled up a bag of stuff to go to good will, and I took 2 old sewing machines up to her bedroom and a box of textbooks up to my brother's room. Took all the junky kitsch off the mantle peice, trying to figure out what is her sentimental junk and what is nice enough to put back up. Empty and organize, empty and organize. Currently waiting for my dad to get home to ok us switching out the coffee table for the nicer one that's been sitting on the porch. Exhausted. This room is going to take a long, long time. As least mom has finally decided I'm on her side now.

Signs Your Loved One Is A Hoarder

It's a blurry line between packrat and low-level hoarder. Here's a few quick ways to tell when the person who loves to save is verging into hoarding territory:

  1. The most immediate and telling sign of hoarding is that the rooms in their home can no longer be used for their intended purpose due to junk build-up. I.e., all meals are taken on the coffee table because the dinner table is completely obscured. This situation lasts for years, not days.
  2. Utility becomes obscured by quantity. Their collections of value-less items move above the range of 20 to 30, ie, keeping hundreds of plastic bags, several dozen empty glass bottles, thousands of twist ties, etc. A cost/benefit analysis reveals that the cost of keeping these items (lost floor space, missed social opportunities, junked up living space) is greater than the benefit of their use.
  3. The keeper in question demonstrates stronger emotional attachments to these value-less items than to family and friends, ie, extremely upset about unauthorized recycling of plastic bags, yet nonchalant about failed interpersonal relationships.
  4. The keeper creates a "nest" which they rarely move from, ie, a cushy chair or couch on which they spend the majority of their time. The floor around this nest may be completely covered in old magazines, catalogs, books, etc.
  5. The keeper consistently demonstrates avoidance behavior. When an outsider attempts to offer help to make the home more livable, the keeper stonewalls, procrastinates, and denies that there is a problem. Blaming is another common behavior.
  6. The keeper may have suffered a severe personal trauma at some point in their life. For example, abusive parents who threw away or altered the keeper's personal belongings as a child, making them feel like they must keep all their things close at hand.

There are many more and these are primarily my unscientific observations. However I'm a big believer that "the more you know..." so keep an eye out for the above.

Do you have other signs of hoarding you'd like to share?

Bathroom, linen closet, kitchen, and coat closet.

These are the 4 areas I've tackled so far, previous to starting this blog. I REALLY wish I had taken before and after pictures - you would be stunned to see how much stuff I was able to get rid of.

I began with the bathroom one day on a whim. I finally installed the new, correct-fitting toilet seat one day while the whole family was out, just to have something to do. It looked so nice that I decided to keep going, and I cleaned out the entire corner of the bathroom where tp and tissues are stacked up. The tiny room (not even legally large enough to be called a bathroom, according to our local zoning laws) immediately felt 10X bigger and so much more spacious.

I'd caught the dejunking bug that bites me at the end of spring every year. Each time I passed the bathroom I felt my spirits lift. A few days later I decided to try the linen closet, a veritable repository of gross old creams and expired medication. After several hours of trashing what was trash and separating the old meds out to go to Rite Aid for medical waste disposal, I could actually see all the way to the back of the closet. I threw away an entire trash bag full of junk, including a number of items significantly older than I am (including eye cream that expired in 1985).

No one complained. I expected mom to throw a fit, but she didn't even mention it.

I got a little bolder. Next I did the kitchen. The entire center counter (we call it the peninsula, since it's not quite an island) was covered in empty glass bottles and washed out yogurt containers, my mom's favorite 2 makeshift reusable containers (even though she has a ton of legit tupperware). I managed to clear off both major flat surfaces in the kitchen, the peninsula counter and the counter next to the stove. I also dejunked the nook between kitchen and dining room. The shelves above the sink are their own 2-day project and will require lots of input from my mother. Still, I was so proud of myself for making what once looked like an ocean of trash into a habitable counter space that you could actually cook on.

Finally, I dedicated yesterday to the front coat closet, a space which no one has been able to walk though for years. It's one of those quiet spaces where junk just sort of somehow accumulates, and no one quite knows how it got there. Not only did I load the entire back of my hatchback Taurus up with stuff and make a trip to the local thrift shop, I was able to load it AGAIN with excess coats. I was really nervous here that my mom would not be able to part with the disgusting old coats which have hung unseen and unused in that closet for years. But, miracle of miracles, she did! I picked a time of day when I know she's "good", mentally together enough not to pull out the excuses of "I'll do it later, when things settle down, when I'm not exhausted, when my brain is working", etc. I made a system - all of the coats would be taken out of the closet and divided up according to owner. The owner would then go through them and hang up what they wanted, and put anything that was junk into a pile to be donated.

We managed to get rid of at least 50% of the old coats in that closet. I think we pulled out about 8 or 9 to be donated. My mom kept 5 coats, my brother kept 1, I kept 1, my dad kept none (he keeps his in his car b/c he's on the road so much). I was very proud of my mom for being able to get rid of so much stuff, and I told her so. She almost had to make a "This stuff is so ugly" game out of it, but whatever helps her get through dejunking works for me.

By the end of the day the closet had gone from packed to chest height with old junk to neatly organized and with extra space left over. It was magical. I didn't have a chance to sort through the dresser, but it is neatly labeled and all the stuff in there is sorted correctly, so it's not a pressing matter for me right now. Also, I found about 1.30 in the pockets of the old jackets we gave away! Plus, I found a pair of my old roller blades - I LOVE roller blading but hadn't had a chance to do it in years. I can't wait for the weather to dry up so I can use them!

All of the legitimate, functional stuff that had been pushed out of the closet by the junk was able to go back in, including shoes that were staying in the living room and jackets that were hanging on the banister.

My dad was very very happy with the fact that we are now able to walk in through the front door of our house. He said he would buy lunch for anyone who kept it looking that nice. Even mom commented that it was "a good idea"! We're making progress here people, slowly but surely.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Die, junk, die!!!

I am the 21-year old daughter of a 62 year old hoarder. My mother's behavior is tough for me to classify - most of my life I used the label "packrat" or "keeper" because I didn't know what else to call it. It wasn't just that she didn't mind the house being a mess of value-less things which junked up every living space of our relatively small home - she was in a hugely different mental space than anyone else in the family. Despite my urgings she could not, would not talk about the junk, who it belonged to (90% her), and what to do about it. At first I was young and angry. I tried all the worst tactics, shame, guilt, etc, to force her to change. I couldn't stand the constant sense of claustrophobia in the family home. I moved out at 18 to get away from it - even though my boyfriend at the time became increasingly abusive, even that seemed preferable to the immense stress of living with a hoarder. I wanted a nice, clean, minimalist life. I wanted to know exactly where everything I owned was. I wanted my papers to be in order. I was angry with my mom for hoarding, angry with my brother for his apathetic complicity, angry with my dad for his impotence.

Now I'm older, wiser, and determined to whip this house into shape, one room at a time.