Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Room & Hoard

I am a packrat. I think it stems from a handful of factors. First (and probably most) of all, I was raised by a packrat. My mom is a crafter and thrift store shopper, a reader and a puzzle-worker. We never had a lot of extra money, so it was often prudent to hang onto stuff that we might need someday, because it seemed ridiculous to throw something out and then later buy a replacement. My parents' house isn't dirty, but it's definitely brimming with stuff. Then, because I worked at a craft store for almost two years, I have a closet full of craft supplies bought on clearance and with my employee discount. Our CD and DVD collections were similarly bolstered by my years working at the music store. I'm a little bit over the edge, probably, when it comes to trying to keep things out of the landfill. Mostly I can get by thanks to recycling and freecycling, but sometimes I still get stuck with stuff that I don't want but no one else seems to want either. I should just throw it out, right? But it's so hard. I've spent years chipping away at our contribution to the waste stream. And sometimes I watch Hoarders when they've got someone on who doesn't want to throw stuff out because someone else might be able to use it, and...it's kind of uncomfortable.

Two moves ago, back in 2004, we relocated from the little bitty one-bedroom apartment we had shared for two years to an 1100-square-foot two-bedroom place about a mile away. I wanted to crack down (on myself...MB is almost blameless when it comes to clutter. Almost.) and weed out stuff before we moved, but we didn't have time. By the time our new place was ready, we had two days to get packed and moved, while we were both working and I was still in school full time. So we threw stuff in boxes and laundry baskets and garbage bags and just took everything over to the new apartment. I'd clear stuff out as I unpacked, I told myself. But let's be serious. First there was work and school, then there was work and planning a wedding, and we actually never got around to unpacking everything. And while we were not unpacking, not purging, we were getting more stuff. Like a carnival goldfish in a 20-gallon aquarium, we grew to fill our new environment.

By the time we moved out three years later, that apartment was packed full of stuff. Good stuff, junk stuff, middling stuff. As I boxed it up, I was stunned at just how much we had accumulated. We didn't even have much money, so I really don't know how we had so! much! stuff! to move. I culled as I packed that time, having learned my lesson the time before. I gave away several boxes of stuff on freecycle, took an entire SUV-load plus a whole pickup-load of stuff to Goodwill, and threw out / recycled more stuff. It was really, really satisfying, and against my expectations, I don't think that I miss or regret any of it. But after all that work, we still have tons of stuff. For a few years I just kind of ignored it, but now that we have Nico, it's time for a change.

Our house has three bedrooms, a just-big-enough living room, and a small enclosed side porch that the previous owners converted to an office. We were very good with Nico's room, and it's entirely his. We aren't storing any of our crap in there, just his toys and his clothes and space for him to grow. But all the bedrooms are upstairs and it occurred to me a while ago that it would be nice to have some dedicated space for Nico on the main floor as well. Since we have laptops and no desk, we really don't need an office, so it was a natural choice for a playroom. Unfortunately for me, it's been our catch-all room since we moved in, so it's been a process. I've been very slowly trimming down and moving things out, but I keep getting stuck with stuff I don't want to throw out but can't figure out what else to do with. Some of it I could recycle, but it would cost a substantial amount to ship it off to an appropriate facility. Some of it truthfully no one needs but I just hate to throw stuff away. I don't like to admit it, but really, I kind of get where some of the hoarders are coming from. Not the really, really out there ones, not the one with 35 creepy pet birds, but the ones who just kind of let it get out of hand. I think sometimes it just happens.

But I am committed this time. I'm really excited about getting the office cleared out and cleaned and set up for Nico. I'm motivated to condense and thin my book collection so that by the time we have a second child, all my books can be on two bookcases in the living room and however many shelves I can cram into my own bedroom, instead of spilling over into every other room in the house. I want to give MB the clutter-free house that he wants and needs to function at his best. And I'd really like to have less stuff to dust, pick up, and think about. It's a little early for New Year's resolutions, but I think I'm ready to declare 2011 the year of the Great Decluttering. I kind of can't wait to get started.


  1. "Like a carnival goldfish in a 20-gallon aquarium". Dead on. Books on two bookcases? Agh. Good luck.

  2. I take almost anything that is not clearly trash to Goodwill. They might throw it out but they might not.

  3. Books on two bookcases?

    Oh, no. No no no...two bookcases in the living room, plus as many bookcases as I can fit in the master bedroom. It's a large room, luckily!

  4. Good luck with your decluttering! We finally designated one bookshelf to a person, and whenever mine gets too full, I sell books at Half Price Books. Makes me really pick and choose the ones to keep.

    My mom is your mom, with the craft items and "holding onto things because she might need them later." It took me a loooong time to get over that myself, having grown up with that mentality.

  5. Anonymous6:56 PM

    Try FLYlady, it is an awesome book and website about keeping your house and mind clean and clutter free.