I am in thoughtful mode today…
This morning I read a very moving thread on a forum I frequent. It was started by the daughter of a hoarder, who has clearly descended into other kinds of mental health mayhem, and has resisted all attempts to help her sort through her belongings, sometimes with violence. She is facing eviction from her home, such is the level of mess, but is still quite clearly in denial and turning on anyone, including her own daughter, who tries to help her.
Thing is, I know I could so easily turn out like that… but seeing what an awful toll it has taken on her family, I know I really, really need to sort my life out now, before it gets any worse, & make amends to those who’ve lived all their lives with my inability to sort the wheat from the chaff and deal with it appropriately.
Obviously, I have just emptied the contents of a 400 square foot workshop, and half of the contents of my mother’s loft, into our home, and it’s currently quite overwhelmingly cluttered & messy. But I looked at some of the piles of debris this morning & realised that they are not recent; they’ve been there for a long time, and it’s been cluttered & messy for all of the 20 years we’ve lived here. I don’t want to live in this kind of debilitating muddle, yet I feel quite paralysed when it comes to sorting the mess out… a fair amount of it is genuinely worth more than just throwing into the landfill skip, even if that would be the “healthiest” thing to do for everyone else’s peace of mind. I have just sent one big carload of fabric, yarn & thread off with a charity that takes it out to craft workshops in the third world, and am sorting out another; there may even be a third. I’ve dropped loads of books into the bookbank and will car-boot a shedload more; that’s quite literally, a shedload, a 5’ x 7’ one. Some of the stuff is actually worth a reasonable amount of money, and I have been Ebaying for all I’m worth over the last few weeks, and earmarked other things to go as soon as they’re tarted up a bit. And much of it does have use or value to someone somewhere, even if it isn’t financial; I’ve also been giving stuff away as hard & fast as I can, but am getting discouraged at the number of people who yell, “ME ME ME!” when you Freecycle something, then fail to turn up not once, but several times. I’ve taken some decent stuff to the Tip & just hoped that someone else will take it on, but I’ve seen the guys there have to smash up too many lovely solid-wood, well-made bookcases, sideboards, chairs & tables to have much hope of that; they don’t have room to keep it all, either.
It may be a classic case of projection, but I can’t help feeling that some of my problem is actually the result of living in such a horrendously wasteful society. It actually feels quite wrong to me to let good stuff go to waste like that; to see good craftsmanship & fine materials wantonly destroyed just because it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. And some of my problem has actually been caused by other people’s good intentions! I opened the door of my workshop for ten minutes to let some fresh air in when I was clearing it out ready for the next tenant, and bless my soul, in that ten minutes two people brought yet more good stuff in for me to use, sell on or otherwise rehome… they too believe it’s just plain wrong to throw away fabric, thread, yarn and tools that are still perfectly good & useful, just not wanted where they are. But that’s how I ended up with such a ghastly cluttered muddle in the workshop area… so MUCH stuff, much of it absolutely lovely, so kindly given, by so many open-hearted people, but that was because they too had amassed too much stuff… and so it goes round & round! I do wonder sometimes whether sending it off to third world countries is actually helping anyone out there, or whether I’m just exporting my problem!
Our economy runs on encouraging people to buy more & more stuff, and throw it “away” the second it’s no longer fashionable, but I suspect that most of us feel at some level that that just isn’t right. But we also feel that we do deserve the odd treat, that of course we are going to use it, or we actually need it, or that we can’t part with things that were given generously to us even though we didn’t want them or ask for them, and so the problem starts to build… For some time now I’ve had a policy of not buying stuff I have no immediate or definite use for, unless I think that I can sell it on quickly, and if I do get something to keep, I have to let something else go – as long as it can be disposed of responsibly – and therein lies the problem; far too many things are “stuck” here. I think I may have to go one step further, and not acquire things until I’ve already cleared the space for them. I also need to streamline the activities I do; if I actually ever want to have the time to actually do some of them, I need not to spend all my time looking after (or even FOR) the stuff I need in order to do them!
I also need to talk to my nearest & dearest, and sort out some kind of present-giving protocol for the future. Seeing my mother wavering over things we’d given her many years ago, that she clearly didn’t actually want or need in her much-smaller new home, was heartbreaking & made me realise that a gift, however well-chosen & well-meant, can become a millstone round the recipient’s neck. It was easy enough to say to her that gifts are a token, that you don’t actually need to keep the thing itself to appreciate the spirit in which it was given, but much harder to come home, see the piles (piles? more like avalanches) of stuff I’ve been given, and apply my own reasoning to the mess I’ve been living in – and subjecting all of my family to.
I think there probably is hope for me; I don’t hang onto real rubbish, or have any trouble letting go of my recycling, though sometimes I simply forget to put it out for collection. But I don’t always agree with everyone else what consitutes “real” rubbish, and probably never will, and I do have a huge organisational problem caused by not being able to use things, sell them (which I do do, mostly pretty successfully) or move them on to a more appropriate home fast enough. And the more I get nagged, or people make little “helpful” or barbed comments about it, the more resentful I feel and the less I feel motivated to do anything about it, even though I do know they are right and I do need to do something about it. Oddly, I feel threatened & attacked, and quite illogically that it’s as if people are somehow trying to chip away at my identity when they insist I should get rid of things, although I don’t want to think I’m that materialistic, and I too hate the mess! There’s a part of me that feels quite overwhelmed and just wants rid of all of it, but a bigger part that feels quite resentful that everyone seems to see it as all my fault, and solely my problem, when I can’t help seeing it partly as a symptom of a whole society that’s high on consumerism and far too ready to trash things that do still have value.
Anyway, I simply have to stop letting things in for a while, to save what’s left of my sanity and that of my poor long-suffering family; a mere ten years or so should do the trick…