I said to my Mother “When you’re ready to accept my help, let me know.  Until then….”  I trailed off.  She replied, “Until then, I’m dead to you, is that it?  Well, so be it.”

Those were the last words we shared before she hung up on me.  And I can’t help but wonder if those are the last words I’ll ever hear from her.

It started off innocently enough.  The regular Sunday night phone call to catch up on the week had grown increasingly shallow over the past few years.  Mom, on her cell phone, would undoubtedly be browsing in a store somewhere, and I’d get to hear commentary about other shoppers she observed, or comparisons on various household products.  Tonight was about coloured toilet paper.  I asked for updates on doctors appointments, but specialist appointments are always “some time next month” and “no, I haven’t heard back on test results.”

Eventually, conversation turned to her house.  “Wouldn’t you know it, ANOTHER bird got into the house!  It woke me up this morning fluttering around my room.  And there were 2 raccoons in the wall behind my headboard fighting.  You wouldn’t believe the racket!”  If you’re new to reading Not Just Clutter, let me assure you my Mom is not an animated princess who can command woodland animals.  Nope.  She simply lives in a rapidly deteriorating house where raccoons and other wildlife find refuge.  This is where things start to go south.

Since Dad died 8 years ago, she hasn’t been able to keep up maintenance.  She needs to move out and sell the property (and really, it’s the property that has value, not the house).  It’s not safe or healthy.  The whole place is falling apart and is packed to the rafters with her hoard.  Clearly, somewhere has crumbled enough that all sorts of critters are finding their way in.  She’s had trouble with raccoons for years.  And that bird?  That’s the third on in as many weeks.

I’ve been trying to encourage her to make more actionable plans to move out of this house.  She really resents this though, and any time I gently mention it, she finds a way to turn things around.  Like, mentioning the doctor thinks she has a heart problem.  Or she suspects her cancer is back.

Or she’ll try to deflect and say she’s working on things slowly in her own way.  “I’m not going to worry about it, and it’ll all work out in the end” is a common refrain.  But I worry.  Knowing all her ailments, including a frozen shoulder, shortness of breath, and limited mobility, I’ve offered to go help her.  I told her “Let me be your muscle.”  I know she can’t carry much, if anything, up and down stairs, so I’d be happy to be the pack mule if she points out what to move.  But she refuses any help and has her priorities all skewed.

If I lived in a house overrun by wildlife, I’d fill a suitcase and get out.  Instead, she insists she has to organize her craft supplies first.  I can’t possibly help her with that either because I “don’t know the difference between worsted weight, cotton, polyester, or wool” yarns.  I reminded her the birds are probably pooping on it, and the ‘coons are nesting in it.  She was pretty indignant after that.

I’ve tried my hardest to be patient.  I’m the one who always tries to be diplomatic.  I just couldn’t hold it in any more tonight.  I kept calm and rational, but I laid it out honestly with her.  I called her out for making excuses and procrastinating.  I told her I can’t understand why she won’t accept my help, when all I want is for her to be in a safe, comfortable home.  She insists she wants to do it independently because if she accepts help then she’s a failure.

I said imagine if you came across a person fallen to the ground, and you put your hand out to help.  If that person reaches up to accept your help off the ground, are they a failure?  Do you judge them?  I’m just reaching out my hand.

She accused me of making her more depressed.  Then she accused me of conspiring with my sister to make her miserable.  And THEN she said maybe it was best if we just cut ties all together.

That’s when I told her to think about my offer and get back to me when she’s ready to accept the help.  I don’t know what the next step is.  I’m so torn.  She’s so stubborn she might let her pride lead her, and she won’t call me again.  If I call, then what?  Go back to the same vacuous relationship where we talk about coloured toilet paper?  Do I pretend everything is ok?  Do I ignore my nightmares of her dying in her house because she couldn’t find her way through her hoard in a fire?  Do I keep pressing her?  If I don’t call, she’s alone.  No family left.  That’s not the kind of daughter I want to be, but at some point, I have my own mental health to think of.

Either way, hearing my own mother say “I’m dead to you” is a harsh way to end a phone call.


There are some days when I contemplate exactly what it’ll be like to clean up my Mother’s house some day.  The monumental piles of stuff is a given, but what will the walls, carpet, counter tops, and the actual structure of the house be like?  My best guess?  Covered in mold.

Natural Mold Cleaning Tips2And the last thing I want is to compound the toxicity with more chemicals, but luckily there are some natural options.  Things have been pretty busy for me lately, so I invited Heather Roberts to guest post.  Mold might run rampant in a hoarder’s home, but really, it can be found in any house where dampness is left unattended.

Guest Post: Cleaning Mold Naturally

One of the greatest problems in any home, given the right circumstances is the uncontrolled proliferation of mold due to neglect.  Mold and mildew can be a real pain in hot and humid conditions, and that makes them a doubly serious issue when you have large quantities of personal belongings in a home that have not been moved for years.  Such is usually the case with hoarders, so this makes mold something that needs to be dealt with as soon as possible.  Even though you can usually keep it at bay through the use of dehumidifiers, you can still experience it.  There are a good deal of natural materials you can use to spray or remove mildew and mold.  They can be a wonderful substitute for the hazardous fumes bleach produces.  In this article we will cover most of them as possible solutions to your problem:

  • You can use tea tree oil, which is often found in health food stores as a great cleaning material that acts as a natural mold killer.  It may be the most expensive option on this list and it may have a strong scent that disappears within a few days, however it also has one of the most effective qualities in our list, completely eliminating mold from ceilings, rugs, showers and so forth.  You can combine two teaspoons of it with two cups of water, then using that as a spray you can eliminate mold on any given spot.  You don’t need to rinse it and it can be used even months down the line if you need to.
  • Another possible option is using grapefruit seed extract, though it’s also expensive.  Unlike tea tree oil however, it has no scent that lingers. Combine about 20 drops of it into about two cups of water and use it in much the same way as you would with tea tree oil.
  • Next on our list is a natural mold killer so widespread and right under our noses, that we often overlook it without even knowing its qualities.  Distilled white vinegar is said to kill up to 82% of all mold species, acting fairly quickly but leaving its scent behind for a few short hours as a result.  If you have light stains, then you can dilute the vinegar with water in a 50:50 ratio for good results as well. If you’re experiencing mildew forming on the bottom sides of your rugs or carpeting, then you can stop it by spraying it with distilled white vinegar and letting it dry that way.  It should kill most spores with ease, leaving your carpet safe.

Natural Mold Cleaning Tips

  • If you have a plastic shower curtain and it has suffered mildew and mold, then you don’t need to worry about it at all.  You can simply toss it in the washing machine alongside two bath towels on the gentlest setting.  Then you need to pour about half a cup of baking soda inside as well as a half cup of vinegar.  The baking soda should go in during the washing cycle, while the vinegar needs to go in during the rinse cycle.  Let it dry out and you’re almost good as new!
  • You can also use a 3% hydrogen peroxide for mildew and mold as well.  If you use it on its own, you can wipe most mold right off the affected area.
  • When you have mildew-stained garments, you can make a paste of lemon juice and salt.  Rub it against the area affected by the mold or mildew.  Repeat that until you remove the stain completely and let it dry in the sun.

For more cleaning tips you can contact: Deep Cleaning Islington


Recently, a Not Just Clutter reader emailed me with her personal story.  She has realized she is a compulsive hoarder, and wants to make a change.  We’ve been communicating back and forth the past few weeks.  I am humbled this person has trusted me with the details of her life as a compulsive hoarder, and I am inspired as she shares her progress moving forward.

She’s taking great strides to turn her life around, as difficult and overwhelming as it must seem.  And as she takes 2 steps forward, there’s a tiny step back as she revealed she still feels shame.  I want her, and anyone else who hoards to know this:

Dear Compulsive Hoarder,

do not be ashamed.  Please let go of that feeling; it has no place in your heart.  You’ve had the unfortunate twist of fate which left you with a largely misunderstood mental disorder (and NO, that doesn’t make you crazy)!  It means for some reason, you have this extra challenge even though you didn’t ask for it.  Totally unfair.  But you didn’t rationally choose to end up in this state.  You’re intelligent.  You’re accomplished.  And you have nothing to be ashamed of.

I don’t think you’re lazy.  I think you’re probably overwhelmed.  You might be in denial, to varying degrees.  I think you’re probably creative, and can see great potential every where you look.  You might even be a perfectionist, with super high standards.  You take comfort in your collections, and you love the thrill of the hunt.  I bet you’re a skilled bargain seeker, too.

You have some challenges ahead when you’re ready to face them…actually, whether you’re ready or not.  Problems that just don’t go away when you close the door or turn the radio up louder.  You probably already know that; but do you know this?

You are not alone.

You are not the only one with too much stuff.  You’re not the only one who doesn’t know where to start.  You’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed, misunderstood, defensive, or in wondering where the money will come to help you.  I think you probably have people in your life willing to help you, even if you don’t think you do.  And it’s good you’re not alone, because you can’t turn your life around alone.

It starts by clearing a spot in your heart to let others back in.  Place your trust in them so they may help you in anyway they know best.  They’re not out to get your stuff.  They may be confused, baffled, or as overwhelmed as you.  But they’re there for you if you let them.  People to help sort, make repairs, lift heavy things, tell you jokes when you’re feeling low.  People who see you as a good person, a neighbor, a relative, a co-worker, a valued member of society.

Clear space for these people, and you may find you have more treasures than ever before.

Good luck to you.  It’s a new year to move forward.  And it has great potential.


My Mom seems to find very odd things funny.  I assume it’s related to the denial that comes from compulsive hoarding.

She recently shared a gem which leaves her laughing and me terrified.  Her house is crumbling around her, and now, it’s:

A House with No Escape

Backstory: Mom’s house is an unusual design.  It’s essentially a bungalow but on the second floor.  The first floor of the house has a small apartment, and a large double garage.  Dad used to run his business from the garage, and it has huge & heavy rolling doors.  The front door is in the middle of the apartment and garage, and to get upstairs there are 36 steps.

I know this hallway by the front door is filled with stuff.  It was 50% filled 11 years ago.  The last time Lynn saw my Mom open the door, she said it couldn’t open all the way.  So, it was already a serious situation.

The Door Won’t Budge

Mom tells me the door has been sticking.  I get that.  With changes in weather and humidity, doors tend to do that.  But Mom’s front door is sticking so much, she sometimes can’t open it.  I know she’s tried sanding it down, oiling it, and a few other tricks, and yet, there would be days she’d come home and not be able to get in the door.  She’d push, and nudge, and probably curse, but it wouldn’t push open.

That’s when my senior citizen mother would have to try to raise the heavy-duty garage doors.  And then climb over all the stuff left in the garage from Dad’s business which was never cleared away after his death.  7 years ago.

Last Straw

So, finally, Mom got tired of doing this difficult task.  After struggling with the door again, she lost her temper and kicked it.

Wouldn’t you know…it opened right up!  My Mom is SO amused by this!

And while the idea of my elderly Mother turned ninja is amusing to most, I’m cringing.

I’m cringing because not only is the door sticking when she wants IN to the house, but also when she wants OUT of the house.

That’s right.  Should there ever be a fire, and by pure Act of God my frail Mother makes it past burning walls of stuff, down 36 smoldering wooden steps, and down a smoke-filled hallway, she still won’t be able to open the damn door to get out.

How’s that for a haunting image?

Jumping out a window is not an option, as all her living space is on the second flood.  There’s a back porch, but those wooden stairs have been withering in the elements for years.  I wouldn’t trust them to hold my purse.  There’s the garage, but again, the path is cluttered, and the doors are heavy.

Ninja Mom

I expressed as much to her.  She still chuckled, and revealed she did indeed have trouble getting the door to open from the inside.  So she tried kicking it again, and yes, it opened.  But think about that.  The door swung open toward her after being kicked.  This whole set up is compromised and needs repair, but since she was able to Hi-YA it open, she considers it problem solved.

She refuses to take this seriously.  And my fear of her being caught in a fire just got deeper.

 


Moving is considered one of the most stressful things people do in their lifetime.  I believe it.  There are so many details and loose ends.  My husband has moved 13 times in his lifetime…he says it really became so much easier when his family wasn’t attached to their belongings so they could pick up and travel across the country with only the essentials.  My Mom, however, has lived in the same house for 35 years.  That’s a lot of accumulation; never mind that she’s a compulsive hoarder!

Mom is comfortable in her nest of things, but the house is crumbling around her.  There will reach a point where she won’t be able to climb the stairs any more, or the roof will collapse, or the cost of heating the big space will become too much to bear.  Then, maybe, finally, she’ll consent to moving.

My sister, Lynn, no longer has a relationship with Mom.  So when it comes to selling the property and moving Mom somewhere else, the monumental task will fall to me.  Not only is it a tremendous volume of stuff to sort through, but I wonder if I can manage it while remaining sympathetic and understanding towards my mother.  It’s not just about tossing stuff in boxes.  It’s about acknowledging the hoarder has a completely different perception of the value of their belongings…and believe me, it can test your patience.

I was approached by a reader recently who offered the following suggestions and guidelines for how to face a move when a hoarder is involved.  I hope if you are in a similar situation, you’ll find these useful for maintaining your sanity, as well as your family relationships.

Guest Post: How to Face A Move When A Hoarder is Involved

There is much to deal with when you have to move a home, so the situation becomes a bit more complicated when you have to deal with a hoarding family member, roommate and so forth. Despite the negative connotation brought by the spotlight of media attention, hoarding has really been studied only in the past two decades at best. There is much misunderstanding, stereotypes and stigma associated with the condition and what it entails. One thing you should keep in mind is that hoarders can be very different from each other, both in social standing, marital status or age. There is hardly anything that connects the different hoarders than the fact that hoarding is a psychological condition that affects a good percentage of the world.

There is a difference between the hoarding of objects and the hoarding of animals (most often cats), however the basic principles are the same. This is a obsessive-compulsive disorder affecting the behavior of an individual in ways that often clash with those of their loved ones or friends. One of the first things you must keep in mind is that hoarders are very sensitive about their lifestyle and there are many factors that play a role in this. Whether its shame, denial or resistance to changes, they will often be determined to keep their lifestyle and will rebel against any changes brought by external factors. The following tips will give you some preparation and understanding on how you should approach the subject of hoarding in the least damaging way possible before a move: How to face a move when a hoarder is involved

  • Attitude is extremely important

You should begin by adopting an attitude that avoids judging at all costs, as well as a lot of patience. In most cases hoarders fear and dislike the judgment of others and for a good reason. For them this line of behavior is something normal so you should try to understand that when you approach the subject matter. The patience you need to exhibit is a very important aspect of your first steps toward moving. In most cases they will never see their situation the way you do, so you should stick to small, careful steps.

  • Remember hoarding is a disorder

Make sure you read up and educate yourself on the behavior and its background reasons. Psychologists are researching it and if you are interested you should look up books on OCD disorders that focus on hoarding if you want to go into further detail. The underlying reasons for hoarding go beyond what people consider messiness as they have a psychological trigger that modifies what we consider a normal line of behavior. The learned patterns of behavior hoarders develop are nearly impossible to break and their reasons are both biological and psychological in nature. In many cases items represent mementos of the past or more practical items they feel they need to save for a number of reasons. In some cases hoarding can be a result of some painful event in the past that forced them to replace their social connections of old with belongings and mementos. The reasons for hoarding may vary greatly, so remember that before you act.

How to face a move when a hoarder is involved

  • Solutions to moving

Remember to ask questions about the things they want to keep and to offer compromises that cater to their disorder but at the same time allow them to move forward. This can be done by working out a system that catalogs and makes an inventory of their possessions. It may seem like a small step, but it will be a good first one. Always remember that whenever something seems like trash to you it may actually hold significance for your loved one. Remember to be respectful to their wishes and if you can, maybe try to suggest they store their collections at a storage unit as a solution to completely going through them and overhauling them. That way they can have access to the things they care about and you won’t have to deal with things in a more severe way that would damage the trust built between the two of you. You should stick to an inventory system with descriptions and even a floor plan if some of the items are large enough. Remember that self-storage units are a great alternate to having your home buried in belongings and it offers a softer solution to the hoarding impulse by offering an alternate space.

*Editor's Note: Self-Storage units should not be considered a long term solution.  I would consider this an option just to move some things out of the house to give you room to work in while packing, sorting, repairing, etc.

How to face a move when a hoarder is involved
  • Getting Help

You can get help from a therapist if you and your loved one agree on that, and they can help toward slowly finding a solution to the hoarding compulsion. When all is said and done remember to take small steps toward improvement. The therapist could eventually give them small tasks such as slowly going through a small part of their collection and choosing things to let go of, but that is not something you should handle on your own in most cases. You could end up hurting them and yourself in the process by being too direct about it.

This guest post is thanks to Removals Man & Van Woodside Park.  This is not a sponsored post, but rather a glimpse of the experience from those accustomed to moving many, many families of all kinds.


The thought of moving when the house is filled to the rafters is pretty daunting.  Actually, that’s a huge understatement.  Should my Mom ever decide to move, I know I’ll be paralyzed with the enormity of the task.  I DO know that not everything should get thrown away, and lots of what Mom has collected is worth at least some money.  Hopefully, I can talk her into having a sale before moving…I’ll cross my fingers on that one.  Hoarders are loath to give up their stuff, even in exchange for cash.

How to Plan a Moving Sale in Small, Easy Steps

I’ve got some suggestions for managing a moving sale: there’s a LOT to think about!!  And remember, you shouldn’t have to do this alone.  These steps work for anyone planning a move, not just compulsive hoarders.  Stay tuned in the next week or so, and I’ll have even more ideas for how to handle a move when dealing with compulsive hoarding.

Thanks to Northstar Moving for this fantastic infographic.

Managing a Moving Sale Infographic


Guest Post: Attic Storage Tips & Advice

Today I present a guest post from Jeremy, from Packing Boxes in the UK.  While I encourage regular purging of clutter and being ruthless with what you keep, I know there are times when you just can’t give something up.  If you’re lucky enough to have some open attic space, we have some tips for you to use the space well.  Keep it organized and tidy, and it’ll help keep the rest of your house tidy, too.

attic storage via notjustclutter.com

The old saying ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’, is excellent, common sense advice. By sticking to this motto,  in theory we would always put all of our ‘things’ away in their rightful place and always know exactly where they were when we need to put our hands on them. How wonderful would that be!?

The attic is an ideal space for storing belongings that you do not need to use on a regular basis, but only providing you keep it tidy and organized so that when you need to retrieve something you can find it easily! It is essential not to use this space as a dumping ground for junk that you don’t really need, so anything you do not really need to keep hold of should be re-homed, recycled or sold rather than stashed out of sight in the attic and never used.

My current home has no garage, so my attic provides me with essential storage space to keep items that I use infrequently, enabling me to keep my home mostly free of any unnecessary clutter. This storage space makes a huge difference, particularly because so many of the items I store up there are so bulky.

Recommended Items To Store In The Attic Include:

  • Camping Gear
  • Holiday Decorations
  • Christmas Tree
  • Boxes of Documents/Files
  • Seasonal Clothing
  • Suitcases
  • Sleds & Toboggans
  • Bike Rack
  • Roof Rack 

 All of these items are used infrequently, some I typically only need from time to time.  Some I only use annually, like my holiday decorations, whilst others I only need once in a blue moon so it makes good sense to store them out of the way in the attic, freeing up my living and storage space below.

ACCESS

Ideally you would have a fixed attic ladder that folds neatly away when not in use, alternatively you will need to use a stepladder to access your belongings. The only problem with this is that you need to store it away somewhere in between uses.

SAFETY

It is vital to be careful when using the ladder and to take care when moving around up there. An open hatch can be particularly dangerous, so it is vital to pay attention to what you are doing and not take unnecessary risks.

A boarded floor makes the attic area far safer to use and will also make storage more practical reducing the risk of accidents or damage to the floor which is of course the ceiling of the room below.  I’d consider address the floor before storing anything in your attic.

LIGHTING

You may be lucky enough to have natural light or a light fixture in your attic; if not you will need a flashlight to help you retrieve items when you need them. A head lamp gives you full use of both hands which is safer and much more convenient all round.

BOX / BAG / LABEL

Group items into categories so that they can be stored together logically and arrange them in boxes or bags with clear, visible labels for easy identification later on.

ARRANGING THE SPACE

Arrange your boxes around the outer edge of the attic, leaving a clear walkway with no tripping hazards. Keep the space organized by putting things away after use and avoid ever surrounding things with a ton of other stuff.  An untidy attic will drive you nuts!

If you are storing heavy belongings, avoid grouping them in one area and instead, spread them out to distribute the weight evenly across the space.

Be sure to keep a clear area around the hatch area and if you are using a fitted loft ladder, keep that space completely free of any clutter too.

BIRDS AND RODENTS

Check your attic regularly for signs of rodents or birds and take precautions to protect your belongings. If possible store items in rodent proof storage containers. Traps may be worth considering, particularly if your attic is prone to unwelcome visitors!  You’d probably want to have your soffits and eaves addressed anyway if critters are getting in.

JUST LOOK UP!

Attics are an excellent, cost effective storage solution for anyone wanting to free up space in their home and remove clutter. So if you need an affordable storage solution, perhaps you should just look up…but not for cramming full of junk. Just practical storage.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The UK based company Packing Boxes offer a vast range of packing solutions for house and office moves as well as everything you need for storage at home or in the office.


That’s the question that plagues all of us right?  When you’re full of the urge to clean up and are standing there beside the trash can with something with “potential” in your hand…what do you do?  Put it back and keep it indefinitely?  Chuck it before you change your mind?  Put it aside to either sell or give away?  Sometimes, the options are overwhelming.  I get it.  I’ve been there, too.

Today I’m presenting a guest post from Natalie, a storage expert from London, England, while I work on decluttering my own basement.  Again.  She offers some direction for decision making as you sort through your own stuff this fall.  I especially like the 2 Month Test.  If you have any additional suggestions for making decluttering easier, please leave a comment!

Guest Post: To Keep or Not to Keep

Spacing woes plague every household. No matter how meticulously you plan your storage, you end up with stuff littered around. Add to this an obsessive-compulsive prone person, life can become a living nightmare. Stuff scattered all over the place becomes an eyesore and hampers the free movement (physical or of the eye) around the house. A messy house attracts negative energies and may make the inhabitants irritable.

A perfectly organized home is highly desirable, but an unachievable target. Especially, owing to the hoarding mentality today, the problem is even graver. We don’t want to throw away stuff and we don’t have an appropriate place for storing it. Packing up boxes and shoving them over the loft is no solution. You finally have to let go of things that are no longer required. Here are a few tips and tricks that can help you get rid of the clutter:

Bring it on

The first step to the solution of the problem is to accept the problem. Let go of procrastination and delve into the task head on. However, keep your targets realistic. Aim for a cupboard or a drawer per day. Set aside a specific time that you would solely dedicate to the de-cluttering.

Dealing with the devil

If you are a woman, you might secretly agree to the fact that it is your stuff that occupies the maximum place in the house. The infinite clothes, bags, shoes, and accessories always pose a storage problem. You cannot cramp up your bags and shoes, hence they occupy even more space. Here, you have an old formula, only until now you’ve not been sticking to it- every time you buy something new, throw away something old. This may be highly painful at times, but the key is to be strict. You weren’t going to wear that old fashioned skirt again anyway!

Sports stuff

Every home has some sort of old sports gear that keeps on eating up space, without being used, year after year. Whether it’s a board game or old baseball bats or a fishing set, it’s best to get done with them. If you have some functional sports gear you no longer use, you can donate it to a kids’ orphanage (add to your karma account). At the same time, there might be things that are no longer of use or do not function anymore. For these, call up the local recycling agency and they’d be happy to take care of it. If you have some heavy gym equipment that is no longer of much use, it is best to call a removals service to get rid of it. We don’t you to sprain your back while following our advice!

Homeless Oddities

You would find a number of things like old books, CDs, magazines, stationary, electronics etc., which have no apparent use to you, yet they stay in your house forever. Of course, some of these have an emotional value to you- some may be gifts, some may be too rare to be thrown away, but the majority of them can go to junk. Anything broken can be chucked away immediately.

Crockery

Apart from that tea set that belonged to your grandmother’s grandmother, you can do away with a lot of idle crockery in your house. Nevertheless, you never have the heart to throw away some precious glassware. Spark up your kinder side and gift them to a friend or sibling. In fact, you can get into a deal with them to share crockery. This way, you’ll have more variety without being bothered about the storage issues.

The two-month test

Even when you are done with dealing most of the above mentioned stuff, there would still be items you neither have the heart to throw away nor have the space to put them. For these, you have to be strict with yourself and let them undergo the 2-month test. Box up all such stuff, mark the date on the box, and put it away. If in two months, you don’t open the box for anything in it, you can safely chuck it away. It would be best to give away the closed box as it is. If you open it, chances are you’d come across something that will tempt you and you’ll succumb to keeping it again, re-launching the clutter cycle.

Storage Rentals

My home city, London, England is dotted with self-storage companies, but it is a better option to first manage the clutter and go to a storage facility as a last resort. It may come in helpful in a situation where you have your heart set on new type of furniture, but are not being able to sell your old one at the desired price. You can temporarily store the furniture in a storage facility.

 

 

 


Thank you for your emails and comments of concern after my last post about the Silent Phone.  I wanted to update you on what’s happened since.

House Call

My sister, Lynn, went over to Mom’s house to check up on her at my request.  Lynn and Mom don’t speak anymore, so I get the fun “in the middle” position.  Anyway, Lynn went to the house but Mom’s van was gone, so she left a note on the door to call me.  That was a Tuesday.  Days went by.  By now, it’s been nearly a month.  At least I knew she wasn’t buried under her stuff inside the house…otherwise her van would have been in the driveway.  However, now I could only assume she’s had an accident some where.  I considered calling the police.

I called again out of habit on the Sunday, and lo & behold, she answered!!

Another Lost Cell Phone

Yup.  She lost it.  And had to buy another one.  She’s on her 3rd phone in less than 2 years.  What a waste.  She said she was hoping the last one would turn up some where but finally had to break down and buy another.  Wouldn’t you know…she lost the newest one the very next night!  Aye yai yai! Somehow she was able to find it because a friend kept calling every 20 minutes and she followed the sound of the ringing.  Luckily, it was still charged, or she would have been out of luck again!  Turns out it was buried deep in her knitting bag.  Would that happen to be the same size 18 month knitted sweater project she started for my youngest daughter…now 3 and a half?

Lack of Concern

As relieved as I was to finally hear her voice, I’m angry!  I’m angry she let me wonder for a month.  I asked her why she didn’t call me collect or borrow someone else’s phone.  I told her I was afraid she was dead.  She mildly replied “Oh, I was fine.  I didn’t think of calling collect until a few days ago.  Thanks for your concern though.”

That’s it?  Thanks for your concern?  Don’t you care that I care?  I’m hurt.

Land Line

And I’ve learned she’s STILL paying for her landline.  That’s about $80 a month for nothing.  When I mentioned cancelling it, Mom said “Actually, I’m going to call the phone company this week to get on them again about fixing the problem.”

Mom…they’re not going to be able to do anything for you.  You won’t let them into the house anyway, so what’s the point?


Fall Cleaning

Summer is drawing to a close, and Fall brings crisp air and gentle breezes.  It’s the perfect time to open all the windows and get in a little Fall Cleaning.  Everyone seems to get the urge to do a big sweep through the house in the Spring.  That’s great, and I encourage that habit!  But don’t overlook the chance to do this again before winter.

Think of all the new things you might have brought into your home over the last season.  Different sports gear.  Beach toys.  Stuff from the cottage.  A whole new warm weather wardrobe, even!  Do you have a new collection of family reunion t-shirts, wedding bombonieres, and travel tchotchkes?  How about all the art your children made at camp from Popsicle sticks and glitter glue?

Do you have a place for it?  Can you MAKE a place for it?  Fall is the perfect time to do a big purge not only to make room for the newer stuff you want to keep, but also to make room for the inevitable onslaught this holiday season.  And if you just can’t bear to give it up, here are…

15 reasons to encourage you to declutter

15 Reasons to Declutter inforgraphic


Hello.  It’s been a while.

I took a breather from Not Just Clutter to sweep some clutter from my own mind.  I felt a little too wrapped up in worrying about mental illness and any hit of clutter, that I stepped back for a while.  It was a good thing for me.  I was able to focus on happier things for a while, and put my energy into other areas of my life.

But if you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, you might be familiar with a series of posts called Case of the Silent Phone.  That’s what’s prompted me to write again.

It’s been 4 weeks since I’ve heard from my mother.  If you’re new to Not Just Clutter, my Mom only has a cell phone.  No land line, just a cell.  And for a while after getting it, Mom frequently lost her cell phone.  In fact, I think she’s had 3 phones in the last 18 months and it’s NOT because she’s always on the cutting edge of technology.

I call my Mom every Sunday.  3 weeks ago, my call went to voice mail.  I assumed she would call back within a few minutes.

2 weeks ago, I got voice mail again.  I thought maybe she lost the phone, or it’s not charged up.

And tonight, voice mail.  I’ve left messages every time.  I just don’t know what to think.

It could be that she’s lost the phone or the charger.  Or she’s feeling depressed and is refusing to answer any calls.  Or maybe….I don’t know.  My mind goes a million places.


For many of us, putting up wallpaper or repainting our walls might mean an afternoon of pulling furniture away from the wall and adding some quick colour to our room.  Minimal disruption.  Or if you’re not handy, you might be smarter to hire an expert tradesperson to help with a significant project.  What if your house is so crowded, the tradespeople have trouble doing their job?  What if piles of stuff put these people in jeopardy for falling and injury?

Working in a Hoarder’s House

This is the first in a series of posts told from the perspective of people who have been affected by compulsive hoarder, but who are not relatives.  These are the emergency response workers, police, fire fighters, trades people, service people, and case workers who must enter hoarded homes and put themselves at risk.  To start us off, I present the insights offered by a skilled house painter.  This person (who has requested anonymity in respect for past clients) has an amazing perspective of compulsive hoarding you might never have considered.  I was fascinated when this person emailed me and started to share this story.  With permission, I present it as a guest post…an inside look into what it’s like to work inside the home of a crowded mind.

A View From the Trades

by Paint N. Brush

While it’s true that many hoarders avoid allowing trade and service people into their homes, quite as many actually do.  I’ve worked in the trades for twenty years, primarily doing interior painting and wallpapering.  I would estimate that thirty percent of my clients have been hoarders.  An additional fifteen percent were clearly on their way.  I think that is a huge statistic.  My perspective is, I believe, somewhat counter to the usual notions of hoarders.  My clients have all been well-to-do, have not yet isolated themselves completely, and are for the most part quite high-functioning individuals.  They have not quite arrived at what one can foresee as their inevitable endpoint of total, quiet, desperate chaos.  I seem to catch them at the disastrous turning points of their lives.

They share very interesting commonalities:  All have been highly intelligent, driven, gifted in one or several of the arts, and began as “collectors” of things.  Many of these collections do have actual market value, as opposed to collections of paper cups or plastic margarine tubs.  But all have in fact have begun that insidious overlap from collections of dozens of vases never used, to cupboards packed with junk.  All are in variant stages of goat trails throughout their homes.  All say that if they can just get the house straightened out, if they just had a week to themselves, everything would be fine.  If I, the tradesman, could just get that wall cleaned and painted right away, the trajectory of their lives will miraculously self-correct because they then will be able to move all those boxes over there from here and they’ll have something resembling a room.  All are in various stages of serious, really severe unhappiness, which they do express via either action or word, more often through actions – compulsive spontaneous shopping,  sudden brief spurts of rage, frequent expressions of frustration usually directed at the wrong people.  They have an utter inability to experience the feeling of happiness.  I’m not talking about “being happy”.  (Nebulous phrase.)  I’m talking about an actual inability to FEEL happy, to feel even a brief moment of true delight in the course of their day.  They will say they’re happy, they’ll use the words, but there’s nothing real behind it.  All are causing deep tensions within their families, all have first-degree relatives with addictions in other forms – alcohol, food, drugs – all are successful in their careers, all are constantly frantic.  All claim to have had “perfect” childhoods.  That is the word they use.  (I don’t believe that for a minute.)

My contracts in their homes have all been either long-term or intermittent over long periods of time.  Consequently, an interesting result takes place – the tradesman becomes part of the furniture.  The household gets so used to your presence that they come, go, and play out their lives without a thought to your presence.  I’ve come to believe that it’s a comfort to them to have us there, once they know we are trustworthy.  But for us it becomes a window into hoarder worlds which can be distressing, saddening, and hopeless, no matter how much financial comfort or family presence they might enjoy.

Imagine if you’d like to rejuvenate and paint your livingroom.  To do it properly, you would like to clean, sand, and paint all your woodwork trim in that room.  That’s windows, doors, door casings, baseboard trim, sometimes ceiling trimwork too.  You would like a crisp cleanly painted ceiling.  You want to clean your walls, patch any defects, and give them new life with a new color of paint, which you will have to hand-cut in with a brush around every window and ceiling edge and doorway, then roll the walls with a roller.  TWICE.  Walls always, always have to be done twice to be done right.  Oftentimes all the trimwork must also be painted twice.  You would prefer this room to be empty of objects when you undertake this.  You would prefer dropcloths on the floor to take roller spatter.  (There is ALWAYS roller spatter, no matter how good you are at this.)  This work takes an organized mind.  You can’t cut the top walls in while the ceiling paint is wet.  You can’t do baseboard tops while the bottom wall is wet.  And so on.

Now imagine this same room, same project goals, crammed end to end and top to bottom with valuable antiques, boxes and boxes and boxes of junk, dozens of houseplants, a huge flat-screen T.V., heavy-framed paintings on the walls, enormous dust-laden cobwebs on the ceiling, pet fur, pet paraphernalia, and dirt, dirt, dirt.  Normal household dirt, but never addressed because one can’t move within the room to clean, so the dirt is really, really bad.  Paint won’t adhere to dirt.  Never has, never will.  You must clean first.  There is no place to move the stuff, nowhere to put it, because the rest of the house is packed too.  There is no floor space.  You can’t see the floor at all.

My highest injury rate has been in hoarder homes, bar none.  There is no room to move or maneuver yourself, your ladders, your paint cans, your wallpaper safely.  In twenty years I have had only one breakage of a homeowner item, which seems like a miracle to me, but I myself have experienced significant bruise, breakage and falls for the sake of those blasted items.

I’ve learned that with hoarders the job will never be done.  They always want more, and I’m retiring from the trades because of it.  I feel for them, it’s very painful stuff to see.  My hoarder clients are the personalities I’ve been most fond of in many, many ways.  They touch my heart.  But they drive me crazy,  and I must finally opt out.  In some subconscious way they look to me and other tradespeople to be the repairmen of their emotional lives – which they confuse with their physical possessions – and that is not a possible thing to do.  Sadly we can’t repair that for them, much as we might wish to.

 


Today is the 1st anniversary of Not Just Clutter!

I can’t believe it. When I first sat down to write the first post on Not Just Clutter, I never imagined what this blog would mean to me. And I REALLY never expected it to mean anything to anyone else. I wasn’t sure anyone else would want to read about compulsive hoarding disorder.

Somehow, you found me. I opened up and shared my personal life without any idea of what would happen. I actually thought I might get some backlash from people disgusted by compulsive hoarding. It’s been a whole year, and not one negative comment (touch wood). And while I don’t get a lot of comments in the posts, which I understand for your own privacy concerns, I DO get direct emails from other children and loved ones of hoarders. You confide your stories in me, and I respect your trust. I’m glad you know you’re not alone, and that there’s someone to empathize.

It’s Not Just About Me

So, once I realized I was reaching others, Not Just Clutter stopped being just about me and my Mom. It became a catalyst for conversation. For creating understanding. For stopping stigma. For generating awareness about a misunderstood and often reviled living condition. For expanding on mental illness in general.  Now, I look for ways to bring you any information I can find about compulsive hoarding, like new research, or studies looking for participants.  I get insight from other relatives of hoarders, and try to give a lighter view, too.

Year in Review

I first started this blog with a post about Mom’s phone. Or rather, her lack of a phone. I was frustrated with not being able to communicate with her because her land line phone stopped working and the clutter prevented her from finding and fixing the problem. Eventually, she got a cell phone. And then lost it. Found it, and lost it again. Then she bought a second cell phone. She still has that one so far. All this time, I thought she would have cancelled her phone service for the broken land line. I learned recently she’s still paying that bill because she hopes someday to resolve the issue. Uh huh. Wait, was that a pig flying past my window? No, just some B.S.

And wasted money.

There have been a few feeble murmurings about cleaning up. Mom has talked about packing up some stuff to take to charity. That hasn’t happened. She DOES continue to shop at a charity thrift store, weekly.

Others have noticed her hoarded van. Someone who works at the thrift store actually mentioned it to my sister, Lynn, one day. This person said to her “Your Mom is in here all the time. Wow, is her van ever packed! I hope her house isn’t like that, too!”

What does one say to that?

She keeps her house at 60 degrees all winter because the oil bill is already insanely high. Almost $900 for 3 weeks here recently.  She can’t get service or repair people to finish a job.  She takes her dirty clothes to a laundromat because she can’t get to her own washer and dryer.  She makes a lot of sacrifices for her stuff.

Mom is no closer to accepting she has a problem, but at least this blog is helping me cope.  I feel I’m able to release a great deal of stress by typing it all out.  There’s something very gratifying about hitting Publish.  Vulnerable, true, but cathartic.

With Heartfelt Thanks

I appreciate you joining me on this journey.  Maybe you’ve got a similar path to follow.  Good luck to you.  Maybe you’re just curious about compulsive hoarding.  That’s ok, too.  Don’t hesitate to ask me questions, leave your comments, or send me your emails.  We’ll see where things stand next year at this time on Not Just Clutter.  Who knows what might happen.


Bell Let’s Talk Day Recap

Thanks to everyone who might have participated in Bell Let’s Talk Day yesterday.  For those of you who follow me on Twitter, I was using #BellLetsTalk as often as I could.

Why?  Because a Canadian company (Bell Canada) is donating .5 cents to mental health research for every tweet and text using that hash tag.  My Twitter feed was alive with people sharing their support and stories!!  I loved it!  Yesterday was a big day, but we should all be committed to keeping the conversation going every day to stop the stigma of mental health.  This goes not just for compulsive hoarding, but for ANY mental disorder.

Bell Canada Let's Talk Logo

Final tallies aren’t in just yet…but the last time I checked, Bell was reporting 85, 536, 167 texts, tweets, and long distance calls that all qualified under #BellLetsTalk.  Multiple that by .5 cents each, and that’s well over 4 million dollars raised!  In ONE day!!  In ONE country!!!

I bet that will put some minds at ease, huh?  ;)

Guest Post: Squalor Holler

Today I have a guest post up at Squalor Holler.  Yep, that’s right…there are a whole bunch of fellow bloggers sharing their experience as children of compulsive hoarders.  And Sarah at Squalor Holler has a great series going on her blog sharing the stories of fellow COHs.  And today is MY day!

So scoot on over to read more about my interview, and be sure to give Sarah some love in the comments.  She’s doing her part to keep the conversation going.


The morning alarm goes off.  You reluctantly roll out of bed and start the daily grind…again.  You stumble bleary eyed to the washroom to brush your teeth.  Maybe you need a little encouragement to get you going!

Motivate Yourself into a More Positive Mood

How?  Here’s what I did this weekend.

Chalkboard surrounding a plain bathroom mirror

A little pick me up

Put your craftiness to good use

I’ve mentioned before that my Mom has so many crafty skills and supplies that she never seems to finish anything before moving on to her next project.  I am dangerously close to committing the same crafty crime, so I decided to use up some of my supplies while perking up my frame of mind.

Close up of the words Be Brave, written on a chalkboard

Be Brave…

I used a roll of chalkboard contact paper I bought at the dollar store.  To cut it, I used a digital cutter called the Silhouette.  I LOVE this machine, and have used it in many different ways.  For this project, I used a simple but elegant frame shape cut in half.  After sticking it to the wall, I simply wrote in a message for Maddie.  She needs a little encouragement to try difficult tasks right now.  The beauty of using chalkboard vinyl is that it’s easy to wipe off and write in new messages as needed.  Even better is I’ve used up some of my craft supplies that have been sitting around for a long time.

Close up of inspirational words on chalkboard beside bathroom mirror. You can do hard things.

You really can. Don’t give up.

I made this about 2 years ago with the same Silhouette machine.  I used blue vinyl instead of chalkboard, and applied it directly to the mirror.  It’s held up really well with all the cleaning a bathroom mirror gets.  It’s a reminder to myself, as well as my children/husband/guests, that we’re valuable just the way we are.  I know it’s helped me when I’ve been in a bad mood on a Monday morning.  It’s hard to photograph a mirror, so looking at it from this angle is tricky.  But it’s clear when looking at it straight on.

Vinyl lettering on mirror. You are beautiful today.

Remember this, always.

What messages speak to you?

This is such a quick and easy craft.  The vinyl is removable if I ever tire of the look.  The beauty is writing whatever words inspire you personally.  What words would you use to remind yourself of your value, your inner beauty, your worth?  How might you use this idea to encourage others in your household?  The possibilities are endless!

When you’re feeling low or need a little pick me up, try this to help motivate yourself into a more positive mood.