Welcome 2013.  This is a year full of opportunity and promise, especially if we can finally let go of clutter.  If organizing clutter was one of your resolutions, you’re not alone.  It’s certainly one of mine, and there are LOTS of ideas out there for getting it done.

Fireworks and Happy New Year

Here’s to Finally Organizing your Clutter in 2013

It’s daunting, isn’t it?  You look at all the new stuff the holidays brought into your home and you wonder how on Earth you’ll ever find a place for it all!  Then you look at what you already had in your home and think “Why am I keeping all of this stuff?”  This is a great time to start “Spring Cleaning.”  Even if you have snow on the ground, it’s still a perfect opportunity to play IN/OUT.

Where to start Organizing?

I’d start with setting some priorities.  Where do you need clarity in your life?  Some of us need to clear physical clutter from our households:

  • junk drawers
  • closets
  • basements
  • storage lockers
  • toy boxes
  • wardrobes
  • medicine cabinets

And some of us need to clear clutter from our mind:

  • doubt
  • regret
  • fear
  • worry
  • resent
  • envy
  • indulgence

And then there’s the clutter affecting our health, like too much:

  • sugar
  • caffeine
  • fat
  • pre-processed
  • GMOs
  • unpronounceable chemicals

Yup.  There’s a lot to sabotage our organizing efforts, and sometimes it’s not where you expect it (like your coffee cup).  So you need to figure out what’s affecting you, and set some realistic goals.  It’s NOT realistic to say you’ll cut out all sugar.  It IS realistic to say you’ll only use 1 tablespoon of sugar in your coffee instead of getting the standard “double-double”.  A blanket statement, such as “I’m not going to worry about anything this year” sets you up for disappointment (and further mental clutter).  Try accepting you’ll worry, but find a way of dealing with it, like practicing deep breaths, or weekly yoga sessions.

Not Just Clutter Goals

As for cleaning the basement, that IS one of my goals in 2013.  Will and I tackle this every couple of months when we have a few spare hours without the kids around.  We usually remove several bags and boxes of stuff at a time, but next time we go down there whatever we left behind has bred MORE.  How does that happen anyway?

Cluttered Basement via notjustclutter.com

My Major Clutter Goal for 2013

We usually set a time limit on this project so we don’t exhaust ourselves.  If left alone while on one of my Virgo streaks, I might go an entire day purging and hauling without stopping to eat.  We also have a space limit…we can only fit so many bags and boxes in our car if we plan to take it all to a donation drop-off box.  We do sometimes wait for a charity pick-up drive, but sometimes I just want it OUT before I change my mind.

Most importantly, we focus on the big picture.  Our goal is to live in this space, not just have it as a stuff cemetery.  We want to put office space and a guest area in the basement, and that’s not going to happen if I don’t release my emotions from these belongings.

Getting My House AND Body In Order

Besides the house, I also need to organize my health.  I’m only 35, but I feel older.  I need to make sure I’m not adding unnecessary food into my diet.  If it doesn’t nourish my mind or body, I shouldn’t eat it.  So while I’m not cutting out all sugar/fat/caffeine, I’m committed to being more mindful of what I chose to eat.  I’ve also got to find a way to work some level of fitness into my lifestyle.

One of my Favourite Christmas Gifts

Will gave me a neat little gadget (we love gadets around here).  It’s called a FitBit One.  It’s essentially an amped up pedometer.  It counts my steps, as well as flights of stairs.  It also monitors my sleep, and helps give me an overview of how active I’ve been in a day.  Seeing the results is sobering…I’m far too sedentary.  My fitness goal is to work my way towards 10,000 steps in a day.  I won’t hit that mark daily having an office job, but I can aim for at least 5,000 to start.  That’s a reasonable goal.

Other Resources for Organizing Clutter

I follow a number of other blogs about organizing and hoarding.  Here are some great resources for finding inspiration to get yourself organized this year.  Don’t forget to leave your comments about your resolutions, and we’ll work together to stick to our plans.

Cleanliness is Next to What Now?

Organizing Made Fun: Resolution Challenges

Ask Anna: cleaning, organizing, decorating

Disclaimer: I was not requested by FitBit to review their product, and I have not received any compensation by them.  I simply loved this gift and thought I’d share in case anyone else has a similar fitness goal for 2013.


Well, it’s the last day of the year, and I’m happy to say we’ve got most of our Christmas clutter under control.  It’s taken daily cleaning, tidying, and purging over the past week but it feels good.

How big was the Christmas pile?

Historically, Christmas in my family means a MOUNTAIN of gifts. Not just one or two per person, but several gifts for everyone.  Full stockings, too.  The stuff of dreams for a kid, but as a child of a hoarder whom also happens to be a parent, I see things differently now.  It’s a lot of Christmas clutter.  Don’t get me wrong.  It was still a decent sized pile under the tree before my Mom and Sister added their contributions, and then there’s Santa, of course.  The sheer volume wasn’t all because of my compulsive shopping and hoarding mother.  I can’t blame it all on her, but her influence from my childhood certainly played a role.  I just can’t seem to break the cycle, even though I’ve tried.

Christmas Tree with lots of gifts

3 Separate Gift Piles

It took a couple hours to open everything Christmas morning.  My 2 year old, Quinn, almost had a meltdown about halfway through.  I think she was overwhelmed and stated “I don’t want to open any more presents.”  She made it though, but I thought for sure she was going to fall to the floor with exhaustion.  It would have been hard to find her again under the scraps of wrapping paper.

The Waste

And the paper!  Oh, the paper!!  It makes me ill to think of the wastefulness of wrapping paper.  I wish it was recyclable in my area.  I know there are other options, like reusable gift bags and boxes, or wrapping them in fabric.  I should do more of that next year.  I also said that last year.  In short, we filled 2 large garbage bags full of wrapping paper, and toy packaging.  The bane of toy packaging deserves its own post some day.

The Other Waist

Let’s not forget about the food clutter.  We had so many treats laying around, it was hard to resist grabbing one or two while walking past and eating mindlessly.

Stack of peanut butter cookies

Peanut Butter Cookies

I realized I wasn’t even enjoying some of the cookies…I was just eating them because they were there.  I feel a New Year’s Resolution comin’ on.

Don’t eat anything unless I truly love it and it nourishes my body or spirit.

Can you help hold me to that, readers?  Did you make a resolution regarding any sort of clutter in your life?

No Vacation from Cleaning

Prior to my Mom & Sister coming to stay with us, Will and I cleaned the whole house.  We tidied away whatever toys the kids had laying out around the living room, scrubbed bathrooms, stain-treated the carpet, emptied all the garbage cans, polished all the surfaces, and put holiday decorations up.  It’s all the stuff we normally do, but we go a little more hardcore for special occasions.  I don’t know why.  Within minutes of company arriving, their luggage, bags, coats, shoes, and purses are scattered everywhere.  Their dogs, their crates, and all their accessories crowd the hallways and entrances to rooms.  I love my family, and we enjoy having celebrating the holidays with them, but house guests certainly add to the Christmas clutter.

The next few days were spent shuffling things around to get meals prepared.  And we spent a lot of time cleaning the kitchen over and over with all the extra dirty dishes being generated.  This frustration over last Christmas was the main motivator for renovating our kitchen.  It was easier to spend time in the kitchen this year, but I’d still rather be playing with my kids and their new toys than do 3 loads of dishes a day.

Christmas Clutter Aftermath

To make room for the new stuff, Will & I took half a day while the kids were in day care to declutter.  We went through toy boxes and their closets.  We filled 6 boxes and 2 garbage bags of old, forgotten toys.  The car was PACKED when we drove to the charity boxes we normally go to when we’re not expecting the Diabetes Clothesline any time soon.  The charity box happened to be empty but we completely filled it with our car load.  It’s a weight off my shoulders every time we do this.

Now everything has pretty much been put away.  The cardboard boxes have been flattened for recycling.  The new clothes have been hung.  The new craft supplies have already been used or put away in the craft closet, and the toys have migrated to the kids rooms (mostly).  It sure feels good to have our home sorted out again.

What was Christmas like for you?  How did you spend it (if at all) with your hoarding relative or loved one?  Did you exchange gifts?  Did you do a big clean before AND after Christmas?  And…do you have any Clutter Resolutions?


I had the honour of reading a novel by Kristina Riggle, called Keepsake.  I first met Kristina via Twitter.  I noticed she had written a book about a hoarding character, and so we struck up conversation.  Kristina kindly offered to send me a copy of her novel, and I’m pleased to share my impressions of Keepsake.

Book Review: Keepsake

If you’re interested in the effects of compulsive hoarding on various relationships, look for this novel in stores.  It’s the story of a compulsive hoarder, who also happens to be divorced, and raising 2 sons.  She’s estranged from her teenage son, and after her 6 year old gets hurt in her own home, the authorities order her to clean up.  Not so easy.  This is a monumental task, so she needs the help of her minimalist, super neat sister.  Obviously, there’s stress, confusion, frustration, fear, and yet there’s still love and hope.

Cover of Keepsake, by Kristina Riggle

Cover of Keepsake, by Kristina Riggle

A Little Doubtful

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I cracked into this book.  I knew the author didn’t have a first hand experience with a hoarder, so I wondered how accurate could she possibly be.  I was pleasantly surprised…Kristina’s research did her well, so I happily present my review of Keepsake.  There were several moments in this story that I could have written myself.  Like this quote from the son of the main character, Trish, who is a compulsive hoarder.

 ”You’ve cleaned before, Mom.  And know what happens?  You buy a bunch of storage bins and you decide you can’t part with anything & nothing changes. ~Drew “

I can’t tell you how many storage bins my Mom has.  Her line was always “If I just had somewhere to put all this stuff, I could finally get organized.”

I know now that this is called churning, and perfection is certainly involved, but to see such a similar truth reflected in Kristina’s book felt authentic.  Even more when I read this:

“You have no right to come charging in here telling me how crazy I am and touching things that don’t belong to you. ~Trish”

Lynn and I heard the same thing after we confessed to doing a mini-clean up 6 years ago.  And again when we wrote her a joint letter to explain we thought she is a compulsive hoarder and we wanted her to consider getting help.  She was SO mad, and nearly disowned us.

A family i can relate to

Like my real life relationship with Mom and my sister, Lynn, the family in this book is just as mixed up.  Our difference is that my Mom has no self awareness and at least the main character in Keepsake comes to terms that she DOES have unresolved issues.  The walls she built of stuff threatens to separate her from the people who love her, and she either has to deal with it or lose them all together.  I recommend you read the book to find out what happens to Trish, Drew, and the rest of her family.  And I recommend you continue to read Not Just Clutter to find out what happens to mine.

Who knows…maybe if you have a hoarder in your life, letting them “find” this novel would help open some communication.  Even if you don’t know a hoarder, this is a well-written story of a complex family dynamic in a modern world.  And who can’t relate to that?

If you’d like to know more about the author, visit her at:

http://www.kristinariggle.net/

 

Disclaimer: While Kristina did send me a free copy of her book, I was under no obligation to write a review of Keepsake, and all opinions expressed in this post are my own.  I did not receive any other compensation, nor do I expect any.


So it seems my little blog about compulsive hoarding is starting to catch some attention!  I don’t exactly know how people are starting to find their way to Not Just Clutter, but I’m certainly glad you did.  After all, I do this for you!  And it’s paying off in other ways.

Nominations For Not just clutter

Today I learned Not Just Clutter has been nominated for the 2012 Canadian Weblog Awards!

Nominated for 3 2012 Canadian Weblog Awards

With my thoughts firmly wrapped up in the joy of Christmas and the grief of Newtown, CT, you can imagine how delighted and surprised I was to get a tweet like this:

 

What are the Canadian weblog awards?

So after I read that tweet, I went to check out what these Canadian Weblog Awards are all about.  Here’s what I learned:

The Canadian Weblog Awards promote good weblogs of all genres from across Canada year round through regular interviews, articles, and the nomination, judging, and an award process that culminates with the announcement of the top three weblogs in each category on January 31st. The Canadian Weblog Awards are about quality not popularity, so there is no public vote. Each weblog is judged by a volunteer jury against a set of criteria.

Wow.  I’m so flattered and honoured to be among some of the truly excellent Canadian blogs also nominated.  It’s exciting to see Canadian talent and topics brought to the forefront.

Nominated for multiple categories

As I browsed the list of categories and nominees to find Not Just Clutter, I realized my blog is up for 3 different awards.

  • Best New Blog
  • Best Blog about Health & Wellness
  • Best Topical Blog

Since these awards are decided solely on their jury, there’s no voting.  I’ll find out if I’ve been shortlisted in January, and the final winner announcements are made January 31.  So cross your fingers for me, and stay tuned!

What’s Next

I’ve been working on a review post for a novel called Keepsake by Kristina Riggle.  I read this novel a little while ago and am happy to share my thoughts about this fictional, yet eerily accurate portrayal of a compulsive hoarder and her family.


Thanks to holiday preparations and being extra busy at work this Fall, I haven’t checked in as often as I used to.  I didn’t realize I had so many readers comments waiting for moderation!

If you left a comment, I’ve replied!

Even with using an anti-spam plugin, I get a great deal of bogus comments.  Imagine my surprise when I logged in and saw 9 readers comments waiting to be approved.  And really insightful, honest, and heartfelt comments at that!

I’m glad to create a place for you to feel safe and comfortable to share your thoughts.  Please continue to do so.  I’m SO motivated knowing the conversation is starting.  THIS is how we improve the general understanding of compulsive hoarding as a real mental disorder.  THIS is how we turn the looks of disgust into compassion and empathy.  THIS is how we work it out for ourselves, and feel a little less alone.  And for those who aren’t ready to reply, I encourage you to continue read the comments from those who’ve shared so much here.  There’s a lot to be learned.

Thank you for your comments and your emails.  They are treasured gifts.


When I was about 12, I really got into making miniatures.  I’d sculpt teeny tiny plates of food, and painstakingly carve expressive characters out of FIMO.  I joined a miniatures enthusiasts club and everything.  No, it didn’t make me more popular.  I even started building a complex Victorian doll house, but I outgrew my interest before finishing the project.  I’m certain it’s still in my old room at Mom’s house, hidden behind 20 years of other hobbies and collectibles.  Imagine seeing compulsive hoarding on a miniature scale!

Barbie trashes her dreamhouse

Working From Home, 2011, Carrie M. Becker

One day, I stumbled across photos by Carrie M. Becker on Flickr.  She has a whole collection of images titled Barbie Trashes her Dreamhouse.  Here’s what she says in her profile:

I have a love of all things miniature. As a young adult, I collected small Japanese toys from a company called Rement. During the summer after completing graduate school I had some down time and decided to use my commercial photography skills to shoot my miniature collection as though it were “real”. Also during that time, I also frequently watched shows like “Hoarders” and “How Clean Is Your House?” With that in mind, this past summer I began creating the images that are presented here, though I reflect their inspiration as a mirror and not a judgement. For me, this series is about creating a small, but perfect world where the viewer cannot distinguish between what is reality and what is fiction.

When I saw her detailed work in a miniature scale, I was really blown away.  I know how long it takes to create a simple scene in miniature.  And I know what a compulsive hoard looks like.  Carrie has created these highly authentic miniature worlds of compulsive hoarding with an accuracy that’s eerie!  But brilliant!  Look at the image above…the post-it notes on the computer monitor, the cardboard boxes as attempts for organizing, and my favourite, the motivational SUCCESS poster on the wall!

Art Imitates Life

The Living Room, 2011, Carrie M. Becker

Hoard in living room

Living Room

Compare Carrie’s image above with one just under it sent from guest poster, Sue. See the barely exposed coffee table in the middle. The endless boxes. The stuffed bookshelves and curios. These are images from 2 totally different sources, but you can see how similar the theme seems to be no matter what hoarders home you’re looking at.

But at least in Carrie’s miniature world, it’s exactly that…miniature. You can see here how her scene fits on a little pedestal.
Working From Home, installation detail, 2011, Carrie M. Becker

This one just astounds me. You can practically feel the grime on the laundry set. My nose wrinkles at the thought of mildewed clothing wrapped in plastic.
The Laundry Room, 2011, Carrie M. Becker

A Miniature World

Carrie has other themed small scale sets and they don’t all depict compulsive hoarding situations. I definitely recommend looking through her Flickr sets.  She’s been featured on Huffington Post and TIME.com.  She has her own website, carriembeckerart.com, and you can also find her on Facebook.

*All photos have been shared with Carrie’s permission.  When I found her art, I contacted her through Facebook and asked if she’d mind being featured on NotJustClutter.


Thanks to all those who expressed concern when I shared that something major was happening with my hoarding mother.  What I thought was going to result in Mom getting in big trouble ended up resolving very mildly.  I’m almost disappointed…while I don’t wish extra hardship on my Mom, I hoped this was finally going to force her to clean up her hoard.  Crisis averted for now.  I still can’t post the details just in case, but I do appreciate the warm wishes you all shared with me.


As you might have been able to tell from my hashtags from Twitter, I attended a blogging conference called Blissdom Canada.

What’s a Blog Conference?

Blissdom Canada was all about bringing together like-minded people and helping them improve their writing, photography, marketing, and all other skills required for blogging.  I went to Blissdom Canada for a few reasons:

  • to connect with other bloggers who write about mental health
  • to connect with other bloggers who deal with personal and really niche topics
  • to improve the “findability” of Not Just Clutter in search engines
  • connect with potential sponsors or brands that add value to Not Just Clutter

Connecting with other bloggers

I was really happy to have a chance to share my story with other bloggers, and hear theirs, too.  Everyone deserves the chance to express themselves.  That’s the great thing about the blogosphere.  And I was surprised to meet so many people who had a hoarding relative, or who wanted to know more about compulsive hoarding.  It helped validate why I continue to put all these personal details out there for the world to read.  I was really moved by some of the stories I heard at Blissdom Canada.  Compulsive hoarding touches more people than you might realize.  Which leads me to…

Improve my Findability

When I started Not Just Clutter, not a single person knew about it at first.  Slowly but surely over the last several months more and more of you are finding your way to me.  I want to be a resource for hoarders and their loved ones, and can only be that if I show up in search engines.  Attending Blissdom Canada gave me some tips for improving that, so hopefully I’ll start to see more comments and interaction on the site.  If you find Not Just Clutter to be useful, please share with others and leave your comments.  I encourage you to find me on Twitter and Facebook.  Your input is just as valuable as mine.

Some one at the conference suggested showing more photos.  While that works well for other topics, is that something you want to see on this blog?  Would you find value in photos of hoards?  I’d like to hear what you think about this.

Connecting with Brands

Don’t worry.  I’m not selling out.  I tell my story to improve public awareness and compassion for compulsive hoarders and their families.  I lay it all out there so other children of hoarders know they’re not alone.  I write about my relationship with my Mom so people understand how this mental illness  affects real people.  If I do connect with a sponsor, it’ll be related to compulsive hoarding, compulsive shopping, organizing your life, or relationships affected by mental disease.  Perhaps even a charity; here I go on and on about the 1st World Problem of too much stuff, when most of the world’s population has too little.

The Future of Not Just Clutter

I’ve returned from this conference motivated to continue.  I met with so many other talented writers, and their passion was infectious.  It was great to be surrounded by a huge group of Canadian women who all understood what if feels like to share a personal story.  Sometimes it feels a little raw to write about these problems in my family.  I’m vulnerable and exposed and live with the fear that someone will recognize me and tell my Mother I’ve been airing her dirty laundry.  I started this blog to get it all off my chest.  Cheap therapy for me, in a way.  And as people began to find my blog, leaving comments, and emailing me their personal stories about the hoarder in their lives, the more I realized Not Just Clutter has an important role to play.  I’m humbled to be a part of it.  Thanks for sharing my journey.


Is this the start of something good?

So Mom has started to talk about selling the house again.  Can you imagine having to move a compulsive hoarder?   She got her most recent property tax assessment and is delighted to learn they’ve appraised her home for a nice chunk of change.  I gently reminded her that it’s unrealistic she’d get that much.

She talks about getting a dumpster.  I don’t even know how much that costs in her city, but I know it’s going to take more than one.  I offered to help her sort through some stuff, but she’s still resisting help until she has a chance to go through things herself.

There are a lot of items she talks about wanting to keep because they’ll be great in the new house.  But then there are also items she’s identified as wanting to get rid of, like the living room sofa set.  Which is fine by me.

I am pleased to hear her talk about this, even if it’s just words.  I think maybe she’s getting glimmers of self-awareness, or she’s tired of being penned in by her hoard.  No matter what, I hope this is the start of something positive.

On the other hand

Mom tells one story to me and a different story to Lynn.  I’m not sure Mom knows that Lynn told me.  Ya follow that?  It means she’s giving me the brave face while there’s something else going on that’s actually pretty serious.  I can’t really talk about that yet.  Yes, it’s that serious.  And in this case, Mom shows no self-awareness.


I just learned the local Animal Services are looking to talk to my Mom.  They tried to visit her home but she didn’t answer the door (because of her disability, Mom sleeps a lot during the day so I can see her missing them).  When they couldn’t reach her, they went to a neighbours house to inquire.  That neighbour called Lynn.

I don’t know why the local authorities are looking for Mom.  She only has 1 dog, and definitely isn’t an animal hoarder.  Her dog is her pride and joy, and her only company in that lonely house, so I’m confident he’s well cared for despite the clutter.  He doesn’t exactly have a lot of room to run around, but he’s a lap dog and Mom takes him with her when she goes out.

Neither Lynn nor I initiated this.  I wonder who did?  I’m also wondering how this will all resolve??


How do you say “let’s not exchange this year?”

A little while ago, Lynn & I discussed not exchanging gifts for Christmas amongst the adults.  She and I are capable of buying anything we need and want, and we just can’t swallow buying gifts for a compulsive hoarder anymore.  There are budgets to consider, and we thought this might be best for everyone.  But then Mom learned of this, and thus began the guilt.

The Gifts

I know I’ve written a lot about gifts on notjustclutter.com already, but this is an ongoing issue in my family.  Mom firmly believes that Christmas and other family traditions are deeply routed in gift giving and receiving.  I would rather our traditions be experiential, and memory-forming.  For instance, I love that we sit as a family and decorate gingerbread men and houses on Boxing Day.  We chat, we share, we praise each others creativity despite clumsy icing bags, and it’s good fun for the kids.  I remember that more than what I unwrapped, or even what I gave to others.  I don’t want to see the art of gift giving turn into obligation.  I don’t want to see anyone feel left out around the tree on Christmas morning, either, while the kids tear into their brightly wrapped boxes.

The truth is that if Mom wasn’t a compulsive hoarder, I would want to guy her gifts.  I like to put thought into presents and she has so many interests, I usually had a good time looking for something to suit her.  But she is a hoarder, and has so much stuff that anything I give gets lost in the mountain.  Like a large canvas family portrait I gave her a few years ago…did that actually make it up on the wall?  Don’t think so.  How about the new computer desk chair she asked for and Lynn gave her?  It’s still at Lynn’s, in the box, 3 years later.  And that Kobo we bought her for Mother’s Day 2 years ago?  She tells us she’s still working her way through the books we loaded on it for her, and sometimes she still just loves a paperback.  But she’d admitted to another friend that she lost it, and now I know my own Mother lies to me.

The Guilt

After Lynn told her what she and I had decided about exchanging, Mom called ME to vent.  She’s unhappy we want to just give up that tradition, and she’s mad she wasn’t included in the decision making.  She wasn’t included mainly because when we DO try to discuss it with her, she shuts down and gets defensive…like she is now.  I’m a peace maker, and always end up trying to please everyone.  I empathize with both Lynn and Mom, but I’m the one who tries the hardest to compromise.  I hate seeing Mom upset, even when I can logically tell this is a guilt trip.  I try suggesting we draw names so we’re just buying for one adult and still respecting budgets, etc.  She didn’t like that idea either.  Essentially, she claimed:

“You and Lynn have already decided on this, so fine, have it your way.  But just know that it won’t feel like Christmas to me.”

Well, that’s great, Mom.  Thanks for announcing so far in advance that you plan on being a lead balloon during our family togetherness time.  You stomp your foot and cross your arms with a pout, and the rest of us will decorate gingerbread men.

Is there a solution?

If there is a way to better deal with gifts and guilt with hoarders, I’d love to hear it.  I’m at my wits end.  I want to be glad I have my loved ones around me, and we’re all healthy and happy.  That’s what I really want for Christmas.  Forget the stuff.  Forget the wrapping, ribbons, and bows.  Forget the generic greeting cards, and the over-packaged plastic toys, batteries not included.  I’m asking Santa for family unity.


Gift giving and receiving with a compulsive hoarder is complicated.

My Mother loves gifts.  I don’t blame her; who doesn’t love gifts?  I’ll tell you who.

Me.

Actually, let me clarify that.  I appreciate a well-thought out gift.  My husband Will is especially good at picking out something perfectly suited to me, and I love everything he’s given me.  He doesn’t go overboard with quantity and that’s just fine with me.

When I was a kid, any holiday involved a mountain of gifts.  When you’re little you think this is fabulous!  Windfall!!!!  Then I got older and (just a touch) wiser.  I realized though the gifts were plentiful, they were either:

  • poor quality
  • unsuited to me
  • had strings attached

Poor Quality

It was quantity over quality.  I started to fall into this trap too until one Christmas I exchanged gifts with my college boyfriend.  I wandered department stores and dollar stores, and picked out all sorts of whimsical things that made me think of him.  I gave him about a dozen little presents, and he gave me a gold promise ring.  It finally dawned on me that while the pile of presents seemed impressive, it wasn’t about the stuff and more about the emotions.  I might have spent as much as he did but while I received a symbol of our relationship, he got a pile of cheap trinkets.

Unsuited to Me

Mom & I haven’t been as tight as we used to be, so we don’t know each other as well as we should.  Her mental illness has changed her, and I’ve matured since her hoarding took over.  I know when she walks through her favourite thrift store she buys things because they make her think of me, but they’re bizarre.  Like, the country-style apple quilt wall hanging she found.  It was originally from Cracker Barrel and she told me:

“I know something like this would be worth at least $60 brand new.  I just couldn’t pass it up when I saw it for $12!”

The quilt was perfectly nice, in mint condition, and would probably look great hanging in someone’s home.  Just not mine.  I don’t have a country theme in my home decor, and I’d never expressed the desire for a quilted wall hanging.  So this was money spent on a gift for the wrong person.

Strings Attached

SO many “treasures” have been shared with me over the years.  On the surface, Mom is very generous.  But if Mom considered these items especially interesting, she’d declare the caveat “Don’t ever get rid of this.  If you don’t want it anymore give it to me.”  That tells me she really picked this out for herself, and only felt comfortable giving it away if she thought she’d get it back some day.

The Butterfly in a Jar my Mom really bought for herself but gave to me.

The Butterfly in a Jar my Mom really bought for herself but gave to me.

My birthday was recently…we won’t worry about which one it was. ;)
Mom asked me a few weeks ago what I would like for my birthday.  I told her nothing but her happy birthday wishes.  I know she’s on a tight budget, shipping is expensive, and I really don’t need anything.  Lynn & I had already discussed stopping gifts between each other and I mentioned all that to Mom.

I could tell she was hurt.  She thinks we don’t want to uphold any traditions.  That’s not true…it’s just the traditions I’m interested in don’t involve consumerism.  And I get the sense she’s upset if she doesn’t give a gift to me, I won’t give a gift to her on her birthday.

She’s right about that.  I don’t want to buy gifts for her any more.  Anything I’ve given her in the last several years hasn’t been used.  It ends up in the back of her van or in some pile at her house, never to be seen again.  I’m tired of wasting money and effort when it’s not appreciated.  And if I did want to buy her something, what would it be?  She has triplicate of everything because she’s lost the originals.  We’ve thought of buying her services, but she won’t let anyone into her house for housekeeping, repairs, etc.  We mentioned the idea of donating to charity in her name once and she was offended.

So, I’d rather not bother with the whole gift exchange thing.  I know it sounds cold, but I just can’t do it any more.  I don’t want her to buy me trinkets I’ll have to donate away or throw out, and I don’t want her to spend the few dollars she has left on a gift for me when she keeps her thermostat set to 60 in the winter to avoid a high heating bill.

What I really wish for

What I’d like from her is a memory we can share.  Perhaps go to lunch, or see a movie.  Sit down and do a craft together.  Take a drive and look at the scenery.  Too bad she lives 3 hours away.

She called me last night to sing me Happy Birthday.  And so we chatted and hearing her voice was gift enough for me.

How do you handle gifts with a Compulsive hoarder?

I’m curious as to how other children or relatives of hoarders handle gifts.  Do you still exchange?  Do you keep those things “loaned” to you…those gifts given but wanted back?  If you’ve found a solution to gift giving and receiving when a compulsive hoarder is involved, I’d love to hear about it!


I feel so honoured to have been given to opportunity to write a guest post for Psychology Today.  Recently, the same doctor conducting the studies about compulsive hoarders and their relationships touched base with me and we’ve been having some great conversation about the lack of resources on this topic.  Truly, people like me, the hoarders son, and other children of hoarders have limited help in sorting out our feelings and relationships with our hoarding loved ones.

Raising Awareness

Dr. Amy Przeworski, from Case Western Reserve University, wants to raise awareness…and I’m hopeful when I hear mental health experts like Amy getting involved.  I wrote a guest post about what it’s like to be on one side of the wall of stuff while my Mother exists on the other.  I hope you’ll hop over to read my post on Dr. Przeworski’s blog…and stick around to read more of her own posts.  She speaks of anxiety and other family mental health issues worth reading.

Find me on psychology today

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-worry-mom/201209/outside-the-wall

 


There are 2 new studies about compulsive hoarders you might not know about.  They’re being conducted by researchers at Case Western Reserve University.  These online surveys explore the relationship between someone with OCD or Hoarding tendencies and their relatives or loved ones.  Researchers hope the information gathered from these surveys will help improve therapies for OCD and hoarding (Goodness knows we need that!), and to also create an awareness of the complexities of the relationships surrounding those with these disorders.  You must be at least 18 years old to participate.  The bonus (other than science learning more about hoarding) is that entries are eligible for a draw for a Target gift card. You can choose to remain anonymous, and the site outlines their privacy procedures right up front.

I was approached by Dr. Amy Przeworski, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychological Sciences at Case Western Reserve University.  She reached out hoping to bring more attention to her studies, and I’m so glad she did.  Currently, there’s no formal information out there about the effects of compulsive hoarding on relationships, and she seeks to change that.  Our goals are aligned, as that’s what I’m trying to do with this blog.  I sometimes compare having a relative with hoarding to having a relative who’s an alcoholic.  I don’t dispute alcoholism is terribly serious and harmful, but the stigma isn’t as severe as it is for hoarders, and there are WAY more social supports in place from rehab to 12 step recovery to groups like AA, Al-anon, and Alateen.  Other than the Children of Hoarders website and blogs like mine, relatives of hoarders are still mostly on their own,

Two Studies, Different Approaches

The 2 studies have different veins…one is for the relative or loved one of a hoarder.  I completed this one, and encourage anyone in similar shoes to do so.  It didn’t take very long, although I found some of the questions about OCD unrelated to my situation.  You can skip anything not relevant to you, but your personal experience is valid!!

The other survey is for people who hoard or those with OCD to complete.  You can imagine how difficult it is to get enough people for this one…most hoarders have a lack of insight.  They don’t see themselves as having a hoarding problem, and so simply wouldn’t even attempt to answer this survey.  I know the researchers need at least 40 more entries to get a solid base for their research, so I ask if anyone reading Not Just Clutter who IS a hoarder and are stuggling with getting better to reach out and complete this survey.

Study Links

For individuals with OCD and/or hoarding: http://psychology.case.edu/research/fear_lab/participate.html

For relatives and significant others of those with OCD and/or hoarding: http://psychology.case.edu/research/fear_lab/participate.html


I recently got a great comment from a reader named Sue.  She responded to my post The Case of the Silent Phone part 5, and tells us her experience as the daughter of a hoarder.  Her advice about how to clear out a hoarders home was so valuable, I asked Sue if I could feature her words as a post instead of as a comment.  She also shared photos of her father’s home during her clean up process.  I also appreciate her ideas for helping my daughter learn to sort out her beloved stuffed animals.  If you are facing the overwhelming task of sorting through a compulsive hoarders house, I urge you to learn from Sue’s experience.
Thank you, Sue, for sharing with Not Just Clutter.  I look forward to updates from you.

Guest post: How to Clear out a Hoarders Home

My primary approach dealing with Dad’s house was to put like things together. It was all about categorizing things rather than dealing with them as individual items.
I disagree with some of the standard organizational advice that says to work your way through a pile picking up each item and not putting it down until you make a decision about whether to keep, donate/sell, or toss.  I understand the purpose of that advice, which is to encourage the hoarder to actually think about each item rather than just blindly put it back on the pile where it becomes invisible again.  But I think that there is a better way to approach it, which is to start by focusing on the things that you can decide immediately about.  So I would start (or encourage the hoarder to start) by looking just for things that can be thrown out (or just for things that can be donated, or just for things that have a known place where they belong and can be put away).  I think it’s too overwhelming to try to think about each individual item against the background of a pile or room filled up with hundreds or thousands of equally “individual” items.  I think it works best to 1) first remove as much of the stuff in the pile or room as possible whose fate is EASY to decide: obvious trash, obvious donate things, obvious “put away elsewhere” things.  Then 2) look at the remaining items in the pile or room, and look for the patterns, the categories. 
Hoard in living room

Living Room: notice the partially cleared coffee table, which took a great deal of work just to get that far.

Find Categories

In my Dad’s house the common categories were: books, clothes, keep/sell/give to friends, thrift store, bridge (dad was a bridge teacher and most of the papers in the house were related to that), music (cds and tapes were all over the house), empty boxes, magazines, personal/photos/financial records etc.  I designated a place/pile/room for each category and just plowed through the piles sorting into the new piles.  Thus, all clothing went in one room (after I cleared a bed to have some room to pile clothes), office type supplies went piled on or near the desk, and anything I thought I might want to keep (even to sell later online, etc — anything I wasn’t going to dispose of directly from the house) went into a third room (again, after clearing to have initial room to work). Empty boxes went into the garage.  Just like you would do with an already-organized house, everything needed a place, even just a temporary place.  Sometimes the “place” for lightweight furniture was out on the lawn with a “FREE” sign — I got rid of a lot that way.

Remove Volume Quickly

A secondary rule was to focus on the easiest ways to remove volume from the piles. In dad’s case this meant first pulling CLOTHING and BOXES (mostly empty) from piles that were otherwise mostly paper. Like many hoarders, my dad accumulated boxes, thinking that they would magically solve his organization problem, but instead, they became more OF the problem…  Going through the papers was much more tedious and fiddly — he would have old family photos mixed in with junk mail, so I couldn’t just toss big stacks of junk mail, unless I was willing to risk losing some good stuff with it (and by the end, I did some of that too!). But at first, you want the encouragement of seeing the piles shrink dramatically, by taking out the things that have the most volume to them.  Things that were clearly garbage or recycle or thrift store, I tried to remove as soon as possible, just to open up a little working room!
Compulsive Hoarders Office

The Office: A Nice Roll Top Desk to hide the clutter

Sometimes I would sit down and focus on a certain room or a large pile, one piece at a time. Other times I would bounce around from room to room, each time finding something that “belonged” somewhere else. It seemed to work well to take whichever approach I was in the mood for that day.
I worked my way through the piles this way, sorting into these new piles, until — after many days of this — a semblance of order began to appear.

look for Subset Categories

Then I began to focus on subsets — from among the office supplies I could then see, for example, that there were at least twelve staplers.  A whole moving carton full of pens and pencils.  From among the clothing I stacked pants here, shirts there, and filled a laundry basket to overflowing, just with belts (!!).  Once I could see things organized by categories and how much there was of various things, it was easier for me to decide how to proceed with keep/donate decisions.  I think this would be even more important if the hoarder is participating in the cleanup and some appropriate amounts and types of things are going to be kept for their use.

Set a number limit

I also think it’s important, when helping a hoarder, to establish an agreed-upon appropriate number of each type of item to be kept, just as you mentioned with the stuffed animals for your daughter. When your mom sees, for example, a nice lamp that works, it might be hard for her to decide, as a standalone decision, whether she’s willing to let that particular lamp go.  But if she has already agreed that given the layout of her house, she needs, say, ten lamps, then once she sees, visually all together in one place, that she has thirty lamps, I think it would be easier to pick her ten favorite and be more agreeable (hopefully) to letting the others go.
Piles of Paper

Piles of Paper

I admit that I never tried the above approach with my dad.  His piles were mostly paper and clothing, and I wasn’t able to assemble things in a way to see how many he had of different kinds of clothing because they were too well hidden in the piles or inaccessible due to other piles.  I was only able to get to that point after his death when I had complete freedom to plow through the house and move things around.  But I do think it would be a good approach to take, if a hoarder is able to think rationally about their things (which some can and some can’t, from what I’ve seen).

Focus on the person, not the stuff

I know these things that make sense to us, don’t always work for the person with the hoarding mindset. But there is only so much you can do, if the person is otherwise competent and able to legally make their own decisions. There does come a point where it truly does become easier to wait until the person is gone, rather than argue over every little thing. Sometime you just want to not upset the relationship by always having it focus on the stuff. It all depends on where the person is at mentally and emotionally, and how much help they truly want.