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.


Isn’t it about time we end the stigma of mental illness?

One of my main goals for writing my Not Just Clutter blog is to help dispel the misconceptions of compulsive hoarding disorder.  By sharing my personal story, perhaps others will realize hoarders are not uneducated lazy slobs.  Compulsive hoarding is complicated, heart-wrenching, and utterly baffling, but by trying to understand the nuances of hoarding, we can break down the stereotypes of not just this disorder, but of all mental illness.

Stop the Stigma

1 in 5 Canadians will experience some sort of mental health illness in their lifetime.  The chances are pretty high you know someone struggling with mental health.  Maybe they’re anxious about paying the bills.  Maybe their mood swings from low to high to low before lunch time.  Maybe she’s wrestling with post-partum depression and feels guilty for not bonding with her newborn baby.  Maybe he’s new to Canada, having escaped with only the clothes on his back from his war-torn home country.

Maybe it’s you who feels like you’re barely keeping it together every single day.

And you hide it.

You hide it in shame.  You shouldn’t have to.

Chalkboard image of Stop the Stigma of Mental Illness

Teen Suicide

Last week, I was sent reeling when I learned of the death of a 16-year old girl.  This girl had been in my home several times, caring for my daughter, Maddie.  I knew her to be smart, sensible, and compassionate.  Talented and athletic.  With a broad smile you couldn’t help but reflect with her around.  She had plans, and her whole future ahead of her.  We lost touch when she moved away from town, but I always considered her to be a positive role model for Maddie.  It’s tragic enough that she died so young.  It’s unspeakable that depression got a hold of her, driving her to suicide.

As a mother, I couldn’t help but imagine my own daughters at age 16, and wonder how I’ll possibly save them from the same fate.  My heart weeps for this girls family and friends.  I only knew her a fairly short time, but it was enough to be affected by her for life.

More than One Mental Illness

Sometimes, someone might be suffering from more than one mental illness.  I know of someone with schizophrenia as well as depression & anxiety.  You might think the schizophrenia is what affects this person the most, but it’s actually well controlled by medication.  The anxiety is a daily struggle though.

A fellow child of a hoarder talks about her post-traumatic stress disorder and dysthymic disorder on her blog Hoarding Child. I didn’t even know what dysthymic disorder was until she shared it with me through Twitter.  A day later, another friend confided she also dealt with it.  I had no idea.  I respect the trust these people put in me.  If they couldn’t trust at least one person with this, would they feel alone?  Be a person other people can trust to tell, and together we’ll stop the stigma.

My Mom

My Mom has a laundry list of health problems, mental and physical.  I suspect they’re all related, and feed the compulsive hoarding.  How could one possibly deal with chronic pain for over 20 years without depression, post-traumatic stress, and other complications?  I remember one of the lows Mom went through when I was in my early Twenties.  She leaned heavy on the table, head in hands weeping.  I wrapped my arms around her without a clue of any other way of helping.  She told me she wished someone would drag her out to the field and just shoot her.

We weren’t exactly sympathetic back then either.  “Chin up.  Don’t let yourself get in a funk.”  What did we know?  I was talking about this very memory with my Mom last night.  And you know what?  She doesn’t ever remember saying that…she insists she was never so low she wished to die.  But I tell ya…that’s not something I’d dare make up, and I’m certain my ears work perfectly.  She’s either in denial (no surprise there), or her memory has gotten foggy in the last 20 years.

So there.  That’s 5 people within my inner circle who are dealing with mental illness; they’re just the first ones I thought of.  I know there are others, and I’m ok with that.  They’re not raving lunatics brandishing axes, nor are they speaking in tongues.  They’re not standing on street corners preaching about the end of the world.  They’re not homeless, own excessive amounts of cats, and I’ve never seen them go “postal.” (there’s a stigma that’s gotta go)

They’re just people dealing with a wicked twist of fate.  Imbalanced chemicals in their brains and suddenly everything changes.  No one asks for it.  No one deserves it.  Maybe it’ll be me next time.  I’m lucky to have a support system to help me.  My husband, Will, is rock solid.  I hope he knows I’ve got his back, too.

You’re Not Alone

Whatever you’re feeling, please know you’re not alone.  People love you, even people who don’t know you.  The young girl I know who commit suicide last week will never know how the community pulled together to support her family and friends.  When the mommy community in my town learned of this girls death, they immediately began an outpouring of concern and unbiased support.  People who’d never met the girl, or her family, stepped up to provide food, money, and even clothes for the parents to wear to the funeral.  Friends set up RIP Facebook pages with fond memories, smiling photos, and declarations of admiration.  There’s no mistaking this girl was deeply loved.  And she didn’t realize it when she needed it most.

What can we do?

Good question.  What can we do?  We need to be open-hearted for others to talk to us.  We need to listen when friends share their struggles with us.  Reserve your judgment and criticism, and show compassion instead.  We need to talk for ourselves when others are willing to listen.  As fellow citizens of Mankind, we all need to be supportive of one another.  When many carry the weight of a few, the weight is suddenly more manageable.  Do your best to avoid adding more weight with tasteless jokes and sweeping generalizations.  As individuals, we don’t need to have all the answers, but we DO need to persist when we have unanswered questions.

National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace

Very recently, a new voluntary standard has been released to give employers a guideline for promoting employees’ psychological health and preventing psychological harm due to workplace factors.  Brilliant!  It’s about time we started giving mental health as much attention as physical health.  They so often go hand in hand.  Bell Canada has shown its commitment to this initiative by including mental health training for all Bell managers, and implementing a return to work program for employees affected by mental illness.  Let’s see how many other corporations bring this on board.  Watch for activity on Twitter with #Bell_LetsTalk (Bell Let’s Talk Day). Using social media, Bell hopes to raise money, but more importantly, awareness for mental health research.

Bell Canada Let's Talk Logo

Continue the Conversation, Stop the Stigma of Mental Illness

This is an on-going story.  It’s being written every day, and you’re a supportive character.  And maybe, some days, you’ve a lead role.  I don’t know how the plot might twist and surprise us as we go, but there’s always hope for a happy ending.


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!