I dreamt I was in my Mother’s house.

When someone’s compulsive hoarding is so extensive it invades someone else’s dreams, you know it’s significant.

In this dream, I go to my Mom’s house to take photos.  I want to collect images not just for notjustclutter.com, but to really see how she’s living.  Maybe if she sees the photos she’d realize there’s a problem. I’m also a photographer, so it’s in my nature to want to visually document the legacy my Mother is hoarding. In the dream, I need to take the photos in secret, so I sneak in.

And not in the standard dressed-all-in-black-in-a-svelte-catsuit sneaky way.  No.  In this dream, I’m also trying to navigate a bicycle along the goat paths.  Don’t ask me why.  I don’t love riding bicycles.  The dusty stationary bike over there in the corner agrees.  But anyway, here I am, struggling with my trusty Nikon around my neck and a mountain bike.

As I’m moving through the house, I feel confident that I’ll be able to hide pretty quickly should Mom come along.  Piles are at least shoulder height.  I’m so preoccupied with hauling the bicycle over a stack of vintage lace pattern books and cases of RC Cola, I don’t hear her coming down the hall.  Suddenly, I sense her on the other side of the door while I cower in the chaos I once called my childhood room and it’s too late to hide.  Everything is just too jam packed.  The door begins to move.  It doesn’t exactly swing open, but nudges against a jagged wicker doll bassinet.  My heart is racing.  When she finds me here I’ll never be forgiven for invading her space.  She’ll disown me and play the “I once beat CANCER card, let me have my things” card.

I hold my breath.



And wake up.

I want to stay focused on organization and compulsive hoarding in this blog, but I wanted to deviate a little with this post. We have recently been totally consumed with a project here at home that made a BIG difference in our lifestyle and organization. We renovated our kitchen. It started about a month ago, and the final elements are pretty much finally in place now. Just have to install in a new floor.

Our old kitchen was cramped, and by renovating we opened up a much more efficient layout. And while we more than doubled our working space, what was more important was what happened while packing up the old kitchen. We dug out all the cupboards and drawers, the pantry and appliance closet, and made some tough decisions. If you’re anything like me, you probably have a pretty jammed junk drawer, right? When was the last time you went through it? When was the last time you needed even 50% of the stuff in there?

Our junk drawer had old birthday candles, expired pizza coupons, dead batteries, and countless other things that never belonged in that drawer. And really, how many bamboo skewers did we really think we’d ever use??

What’s in your junk drawer?

We also found we had duplicates of things, especially plastic containers. I’m happy to say we whittled that collection down for the charity box and now have a much more manageable set of containers WITH matching lids. That certainly makes getting lunches ready in the morning easier!

Empty it out!

Even if you’re not planning a full renovation, I highly recommend tackling your kitchen junk drawer. Take out EVERYTHING and put it on the counter. Have a box for charity and a bag for garbage handy. Consider each item and only put it back if you really need it. Maybe put similar items together in a zip bag, like spare batteries or clothes pins. Perhaps you find stuff that has a home somewhere else and just needs to be relocated. Suddenly, it’s not so junky anymore! Power through for 15 minutes, and you’ll have solid results.

We went through Ikea for our renovation. Ikea has not asked me to do this post…I’m not being compensated by Ikea, and 100% of what I say here is based on my own personal experience and opinion.

We still have to replace the floor and paint the ceiling, but otherwise are good to go!

Here’s what we had before…this is from our house inspection when we bought the place. What you can’t see just to the left in this photo is an eat-in area. We use our dining room for all meals, so we had cobbled together additional storage and counter space by adding a buffet and table pushed against the walls. It looked cluttered, clumsy, and was awkward to get to while working in the kitchen.

We took everything out and started from scratch with just about everything coming from Ikea.

white Stat Ikea kitchen

We had visited Ikea in December and got a good idea of what we wanted. Then we worked on our plans using the Ikea kitchen planner software. We learned it works better in Internet Explorer than it does in Google Chrome. I also read a lot on the Ikea Fans forum: http://www.ikeafans.com/forums/kitchen-planning/

We contacted several of their suggested installers and picked one we felt most comfortable with. He came and measured our space, and gave us better direction and advice for finessing our design.

Then we coordinated with him, our electrician, and Habitat to make a schedule. My husband and I went to Ikea to place our order on Thursday, everything was delivered Friday. Habitat for Humanity came on Friday to remove the old kitchen for free. Electrician came to do some plug moving and adding, etc. We removed the tile back splash and bulk head over the weekend.

Our installer arrived Monday and finished the drywalling from the bulkhead. He also had to fix a plumbing issue the Habitat guys caused when they removed the sink cabinet. He didn’t get to building any cabs until Tuesday.
We went with Stat cupboards, oak Numerar counters except for the island, and used Ikea handles for everything except the Jadite knobs on my glass front cabs. Speaking of which, the glass fronted doors are from the Lidingo (I “think”) line, not Stat.

Our installer was amazing and really meticulous. Everything fits perfectly, even with unsquare walls. He didn’t rush and took his time…it was about 7 days of solid work for him, but I was very impressed.

Farmhouse Ikea sink: I love this. It’s bigger than the stainless steel sink we used to have and fits a large frying pan on the bottom for soaking. The faucet was from Rona a few years ago. Pendent light is from Lowes or Rona.

Ikea farmhouse sink

Fully extendable Ikea blind corner carousel: we have 2 sets of these.  Both levels swivel out and pull forward.

blind corner kitchen storage solution

blind corner kitchen storage solution

Floor to Ceiling Pantry Before:
floor to ceiling pantry

And After with Ikea pull out shelves

floor to ceiling pantry with pull out shelves

floor to ceiling pantry with pull out shelves

Stove area was moved almost 2 feet to the right…it was previously right by the sink and didn’t leave any room for someone to do cooking and someone else to do cleaning at the same time.  We replaced the range hood with a stainless steel model from Home Depot.  The white stove was the previous owners, and the black stove is ours.  We’ll eventually change it for an induction cooktop.  We also moved the fridge.  It used to be just to the right of the stove…now it’s on the other side of the room.


herringbone tile back splash

Numerar Countertops: these have to be oiled often for the first little while and then less as time passes.  If they should happen to stain, we can sand it away.  They grow warmer in tone the more they’re oiled and used.  We had such little counter space before, this is very luxurious for us.  The school house lights are from Rona.  I’m glad to have the microwave OFF the counter, and the wine rack is handy.

wood counter tops

Jadite Knobs I bought from an Etsy vendor: http://www.etsy.com/shop/prettyware

jadite cabinet knobs

And now for the island.  We had originally planned to put the same wood on the island, but when we put in our order, that size was not available and no hint as to when it would be coming in.  So we started looking at other options.  I didn’t really want granite, but I priced out copper, soapstone, and concrete.  Concrete won, and I found a local vendor to custom create this for us.  I wanted something with a worn, aged look.

concrete counter

concrete counter

concrete counter

Here you see the inlaid cutting board.  We’re also planning on getting a piece of marble to fit the same spot for chocolate and pastry work.

concrete counter with cutting board inlay

I was also very happy with my tile guy.  He quoted a great price to do the backsplash and there’s 45 square feet there!  It’s a complicated pattern to make consistent and it involves a LOT of extra cutting but close inspection shows he knew his stuff! Tiles were .24 cents each.

herringbone back splash

Overall, we spent under $15,000.

The only real hiccup was with Ikea delivery.  There was a large cover panel which did not arrive with our order and our installer needed it to move forward.  He pointed it out as soon as he noticed and it took several calls back and forth with Ikea to get it delivered in good time as to not stall the whole schedule.  I didn’t feel the Ikea store manager made a good effort to contact me and keep me in the loop about this, and trying to get a hold of anyone from the store on the phone was impossible.  You can only reach their call centre in Montreal.  BUT it did get resolved, installation continued, and I’m now delighted with our new kitchen.

It’s made sharing the space with our children a real joy.  It’s so fun to have proper space to work with them at the island baking cookies, and not be crowded.  Once we have the floor in, we’ll finally invite our friends in for a meal and we can’t wait to let the party end up in the kitchen.

If anyone else is considering an Ikea kitchen, I definitely recommend it.  And if you’re in west GTA, I can recommend some vendors who won’t disappoint.

Today is my Mother’s birthday.  I just got off the phone with her.  Yes, that’s right.  The Phone!  She finally got her cell phone and we’ve actually had a couple of conversations on it already.  Tonight was the first time to call her on her cell…and she was out shopping!  At 8:30!  Where?  The second hand store, her favourite place on the planet, of course.

She told me about a couple things she had put in her cart, thinking I might like them.  She described them to me, and they weren’t anything I thought I truly needed or wanted, so I politely declined.  I thanked her for thinking of me.  She thanked ME for thinking of HER on her birthday.

I admit I lost track of time and am late getting a birthday card out to her.  I made one myself, and will send it with a drawing Maddie did for her, too.  I’m always stumped for gift ideas for Mom.  She has everything…possibly triplicate of many things.  I don’t want to contribute to the pile.  I know many gifts I’ve given in the past are still in the original packaging.

Gift cards are not a good alternative.  Lynn & I have tried that in the past.  Mom can’t ever decide on something “special enough” to use them on, so they expire or get lost unspent.

If we lived closer to each other I would take her out of lunch, or on an excursion of some sort.  I like the idea of spending time with her and experiencing a memory together instead of exchanging material things.  She’s too tired to travel to me for a visit, and I know all the stairs in our split level home are tough for her to manage while she’s here.  But at least we have a bed for her here.  She can’t offer the same if I tried to visit her.

What I’d really like to do is pay for a month or two of a bill…perhaps her new cell phone bill, or a portion of her gigantic oil bill.  She has a fixed income.  I’m not at all sure how she manages to pay for anything really!  How far can one stretch an old age pension and a disability benefit?  But I’d need her account information, and she’s not about to hand that over.

So, I’ll send my belated card and try to be on time for Mother’s Day instead.  I really miss her.  I miss the way I remember her, before the walls of stuff grew so high.  I send the warmest of birthday wishes to a woman who drove me to all my dance lessons, music lessons, competitions and performances.  Who sewed 50 air freshener skunks to raise money to go to my competitions.  Who bragged about me to anyone who’d listen.  Who could just give me that “look” and I’d behave.  Who bought a book of Jello recipes and spent the summer with me trying out 50 ways to create desserts with the worlds favourite gelatine treat.  Who instilled in me a love of reading, art, creating by hand.  Who showed me there’s no limit to the power of creativity.  Who respected me, listened to me, cried when I cried, and laughed when I laughed.  Who embodied warmth & patience (and stubborness, too).  Who tried so hard to keep everything equal between her two daughters.  Who stowed away money for years so I could graduate college debt-free.  Who stayed with me and helped when my daughters were born.  Who shaped the person I am today.

For any faults I might find with her, there are many, many more qualities.  I’ll remember them not just today but everyday.  Happy birthday.


It’s been a few weeks since Mom told me she was getting a cell phone.  I was excited at first, but that wore off as day after day passed and still no call from her “new phone.”

I’m guessing she has procrastinated and has found other things to do instead.  Compulsive hoarders have a tendency to delay making decisions out of fear of making the wrong decision.  I’ve seen it time and time again with Mom.

She has a pile of boxes heavy with papers under the desk…the very same boxes she needed to move to check the phone jack on the wall.  She was attempting to go through these boxes paper by paper in case there was something important in there she shouldn’t throw away.  This meant ALL the papers got kept when only a handful should have been filed and the rest recycled (or shredded for privacy, which is another way of delaying because, um, she doesn’t have a shredder.)  The result of her dithering is a desk still jammed with paper boxes and no way to access the phone jack.  She’s still paying for the phone service, by the way, and because she wanted to keep the same phone number has maintained a more costly business line they had for my Dad.  The phone company also requires 30-60 days written notice of cancellation, so we’re looking at a loss of about $400 since November.

When I began this post, I thought about my own trouble making decisions.  My husband and I do research for a long time before making most decisions.  It’s a good thing to know what you’re getting into, but eventually you have to s*** and get off the pot (sorry for the crudeness).  My husband and I planned to get a new front door for over 18 months.  We had contractors come give us quotes.  We drove around the neighbourhood looking at other people’s front doors.  I visited several door & window stores looking at options.  If Pinterest had been around then, I’m sure I’d still be pinning to a “Front Door” board!  There were SO many options, we couldn’t pick just one.

Then, one day, Lowes had a sale on doors.  We walked in, pointed at one we both liked, and it was installed a week later.  We loved it!  It brighten the face of our house, is more energy efficient, and has better ventilation.  Why hadn’t we just done that from the beginning?  We make life too complicated sometimes.

Just Make Up Your Mind!

I want to be better at making decisions.  I think it could be a learned skill, and I want to model decisiveness for my daughters.  So I Googled “how to make decisions” or something like that, and saw a wealth of information out there.  It seems there are some common factors why people can’t make up their minds:

  • Too many advisors
  • Too many choices
  • Fear of worst case scenarios
  • Analysis paralysis
  • Talking yourself out of a decision

But there are some things you can do to help yourself.

  • Set a deadline for making the decision
  • Accept you might make a bad decision, be ok with it, and learn from the failure
  • Manage your emotions

It seems people make decisions with their hearts more than their heads.  Emotions aren’t rational and can confuse you from making a good decision.  If you struggle with a bossy heart, consider these:

  • Imagine a blank slate in your head.  Don’t allow any other thoughts or feelings and start from scratch.  (I’ve seen this work…I mean, it works for a character in the Pokemon graphic novels I’ve been reading with my 6 year old, Maddie, so surely…..)
  • What’s your body telling you?  Take a breath, calm your nerves, and still your movements to focus.
  • Visualize the outcome of your decision, and evaluate what would work and what wouldn’t.  Is it really so bad either way?
  • Ask do you need it, or just want it?  This is especially important for hoarders, or compulsive shoppers.  If it’s a basic need, it’s easy enough for your brain to make that decision.  But if you want it, well, that’s desire.  Desire is an emotion.  Emotions colour our thinking with all sorts of confliction, and we find we’ve talked ourselves into buying/eating/bringing home something we really didn’t need.  It could lead us to a temporary high, and then the all-too-familiar emotion, remorse.  And that…is just a bad decision.
  • Practice makes perfect.  Apply these methods often to get better at them.  Decision-making opportunities come up daily…sometimes, several times an hour!

You might find other useful ideas online.

I’m going to have to give these ideas a try.  Let me know if they work for you.  And remember, not all decisions are life or death.  What to have for lunch, what colour socks to wear (I choose black almost always), what route to drive to work…these are examples of ordinary low-risk decisions.  I want to get really good at making up my mind in these situations, and I’ll be better prepared for bigger, higher-risk decisions.   No more dithering or waffling.  No more sweating the details while missing the bigger picture.  No more fretting over beautiful, energy efficient front doors while the old ugly one lets in drafts.

In the meantime, I realize I can’t fault my Mom her indecision.  I recognize it’s part of who she is.  It’s part of her illness.  And perhaps she was never taught the skill of quick decision making.  I know she didn’t teach it to me.  I’ll find the patience next time I’m waiting for Maddie to choose between Raisin Bran & Cheerios at breakfast time.  We’ll work on the wants vs needs issues if they arise.  I’m sure they will.

While I can’t control the choices of others, I am in full control of my own choices. Knowing that is empowering.

I follow a blog called Nesting Place.  I read all sorts of fun tips on decorating my home inexpensively, and how to appreciate something for it’s beauty, not it’s perfection.  It’s truly a lovely blog.  Today I read a post by “The Nester” titled Why I’m Not Having a Garage Sale This Year.

It made me consider the state of my basement.  Ahh, yes, the basement.  The graveyard of unwanted, but too good to be thrown out toys/clothes/small appliances/decorations/furniture/et all.  My husband and I are determined to finish it next year.  To do so means having to clear out all the stuff stored there.  I try to go through it somewhat often.  Sometimes it’s easy.  It’s been gratifying to clear out baby items to another family who needed them.  I was glad to share some books I know I’ll never read again.

But other times….

I see the ‘potential.’  There’s a dangerous word, huh?  It means finding a reason to let something go is dang near impossible unless you’re steel-hearted.  I have an armoire of craft supplies in the basement.  Mom’s original sewing machine.  A pristine baby bassinet.  A cappuchino maker, 2 regular coffee makers, and probably soon, a Tassimo.  And, of course, countless other items.  All of this stuff is in such great shape I can’t bear the thought of just throwing it out or shoving it in those parking lot charity bins.  I think “This should be sold at a garage sale…at least get a couple bucks for it.”  Back in the basement it goes, sitting quietly and hoping to go unnoticed the next time I’m in a purging mood.

We’ve had a number of garage sales.  They’re such a pain to run.  You spend days organizing the stuff.  You get out petty cash and save plastic bags.  Then you sit in the baking sun while people sniff through your things and insult you with “Would you take a quarter for this item clearly worth $5?”

We made $70 at our last sale.  And didn’t clear out as much as I wanted.  I mentioned some of the items that didn’t sell in my post about clearing out the garage.  That’s right…the stuff that was formerly of the basement, just got shuffled from the driveway back into the garage.  It’s been there a whole year!

The next time I hit the basement, I’m really going to aim to be ruthless.  It’s got to go if I want to live my life in my house the way I want.  I’m not going to hang on to anything any more with the plan to sell it at a garage sale.  The space is more valuable to me than the money earned from doing so, and in the mean time, like the Nester, I’ll be careful about the little items I bring home that end up in the garage sale pile anyway.

It’s been decided.  Just a mere 4.5 months since her home phone line failed, Mom has announced she’s getting a cell phone.

She called me from Lynn’s house 2 nights ago to ask what would be a good deal for her to get.  She can’t afford an expensive plan, and doesn’t want to be locked in, but also doesn’t want a pay-as-you-go type either.  I told her about the plan I have through Koodo which is very affordable.  She doesn’t need a smart phone; she just needs something that makes and takes phone calls, with easy to read buttons and screens.  If there was a cell phone that looked and behaved like the rotary phone from my childhood, I think she’d pick that.

Mom is a bit concerned she’ll lose this phone, like she did the one I bought her about 5 years ago.  I’m concerned about that too, and also that she’ll forget to charge it or take it with her when she goes out.  But I DO think it’s good she’s finally making a decision about this…she must deep down know that there’s a bigger problem here.  I won’t push it for now, but support her in making the move to join this era of new fangled things.

Every 6 weeks or so, our town has large item trash removal.  That means you can put out up to 3 larger items that don’t fit in normal trash.  Pressboard furniture, rolls of carpet, and things like that.  We often forget when these days are and always think afterwards “Geez, we shoulda put out XYZ.”

This time, we remembered at the last minute.  The weather was beautiful, the kids were playing in the front yard, and we took a good look in our garage.  We’ve known for a looooong time we need to clean it out.  We’ve never parked a car in it, and it’s an obstacle course of lawn mowers, bicycles, boxes of stuff that didn’t sell at our last garage sale, and bits of wood leftover from past projects.  Writing this blog has made me more determined not to be a victim of stuff, so I hardened my heart a little to clear some space.

I knew if we put out some stuff, they would come.  You know…the curbside scavengers, the dumpster divers, the scrap metal collectors, the roadside rescuers.  Our town has a healthy bunch you can count on, slowly cruising the residential streets in pick up trucks looking for treasure.

Our town offers metal appliance pick up, too.  You have to call and arrange a time, but they pick it up for free and dispose of it properly.  We put out an unwanted stove and scheduled a pick up, but someone else scooped it within the hour.  The town never even had a chance!

So I was comfortable knowing that anything I put out wasn’t going to really end up in a land fill.  And if it wasn’t picked up by bed time, I probably would have pulled it back in the house.

Out went the 80s style metal bed frame.

Out went the wood directors chairs with flaking paint and stained canvas seats.

Out went the umbrella stroller with the wonky wheel.  Our youngest child is happier walking anyway, and when we got this stroller it was already second hand.  (Bonus: when we unfolded the stroller to put by the road, we found our missing camera!)

I set the chairs and stroller up so people would see them easily as they drove by, and then went in for dinner.

An hour later, the metal bed frame was gone.  The other items were gone by bed time.

I’m SO glad those items got picked up.  Hopefully they’ve found an appreciative owner.  And we’ve reclaimed space in our garage!  Now we need to get rid of the bits of wood still kicking around, organize the various yard toys, put up hooks to hang the bikes/trikes/sleds, and take those boxes of unsold books to a shelter or get the Diabetes Clothesline to pick them up.

THEN we’ll finally have a clear garage.  Baby steps, right?

It feels so fantastic to finally have those items gone!  Why was I hanging on to them?  Lots of reasons, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, too.


My parents bought me the metal bed frame for Christmas the first year I lived on my own.  It was my first queen size, and had 4 posters.  It felt so grown up and mature.  And when I married, we continued using the bed until about 2 years ago.  There was nothing wrong with the bed, but it was no longer our style after we brought a good quality wood bed with a classic design.  I tried selling it online and at our garage sale, but since no one even looked at it, I’m guessing it’s no one else’s style either.

Good Crafty Intentions

The director’s chairs fit my personality.  I work in the television industry, and I loved the quirkiness of having these chairs.  They’ve been shuffled from the basement to the garage countless times, waiting for me to strip them down and refinish them.  I was going to sew new backs and seats for them.  I just never got around to it, and really…I don’t need any more chairs, especially those with pinchy hinges.


My baby isn’t a baby anymore.  It’s liberating to move baby items along, but it’s also sad.  I’ll never have an infant to push along again.  She’s a toddler now, and marches to her own drummer.  I respect that, but I miss the early days, too.

That said, I’m sure looking forward to the future. There will come a day where I have a place for everything and everything in its place. When I can employ any space for its properly designated use. Where I can acknowledge my life’s value in my actions, not my belongings.

Already I feel more free.

Stuff.  It breeds.  It has a life of its own.  It’s addictive.  Why else would you place just one pretty bauble on your shelf one day, and the next day have a whole bookcase full?

Have you ever considered your relationship with stuff? Is it as important as your relationship with people?

I know it’s her illness talking, but I feel Mom values her stuff more than she values a relationship with her daughters and friends. If stuff wasn’t an issue, then she would have been able to fix her phone almost 5 months ago. She wouldn’t have gotten mad that time she found out Lynn and I had cleared away 6 bags of recyclables while she was out of the house (you couldn’t even tell we’d been there working for 2 hours).

As I read more and more about compulsive hoarding, I’m learning that the stuff becomes a comfort. The wall of belongings forms a cozy nest where a hoarder feels safe. It’s perceived as having high value, or at least, sentimental worth. A rational mind might recognize “Somethin’s not right here!” But a hoarder isn’t operating with the same rational mind…it makes perfect sense to them to be surrounded by thousands of things.

Even if you’re not a compulsive hoarder, there’s still a lure to acquire stuff. Our economy depends on it, right? We can’t go without food, clothing, housing, and usually, transportation. With quite a short list, we’d have all the essential necessities for living. So why are we attracted to bringing additional things into our homes?

Making a house a home is important, and it is also important to create an environment where you feel peace and happiness, but. But. Stuff gives a momentary thrill while those with whom you build relationships, tending to those details more than the stuff, is where satisfaction and fulfillment come. no big dill
That’s a quote from a blog post I just read at no big dill. Isn’t it so true? I follow her blog because she has lovely inspiration for sewing, and for motherhood. I encourage you to visit her blog.  I’ll wait for you to come back…

Did you see all the neat things in the photos in her post? When I read this today, it made me think about my own stuff. Sure I can throw stones at Mom, but I sure can’t live in a glass house. I’d love to wander such an amazing estate sale. Just imagine the goodies you could find!

My husband would trail along good naturedly, but soon get tired of chasing and chastising our little girls as they crawl under tables, pick up breakables, and beg for snacks. I find myself easily oblivious to all that when I see “potential.”

Scary. It’s so easy to be lured in. But instead, I should really redirect my attention to my loved ones, and find an activity we’d ALL enjoy. I don’t want my girls to think for even one second that they’re less important than my belongings. They should grow up feeling loved and valued. And I certainly don’t want them to value stuff over me, my husband, their future families, or each other. I hope they’ll look back and remember “Mom did things with me” and not “Mom bought stuff for herself.”

Luckily, I’m somewhat of a cheapskate, so I don’t usually bring home much from estate sales or antique markets. I do look for Jadite, and it’s to my benefit it’s somewhat hard to find. That will help me keep it a ‘collection’ and not a hoard.

I’m sure anyone’s connection to stuff is widely varied. I’d love to hear from you. Is it something you struggle with? Do you have more items of value than people of value? Does it bother you? How do you control your urges to bring more stuff into your home? What do you do when you notice you have too much? And, what exactly IS too much?

I’ve recently had some peers read my blog and comment how they recognize hoarding tendencies in themselves.  It’s easy to think that hoarding is something only common in seniors, but the road to compulsion can be long and gradual.  Perhaps it started with a junk drawer in the kitchen.  And then maybe a closet stuffed so full it the door barely closed.  And suddenly, here you are with piles past the windows and goat paths from room to room.

Peter Walsh, the organizing expert from TLC’s Clean Sweep, posted this article the other day.  What’s Your Clutter Style? It’s an interesting read, and you just might find yourself reflected in his definitions.  I know I certainly did.  Is it possible to have 5 different clutter styles?  If I have so many clutter styles, does that mean I’m “hoarding” clutter styles?  ;)

According to Peter, the 5 different styles of clutter are:

  • The Behind-Closed-Doors Clutterer
  • The Knowledge Clutterer
  • The Techie Clutterer
  • The Sentimental Clutterer/Family Historian
  • The Bargain Shopper/Coupon Clutterer

I’m looking around my office, which serves as my craft room, too.  I’ve got a closet full of fabric and computer parts.  A few drawers of patterns and more pattern books on the shelves.  USB keys and random cords in various bins and baskets.  Several thousand photos I’ve taken of my family (in print and digital formats).  I’m not necessarily a coupon clutterer, but I appreciate a good bargain when I see one…that might be why I have a stack of empty picture frames under the desk.

It’s a slippery slope, I think.  By starting this blog, I’m really going to have to take a closer look at my own “saving” habits.  I have many interests, but can’t really fulfill them because I don’t have an organized space.  I’m feeling a hard core purge coming on.  Spring Fever might have something to do with it.  It’s only early March, and the weather is so mild here I’ve already spotted robins and crocuses this week.  It’s a good time to open the windows, open some trash bags, and open my doors to having visitors.

So, what do you think?  Do you see yourself in Peter’s descriptions?  I’d love your feedback and comments.




Lynn called me last night to tell me to watch a documentary on ABC.  The documentary was My Extreme Affliction and it featured the children of hoarders, most notably Jessie Sholl.  Jessie was one of the few children interviewed who stays in touch with her Mom, but has given up with trying to “fix” her.  She seems to enjoy at least some sort of positive relationship, and has found some peace with it.

Jessie has written a book about her experiences with her mother.  The book is called Dirty Secret, and is a compelling read.  I’ve only just started it, and there are full passages where I could probably apply to my own mother’s situation verbatim.  She so precisely describes her Mothers house that I can see it vividly in my head.  Some of the descriptions gave me chills because I know it’s the same at MY Mom’s house.  It’s almost like reading a textbook description, so the illness does seem to have strong similarities from person to person.  It’s both comforting and frightening to know other people are in the exact same situation.

I saw Jessie tweet about the show being on-air and I replied that I watched it.  Then she answered me!  That was a bit of thrill!  Like a celebrity sighting!

After we both watched the documentary, Lynn and I chatted on the phone some more.  It seems most of the children of hoarders they interviewed decided it was for the best to just break all ties with their parent.  Treatment success rate for compulsive hoarding is terribly low.  It seems there’s going to be a burden of guilt no matter what.  So I’m back to the same decision…let things continue as they are, or consider more drastic measures.


It started off well enough.

My husband and youngest daughter just celebrated birthdays. Hers comes the day after his. So we planned just a small celebration by inviting my Sister and Mom to our home. They stayed over for a night, and we shared cupcakes and hugs.

New cabinets will solve everything!

I told Mom we were planning a kitchen renovation, with all new cabinetry. I told her we were donating the old oak cabinets to Habitat for Humanity. Her eyes brightened up and she exclaimed “I could use them when I spruce up the apartment at the house for when I sell!”


Mom’s house is an odd type of building. It’s large, but built in a big box shape. The second floor is essentially a bungalow, but not on the ground level. The first floor has an apartment and a huge garage where Dad ran his businesses. We used to rent the apartment out, but at some point, Dad took over the apartment with his concrete stuff. It’s packed with fiberglass molds, chemicals, concrete dust, and goodness knows what else. It’s dumpy and totally unsuitable for living in now. But Mom thinks she’ll be able to “spruce” it up. She’s totally blind to the fact that this house, even if it wasn’t ruined, is just too bizarre of a construction to be at all desirable in today’s real estate market. Putting in oak cabinets isn’t going to even make a dent. Somehow, I was able to change the subject before I had to tell her there was no point in even considering this as an option.

A conversation gone awry.

Lynn knows I feel like I never have a chance to have a good conversation with Mom anymore. I’ve always seemed to have a closer relationship with our Mom, and while Lynn has a very frank and to-the-point approach, Mom seemed to prefer my softer style of speech. I guess I just always try to be diplomatic and sympathetic. It’s a good quality, usually, but after years of dancing around the issue, I think I’m going to have to be a little bolder in my discussions with Mom.

So anyway, I brought up the issue of the phone after lunch. I approached it lightly.

“So, how’s the phone issue coming? Have you been able to work at getting under the desk?

“I have, but the boxes of paper are very heavy so I’ve been going through them one by one,” she said. “Good thing, too. I’ve found a few of your fathers papers. I’d hate to get rid of anything important.”

I can’t imagine how long this process is taking, especially since her energy levels would only allow her to tackle this job for maybe 20 minutes at a time. I asked “could you do a quicker sort just to get in to the phone jack to fix that problem, and THEN go through the papers as you put them back?”

And there is was. The watery little smile Lynn had told me she sees whenever she tries to talk to Mom about it. She’s right…it IS annoying. Mom’s eyes are glazing over and I can tell I’m losing her.

“Rae, I am doing my best. Don’t bug me about it like everyone else. Tell you the truth, I don’t even miss having a phone anymore.”


“That’s cold, Mom. You’re telling me you don’t even miss talking to me?” I plea.

“Well, YOU might call, but your sister never does!” Mom looked at Lynn accusingly. That’s when Lynn got up from the table and left the room.

“This isn’t about Lynn! It’s about me, and how much I love you and miss you! You’ve been months without a phone and you don’t seem to care how it’s affecting any one else!” I’m starting to get desperate to make an impression.

It wasn’t enough. Mom declares the conversation over, leaves the table in a stony silence, and I’m left to brood.

Some birthday celebration.

Mom wasn’t always an extreme hoarder.  The illness didn’t settle in until after I moved out of the house to live on my own, but she WAS unorganized and had a lot of clutter.  Even though she was employed as a housekeeper, she wasn’t great at keeping our house tidy.

My Mom is incredibly crafty…she is skilled in just about any handicraft you can imagine, and she has all the supplies for each of these hobbies.  And she was brilliant at starting a new project, but often didn’t finish them.  These half-finished crafts still exist in limbo around the house at various stages of completion.

As a kid, it was normal to have the pile of laundry sitting on the sofa, and if you needed something to wear, chances are you’d find it in that pile.  There was extra stuff pushed to one end of the dining table that always seemed to be there at every meal.   I was never really required to put my toys away, so I missed out on learning that discipline early.

The only time we really did a major clean was when guests were expected.  Then the whole family would rally and whirl about the house shoving stuff from the public rooms, like the living room or bathroom, into other rooms people wouldn’t see.  The walk-in closet did not facilitate “walking in.”

No one would ever know this was an issue, and as I kid I didn’t know any better either.  I figured that’s what you did!  You lived with your comfy chaos until company came.

Surprisingly, we actually seemed to host somewhat often back then.  Mom’s sister and brother-in-law would come to play cards and I’d hang out with my cousins.  Gramma would come and stay the odd weekend.  And I’d have my friend from down the road over all the time to play in my room.

I think the frequency began to trickle as I got into my teens.  I didn’t bring friends from high school home.  And once I went away for college, it was hard to squeeze myself back in.  My old room was repurposed as a ‘craft room’ and I got the spare room.  The spare room that served as a mausoleum for the beautiful porcelain dolls my Mom had lovingly created.  And all the spare parts that had “potential.”

After I graduated college and returned home to try to find a job, it wasn’t too bad.  There was room to relax on a couch, after I moved the laundry.  I could shove a pile of magazines aside to put a water glass on the coffee table.  I had access to a computer and (38,000 bpm) data/fax modem for internet.

After a few months, I got a job in another city, and moved away.  That’s when the small avalanches started; and there was no going back.

Mom called again last night!  At 9:55 pm!  I guess she was able to visit with Lynn for a little bit, and thought to call me.

I was glad to talk with her.  I learned she’s heading in for surgery in 2 weeks, on a Friday before we were hoping to host a birthday party for my husband and soon-to-be two year old.  I don’t know how she’s going to cope afterwards…it’s surgery to repair her wrist from carpal tunnel syndrome, and she won’t be able to use her wrist for 6 weeks.  It’s not likely she’ll get to clearing out under the desk to fix her phone after that point…she’s not even managing to do that now.  I guess having no phone access to my Mom is the new normal.

Backdate to January 2012: I actually got a call from Mom the other night!  Sure, she was at my sisters and only had 20 minutes.  And of course it was during tuck in time for the girls, which has a certain window for success.  I rushed through the bed time routine and sacrificed treasured time with my own daughter to catch a few minutes on the phone with Mom.

And it was unfulfilling.  Because I had so much to say and not enough time to say it, I ended up saying nothing of importance.  We spoke of trivial things; pleasantries; generalities.

Mom promised “I’m devoting this weekend to getting under the desk to check the phone jack.”  I know it’s hard for her to get down that low, and that there’s a ton of heavy papers and books under the desk.  But I thought she said she’d already done that weeks ago.

I suggested she get a cell phone.  She said everyone else has suggested that, too, and if she can’t get this phone fixed she’ll have to consider it.

Others are starting to notice.

It’s not just me who’s left wondering “Where’s Mom?” My half-brother called me mid-December.  He wanted to know if Mom was okay.  He had tried to send a floral arrangement to her for Christmas and the florist told him there was no response when they tried to arrange delivery to Mom’s house.  My brother wondered if she’d moved!

Nope.  She’ll never move from her nest.  Can you imagine the work that would take?  But Tim doesn’t know about her hoarding, and so once again I preserve her reputation.

“She’s having trouble with the phone lines.  You know how it is in an old house, and how terrible the phone company’s service is,” yada yada yada.  So Tim was satisfied with that, although sympathetic.

And you know what?  I’m not sure the flowers did ever get delivered.

More recently, Lynn tells me the doctor’s office has been calling to find Mom.  Mom and Lynn have the same GP.  I guess they were trying to set up appointments and need to touch base with her.  It’s things like this that make you realize how important a phone line is…emergencies aside, you need a phone to just organize your daily life!

All these weeks later, and I’ve only spoken with Mom a handful of times.  She came for 3 days at Christmas, but with the flurry of the holidays, I didn’t really get to “talk” with her.  And she called once from Lynn’s house.  That’s it.  I wonder if it pains her as much as it does me to not have this contact?

What if?

What if I couldn’t reach my daughters one day?  Would they wonder about me?  Will they realize it’s been a long time since they’ve heard from me, but assume I’m okay?  Would they picture me dead, tangled between boxes of vintage knitting patterns and bolts of dusty fabric?  Would they cringe fearing “someday” they’ll have to go through all my stuff and cope with mouse feces, raccoon carcasses, disintegrating plastic bags, and mold?  I can’t imagine doing that to my kids…but I suppose Mom didn’t start out thinking like that either.

But here we are.  What to do about it?  I’m at such a loss.  I live 3 hours away, have a full time job, a husband and 2 children.  I can’t just pick up and drive over to help her troubleshoot her phone problems.  Lynn is busy with work, too, and besides, Mom won’t let her in the house.  I don’t want to travel that distance just to be turned away.  I don’t want to stand outside my crumbling childhood home and see the chunks of fallen plaster on the lawn.  I don’t want to force my way through the door because it only opens a crack.  I don’t want to pick my way past piles on the stairs and trigger a landslide.  I want the door to open wide, like my mother’s arm, as she greets me with a huge hug.  With the insistence I sit at the table with a cup of tea while we lose track of time chatting about life.

But, we don’t always get what we want, do we?