It’s been about 5 years since I last visited my childhood home.  It’s a compulsive hoarders home now, thanks to Mom’s mental disorder.  Lynn and I snuck in while Mom was out and did a tiny purge of her hoard.  You’d never even be able to tell we’d spent 2 hours working on a 4×4 foot area just putting spare papers in recycling bins.  We removed 4 bags of trash and yet, it didn’t make a dent in her hoard.

How bad could it be?

I took photos while we were there of the general state of things.  Given so many years have passed without anyone else stepping inside, I can only imagine how high the stacks are.  Oddly enough, I found the CD of photos as I cleared out my basement decluttering my own junk.

Merely Existing

I knew the photos were going to be bad, but they still took me by surprise when I loaded them up on my computer.  If you’ve never seen photos from inside a compulsive hoarders house before, brace yourself.  I know you’ll probably wonder how could anyone live like this?  I don’t know if you can call it “living”, actually.  I think having to survive in such a space is reducing to merely “existing.”

A view of a living room of a compulsive hoarder

A view of a living room of a compulsive hoarder


The dining room of a compulsive hoarder

It’s hard to tell, but this is a dining room.

This was my home once.  I lived here with my sister through all my childhood, and only left when I went away to college.  I have good memories of birthday parties, Christmas mornings, and watching Sunday morning classic movies on PBS.  And I’m willing to bet there are physical remnants of all my memories still left inside that hoard.

Now, we stay with Lynn when we visit my hometown.  Mom comes over to Lynn’s house to sit with us for a while and we make thin small talk.  I’m curious to try to get over to my old home while Mom is out again.  I probably won’t get in because neither Lynn nor I have a spare key.  But I want to see how the old place is holding up…or quite likely, falling apart.  On the other hand, do I want an even worse mental image of my home if I should see it in such disrepair?  It’s like when you visit an ailing relative in the hospital right before they die, and they’re frail and forgetful…they’re not the vibrant and fascinating person you remember anymore.

I do want to know how my Mom is existing, though.  It’s important to me to understand what her daily life is like.  No matter the mental disorder, it pains me to think of her living in such conditions.  I wish I knew how to make it better…and I wish she actually wanted it better, too.

I have so much.  Too much.

I write on this blog about my problems with excess.  About how much of a struggle it is to control the amount of stuff in my life.  The challenges of clearing out my basement.  The woes of a mother who shops too much.

Due to a senseless, random act of violence, there are countless people facing the aftermath of the Colorado shooting.  Children and adults alike became victim to a madman.  It’s sickening, and there are no words to heal the pain caused by this incident.

Meanwhile, I woke up this morning with all my loved ones.  My health.  My life continues as expected.  I have everything and everyone I need; and more.  It’s shameful that I should consider having too much clutter a real problem in light of the news.  I’m reminded what it is to be vulnerable, and grateful.

I send my prayers to anyone affected by the Colorado theatre shooting.  My heart weeps for you.

I’m a Virgo.  Most of the time, I’m ok with my home looking well lived in.  Children leave toys out mid-game.  Craft projects are in progress.  And there’s always a DIY home improvement going on somewhere in the house.  But when the perfectionist, pragmatic Virgo in me rears her head, I go on major cleaning streaks.  I’m talking get-out-the-toothbrush-to-scrub-the-corners Virgo Clean Streak.

Virgo Clean Streak

Every once in a while this happens.  Probably not often enough.  And by now, Will knows enough to stand back and let me charge full speed ahead.  It happened this weekend.  I just couldn’t stand the state of our basement any longer.  Since I use our 4th bedroom as a craft room/office, we don’t have any where pleasant for guests to stay.  And Will doesn’t really have office space of his own, either, which impedes the launch of his new business.

How to decide what to keep and what to toss

We have a whole basement and it was uselessly filled with stuff.  So I rolled up my sleeves, put on some tunes, and started working my way through everything as realistically and unemotionally as I could.  And you know what?  It was easier than expected.  I must be at some sort of threshold because what I processed over the weekend had proven too difficult to deal with in earlier attempts to clear the basement.  I allowed myself to be honest about whether I really needed or wanted all this stuff.  Anything I really wanted to keep went into ONE laundry basket, and everything else went into boxes for donation or garbage bags.

There were a few moments where I wavered and wanted to keep some things.  Like my Mom, I can see the “potential” of future projects.  But I kept reminding myself that reclaiming this space was more important than vintage sheet music for decoupage, or a stacks of plastic party drinking cups left over from our wedding…9 years ago.  I want to transform this space into a place to build memories and experiences.  That has more value to me now than dusty boxes of trinkets packed up from our old house and never reopened when we moved here.

As I thought of that, it got easier and easier to move items into the donation boxes and wish them well in their future homes.  And the more I let go, the lighter my heart felt.  My mood improved.  My skin cleared.  Well, maybe not, but I certainly felt a glow of accomplishment to see the stack of boxes by the door growing.

What Did I Find?

In the clear out, I found a number of things to give to friends of mine.  A book about dogs goes to a co-worker who just got a Huskie puppy.  The bassinet that cradled my babies the first few months of their lives is going to a friend expecting his first child next month.  And for myself, I found the CD of images I took about 5 years ago at Moms house when Lynn and I snuck in to do a quick “tidy.”  I’ll share those in a future post.

Grand Total

In the end, Will and I loaded 11 donation boxes into the car.  I filled 2 large bags of trash.  I reorganized 7 mishmashed plastic and cardboard boxes of hand-me-down clothes for my little Quinn into 3 locking Rubbermaid containers, and found a whole bunch of baby clothes I didn’t even know we had.  That gets shared with another co-worker having a baby girl in October.

What Next?

There’s still some stuff to shuffle around and reorganize.  I’m sure I could purge even more if I get another Virgo Clean Streak.  Will needs to pack up all his wine-making supplies for a while.  There’s a cold cellar to rip out and move to a different area.  And if we can clean enough open space, we’ll frame in new walls to make new office space and accommodations for guests.  Put up shelves to get what’s left up off the floor.  Wall off the furnace.  Ultimately, make this a warm and inviting space to spend quality time.  And as much potential all that stuff had, the potential of the space is even greater.

Getting rid of all that stuff was SO liberating.  I feel like I lost 100 pounds.  In fact, I put on my skinny jeans to celebrate!


Thrift Store Shopping

Do you like to shop at thrift stores?  Do you love the thrill of the hunt?  How much is too much thrift store shopping?  One of the hallmarks of a compulsive hoarder is that they lack insight to the severity of their hoarding problem.  I’d say Mom lacks insight, for sure!  She likes to tell me all about the people she meets and chats with while shopping at her favourite thrift store.  I’ve unwillingly learned:

  • She sees the “regulars.”  They greet each other like old home week, and call it their “social hour.”
  • She can identify the antique dealers.
  • Other people sidle up to her and compliment her on the items in her own cart.
  • There’s an elderly Irish lady who follows Mom around the store, and comments on everything she picks up.  This lady is obviously well-off…after all she owns a B & B.  Uh huh.
  • There was a man who seemed to take a shine to Mom, until Mom mentioned she “was married to the best man whom ever lived and she didn’t think anyone could ever live up to his memory.”  “That took care of him hanging around me pretty quick” she quipped.

The Benchmark?

There’s an elderly married couple in there often, and the gentleman likes to chat with Mom while the wife shops.  Mom told me, and I quote “You think I’m a collector, THIS guy is the worst!  You name it, he collects it!  They told me they own 4 houses just to hold all his collections!”

I’m afraid this is the level to which Mom compares herself.  Maybe she’s rationalizing that since she only has ONE stuffed house and not four then everything is still under control.

Don’t want to hear it anymore

I’m so tired of all our conversations circling back to the hijinx of thrift store shoppers.  I just don’t want to hear it anymore.  The world is bigger than this store!  I donate the stuff I don’t want anymore to this chain of stores, and I can only wonder if she’s ever unwittingly bought back something I’ve donated.  I understand that there are great deals and you can find some real gems…one man’s treasure and all that.  I’m not immune to that either, but I might visit a thrift store once every few months whereas Mom goes a few times a week.  She’s always loved the thrill of the hunt.  Can’t find something?  Just tell her and she’ll squeal with delight at the challenge.  And she insists that everything she’s ever wanted has turned up at the thrift store if she was just patient enough.

I wonder if she’ll ever realize our mother/daughter bond can’t be found on those shelves.

Ever wonder about a compulsive hoarders vehicle?  Is everything packed away in the house, or does it spill out?  When the hoarding reaches a higher degree, it can’t be contained.  Here is Mom’s van.  Her compulsive hoarding follows her every where she goes.

A hoarders van is packed to the ceiling.

Packed to the Ceiling










It’s packed to the gills.  If she were ever in a car accident, even a minor one, I’m sure she’d be crushed by the projectiles.  And be projectiles, I mean the following (but not limited to):

  • at least 9 packs of Bounty dryer bars
  • an open box of laundry detergent powder
  • a dog crate (with dog)
  • a domed cake carrier with uneaten cupcakes from last year (I SO wish I was exaggerating)
  • case of bottled water
  • a multitude of junk food boxes, bags, and wrappers
  • full bags of laundry
  • lots of shopping bags from thrift stores
  • gifts given to Mom destined to never make it into the house
  • boxes of stuff given to her by other people clearing out their clutter

I snuck out and took these photos with my phone while she visited this past weekend.  Mom would be SO furious if she knew I did that, but I wanted to show you how extensive her compulsive hoarding, fueled by compulsive shopping, really goes.  She drives around like this alllll the time.  I can only imagine the impact it has on her gas mileage, and wear & tear on her brakes, tires, and shocks.

No leg room for passengers in compulsive hoarders van

No leg room for passengers

Is it stuffy in here?

Then there’s the air quality.  Lynn refuses drive in the van with Mom any more.  There’s no leg room.  Debris has to be swept off the seat.  I’m sure even finding the seat belt is difficult.  How does Mom see out her windows?  Carpooling?  Forget it!  And, what’s that smell?

Shoehorn Tight

I helped Mom put the dogs crate back in the van.  The wall of stuff is so tightly packed it held its shape when we slide open the door.  There was a niche carved out for the dog crate and I really had to put my shoulder to it to get it in.  We closed the door and it didn’t latch, so we opened it up again and if there was ever a use for an industrial sized shoehorn, this was it.  Finally, we wedged the crate in another inch, and got the door to fully close.

Waving Goodbye

A final kiss, a last minute scramble for scrap paper to write directions, a missed moment of hesitation if I should say “something”, and then off she goes.  A jumbled tonne lumbering down the street on the way home.  To her nest.  To her comfort zone.  And to my dismay.

Goodwill SarcasmThere are some things that become very predictable when your mother is a compulsive hoarder with compulsive shopping tendencies.

  • if you phone her cell between 9am to 9pm, chances are good she’ll answer your call while browsing a store.
  • there will be misplaced and forgotten items she’ll have meant to bring when coming to visit (usually birthday or Christmas gifts).
  • and most predictably, every conversation you have with her will include the statement “I don’t know if you need or want this or not, but I picked it up for you anyway…”

Out of Touch

This statement has become such a regular thing I can silently mouth it when she says it.  The item in question varies, but hasn’t been relevant to me in a long time.  Like, a craft book about molding characters out of clay (something I did in Grade 9), or a figurine of an angel playing the violin (I play violin, but not really as actively as I did while living at home…15 years ago!).  It’s a great example of how truly out of touch Mom & I have become.

A few weeks ago, she called me while Lynn was visiting my home.  The conversation went something like this:

Mom: Oh, while you’ve got your sister there with you, I wanted to see if either of you could make use of something I bought today.  It’s a kitchen vacuum sealer.

*crickets chirping*

Mom:  It’s a really good one, better than the one I got from your father years ago (note, she used it once). This would be at least worth $200 and I got it for ten dollars!!!

Me: Well, it’s not something Will & I would use.  Lynn, do you want a kitchen vacuum sealer?  Mom says it’s a really good one.

Lynn is shaking her head before I even finish the sentence.

Me: Lynn says no thank you.  It’s very kind of you to think of us but we’re both going to pass.

Mom: No problem!  It was such a good deal I just couldn’t risk passing it up, but I can return it and get my money back!

Uh huh.  Anyone wanna take the bet it’s still at her house?  Didn’t think so.

The first time I called her cell, Mom was at her favourite thrift store.  She was delighted to be able to talk and shop at the same time.  She was telling me about all the wonderful deals she was finding, and about how she gets along with all the employees at the store.  It was also after 8:30 pm, nearly closing time.

She told me about a couple of things she had put in her cart for me.  After she described them, I thanked her but said no.  She promised she’d put them back.  Then just the other day, she confessed she had actually bought one of the items because it was ONLY 2 bucks and she KNOWS it’s worth a LOT more than that.  Worth it to whom I’m not sure…it ain’t me.

I’m pretty tired of hearing about the shopping trips to the thrift shops.  She has a circuit of them, and not only do I hear about the stuff she bought or almost bought, but also about the other shoppers she’s met, like the antique dealers and “the lonely sorts.”  I know it’s terrible of me, but I have a hard time concentrating when she starts chattering about this, and we have those awkward moments that reveal I haven’t been listening more often that I’d wish.  I’m sad about this.  I don’t see my Mom very often.  Even talking once a week seems like too much and not enough at the same time.  One day she’ll be gone, and I’ll miss the chance just the hear her voice.

Can I fix this? 

Is it something I can or should fix?  Part of having a relationship with compulsive hoarders to forgive them, forgive yourself, and focus on the positive.  It means clenching my jaw and biting my tongue.  It means making a conscious effort not to sigh when I hear a compulsive hoarding shopaholic regale me AGAIN with the money she saved buying stuff she didn’t need.

You can go broke being cheap

I’m wondering where all the money comes from.  I know she stressed about the oil bill and property tax.  Any car issue empties her wallet.



If you’ve visited Not Just Clutter today, you might have noticed some lots of changes today, and they’re still on going. I’ve changed themes to hopefully improve the reader experience, and to fix some issues I had with links not working in various browsers, etc.

I’d love it if you could comment on anything that’s not working for you OR if you’re loving something new that I’ve done. That will help me focus on what adjustments to make with the blog.

My little blog about compulsive hoarding is a pretty niche topic.  It’s not likely to have a lot of people stumble across Not Just Clutter, but I’d sure like to think I’m writing for humans.

I’ve noticed a get a lot of comments, especially after posting Our Ikea Kitchen Renovation Experience.  I hope some are really from people who’ve read my posts and been moved enough to leave a few genuine words of their own.  But I thought I’d share a few that amused me in their obviousness.  Turns out, Louis Vuitton loves to read about compulsive hoarders!  Who knew!?

Anyway, these have been clogging up my comments queue waiting to be sorted through.  I decided to deal with this digital kind of clutter in a big batch today and thought I’d share some of the ones I didn’t approve but just made me chuckle anyway.

Goofy Comments

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Oh, Internet, how you slay me!  To the spambot programmers, I implore you to improve your grammer and spelling.  Basic sentence structure wouldn’t hurt either.

To those who actually read Not Just Clutter because you’re interested in compulsive hoarding, hoarders, or basic home organization, feel free to send me your thoughts!  This is a safe place and I’m happy to answer any questions about life with a hoarder as best I can.

Thanks to the Kings College London Institute of Psychiatry (the same people doing the Hoarding Study I recently participated in), I’ve learned compulsive hoarding is likely to be included as a new mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders or DSM-5. DSM-5 is due to be published in 2013.  I’m hoping this means more research and attention being devoted to treating compulsive hoarding.  I also hope it means less people thinking hoarders are just lazy deadbeats who just need to throw a garage sale.  There’s something about this being made “official” that gives me some hope.

Below are the proposed diagnostic criteria for Hoarding Disorder. All criteria A-F must be met to qualify for the diagnosis.

A. Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value.

B. This difficulty is due to a perceived need to save the items and distress associated with discarding them.

C. The symptoms result in the accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromise their intended use. If living areas are uncluttered, it is only because of the interventions of third parties (e.g., family members, cleaners, authorities).

D. The hoarding causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others).

E. The hoarding is not attributable to another medical condition (e.g., brain injury, cerebrovascular disease, Prader-Willi Syndrome).

F. The hoarding is not better accounted for by the symptoms of another DSM-5 disorder (e.g., hoarding due to obsessions in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, decreased energy in Major Depressive Disorder, delusions in Schizophrenia or another Psychotic Disorder, cognitive deficits in Dementia, restricted interests in Autism Spectrum Disorder).

For people meeting all diagnostic criteria A-F, the following ‘specifiers’ can be noted as well:

Specify if:

With Excessive AcquisitionIf symptoms are accompanied by excessive collecting or buying or stealing of items that are not needed or for which there is no available space.

Indicate whether hoarding beliefs and behaviors are currently characterized by:

Good or fair insight: The individual recognizes that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excessive acquisition) are problematic.

Poor insightThe individual is mostly convinced that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excessive acquisition) are not problematic despite evidence to the contrary.

*I believe this is where my Mother is, leaning towards Absent insight.

Absent insight (i.e. delusional beliefs about hoarding): The individual is completely convinced that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excessive acquisition) are not problematic despite evidence to the contrary.

You can find more information in the DSM-5 website.

My eldest daughter, Maddie, turns 7.  We’re having a cooking party at a grocery store.  The store facilitates everything from set up to clean up, and I think that’s AWESOME!

Last year, we did a cereal themed party at home, and it was also awesome, but much more exhausting for me!  LOL

No matter how we do the party, I always struggle with lootbags.  I guess I feel like they’re a waste.  An obligation.  And I don’t like them.  There, I said it.  Yup, I’m a bit of a grinch like that.

I don’t think they’re necessary and I wish they weren’t the social norm.  I don’t want to buy more plastic bags, and fill them with little plastic trinkets, tiny erasers and pencils, and the ever present Ring Pop only to have them tossed in the trash or add to the clutter at someone elses home.  I know people who give out loot bags mean well.  I get that some kids are totally thrilled to get that extra treat as they leave a party.  But I come from a home where over-consumerism is an issue and I don’t want to continue the trend for my daughters.

Are you’re looking for better options for “lootbags” for your children’s parties?  I have some suggestions, and I’d love to see your suggestions in the comments.

Better Loot

Individual potted plants: small clay pots, a cup of soil, and a flat of little flowers from any garden centre makes a pretty parting gift.  The clay pots could be personalized ahead of time, or be part of the activites during the party.  Alternatively, include the soil in a little bag and give a pack of seeds so the guest can experience planting themselves and watch a flower grow from scratch.

Bubbles: one container of bubbles per child is enough, and is consumable without taking up much space.  Personalize with curly ribbon if you’d like.

Sidewalk Chalk: tie 3 pieces with ribbon

Candy Kebabs: make a skewer per child, with mixed gummy candy from the bulk food section…maybe better for kids older than 5.

Chocolate Suckers: a mold from the candy making section at the bulk food store or craft store, Merken’s chocolate wafers melted in a double boiler, and sucker sticks make a fun treat, and are pretty easy to make and customize.  An alternative would be to dip long pretzel sticks or licorice sticks in chocolate, then amp up with colourful candy sprinkles or nonpareils.

Custom Spoons: for Maddie’s cereal themed birthday, I glued letter beads to spoons so each child had one with their name on it.  And they got to take home Chinese take out boxes (from a party store) filled with their choice of fun cereal mix.

Gift Cards: one of Maddie’s friends gave out $5 gift cards to Dairy Queen.  I thought that was brilliant.  A fun treat to enjoy later, and I personally love any excuse to visit Dairy Queen.  Gift cards for other places would be great…maybe you have a local treat shop you could help support?

Comic books: These shouldn’t cost more than $5, but give the kids something fun and colourful to read on the ride home.

Colouring Book and Crayons: These are much more useful than a tiny notebook with matching unsharpened pencil.  We go through a lot of crayons in our house.

Donations to Charity: Give a donation to a meaningful cause in lieu of lootbags and give a card to the child instead.

Photos: Set up a silly backdrop and some goofy props for kids to dress up.  Take their photo and use a printer to make prints on the spot so kids can take a memory home with them.  Another good idea is to take a photo of your birthday child with the gift they received from each guest, and send that photo with the thank you card to the guest.  What little kid wouldn’t love fun mail addressed to them?

Beaded Bracelets: Make this part of the party activities and kill two birds with one stone.

Playdough: The brand name stuff isn’t that expensive, but you can also make this really cheaply yourself in all sorts of colours with ingredients you probably already have at home.

Baked Goods: This might be harder if there are allergy concerns with your party guests, but there are recipes out there to accommodate this.  But what little kid wouldn’t love to have a little stack of homemade cookies to call their own?  You could do these with a theme using sugar cookies and cookie cutters.

Labels: Mabel’s Labels do $5 loot bags, and they offer free shipping in Canada.

Mini-Figures: Lego and Playmobil have these little sealed mystery packs you can get with different little figures inside.  You assemble them and they fit with your existing Lego or Playmobil sets.  They’re cute even if you don’t have more…my girls love to play with “mini” things and stuff like this seems to stay in regular play rotation.

Advent Calendar: This is seasonal, of course, but if you’ve got a party in November, Advent calendars are often available for .99 cents and up.  The chocolate in them is usually pretty terrible (I’m a bit of a chocolate snob), but kids love the daily anticipation of opening the doors.

Crazy Carpet: Also seasonal, these in expensive sleds make for a fun outdoor activity.  If snow play isn’t your thing, spread these out on table or floor surfaces when doing a messy craft for easy clean up.

Treasure Chest: Decorate a box, suitcase, bin or whatever suit your decor/theme.  Fill it with any of the above OR with little toys your child is ready to let go (I’m thinking MacDonalds toys, etc) and let the guest choose something on the way out.  Obviously, don’t put anything worn out or broken in there, but this is a way of cycling out things your child is done with to a new home.

Books: Chapters, or other discount department stores often have childrens books on sale for a couple of dollars.  Let the guest choose, or wrap it up for a mystery reveal once they get home.

Upcycled Crayons: Have lots of broken bits of crayons at home?  Melt them down into fun shapes.  One of my favourite blogs has a great tutorial.

New crayons made from melted broken bits

Source: Make it and Love it

Pumpkins: These would be fun from late September to the start of November.  They come in mini-sizes and you could decorate them at the party, pre-personalize them with the child’s name, or give them a little packet of something to decorate them at home, like stickers, rhinestones, permanent markers, or a small squeeze bottle of glitter glue.

Sand Toys: A bucket and shovel works in summer or winter.  They come in fun shapes, too, like little castles.  I see these on sale all the time.

Beach Towels: These come in all sorts of fun colours or themes.  Licensed characters like Dora or Spiderman (or even Justin Bieber) are available and would be a fun but useful thing to give a child.  Even if you don’t go to the beach, this is the kind of thing you pull out for backyard picnics, living room tents, and after a playdate at the splash pad.  Look for these at the end of the season to get deals.

No Plastic Bags: If you need to contain your gift in a bag, skip the plastic and try these options instead.  Brown paper lunch bags, mini canvas or nylon bags from the dollar store, or home sewn cloth bags in awesome fabric (easy peasy) are easily customized with stickers, stamps, markers, bingo daubers, glitter glue, or paint.  Dollar stores also often carry little boxes or baskets that might work well and are reusable.

Water Bottle: Keep kids hydrated with a bottle in a fun design.  Sometimes you can find them with names on them, but there’s a wide range of styles out there.  My favourite bottles are Contigo.

Reuseable Sandwich Wraps/Bags: These come in fun fabrics and last long after the party is over.  Your guest will be able to enjoy them every time they have sandwiches for lunch, and their parents will appreciate not having to buy and toss plastic zip bags.  We have a wrap from this vendor and it’s wonderful.  GoSewEco

Guitar Eco Friendly Snack Bag

Source: GoSewEco Etsy Store

Hula Hoops and Soccer Balls: I’ve seen these go on sale at Old Navy for just a few dollars.  They are fun, and encourage physical activity.

Pack of Playing Cards: I’ve seen multi packs of decks of cards for games like Go Fish, Old Maid, and Snap.  I like getting new sets of these because we’re always losing cards from old sets, which makes them useless.

T-Shirts: Using fabric paint pens or tye-dye, make decorating t-shirts part of the activities.  It keeps guests focused for a while and gives them a great take-away.  Custom t-shirts could also be useful if you’ve got a big crowd and you’re at a public venue…having all the guests in one colour of t-shirt helps you keep visual track of them better.  Or do different colours for teams during treasure hunts, or outdoor games.

Sunglasses: Maybe a little more expensive than $5 per child, but they’re appreciated by parents since this item is often lost and repeatedly replaced.  Be sure to only get 100% UVB/UVA protective glasses…anything less actually can put sensitive eyes at risk to sun damage.

There’s so many more options.  I bet you have great ideas, too.  What were your favourite loot bags you ever received as a child?  What do you appreciate as an adult?


I am posting this on behalf of the King’s College London where researchers have put together a study about compulsive hoarding.  I’ll be participating to help further the awareness of the effects of hoarding on relatives, and I encourage you to get involved if you’re in a similar situation.  I’m not eligible for the compensation since there’s no way I can get my Mom to participate, and I’m not being paid to post this for King’s College in any way.  I’ve been emailing back and forth with the researchers, though, and find them to be genuinely interested and quick to respond.  Here’s hoping they learn something positive towards coping with compulsive hoarding.

Hoarding Study Needs You

Researchers at King’s College London are currently carrying out a project investigating the impact of hoarding across important areas of life (e.g. memory and planning, acquisition, familial and other interpersonal relationships).

Currently, the team is looking for individuals who either identify as a hoarder OR have a relationship with someone who hoards to complete a series of online questionnaires (approximately 25 minutes) and, potentially, a brief telephone interview (approximately 15 minutes). Participation is accompanied by a small financial compensation of £5.

As a central question in this study concerns the impact of hoarding on relationships, the team is asking that all hoarders provide one person (spouse, parent, adult child or other close acquaintance) who would be willing to complete a similar, but separate, online survey. Likewise, if you are the spouse/parent/child/etc of a hoarder, then the research asks that your hoarding relative/friend be willing to complete that portion of the project.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out the study website ( or contact a member of the research team directly at:

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, 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:

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:

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.