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

What’s a Blog Conference?

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

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

Connecting with other bloggers

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

Improve my Findability

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

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

Connecting with Brands

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

The Future of Not Just Clutter

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


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

Raising Awareness

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

Find me on psychology today

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

 


I’ve gotten some interesting feedback from my post about teaching children about hoarding.  I wrote how I felt I am failing my daughter by not coaching her on better organizational habits earlier.

You Responded!

I was delighted to read your comments!  Thank you to all who took the time to leave a note on the blog or email me in person.  You were all reassuring that I haven’t ruined my kids just yet!  Phew! There’s still time to teach them about personal organization!

Knee Jerk Reaction

I suppose I’m being extra cautious.  Living so close to someone with a mental illness makes you paranoid (wait, isn’t that a mental condition too??? ).  Perhaps it’s similar to those with an alcoholic parent and forbidding their own children to ever toast with wine at holiday dinners.  I’m probably being hyper-sensitive, but I know I’ve read in several places that compulsive hoarding can be hereditary.  Diabetes also strongly runs in the family…some future I’ve got facing me, huh?

Nature vs Nuture

Genetics aside, I think learned behavior goes a long way.   I don’t want to go overboard and insist on unattainable perfection.  I can’t maintain that myself anyway.  But if I can begin to instill the proper techniques for organizing personal space, encouraging attachment to people instead of objects, and how to begin and finish any project, then I think I’ll be giving my girls some great life skills.  And hey, it doesn’t hurt to practice them myself, right?  I’m sure Will would agree, as he eyes my creatively chaotic craft room.

Your Suggestions for Teaching Kids About Personal Organization

You had some great ideas for helping kids learn about organizing, and learning how to let go of treasured toys.

  • take photos of toys before donating them, and put photos in an album to preserve their memory
  • designate a set number of keepers.  Let them choose which keepers, but don’t go past the number.
  • designate a box for toys and don’t let it go past the top.  If it doesn’t fit the box, it can’t stay.
  • trim pieces from favourite blankets, clothing, or stuffed animals and sew them into a memory quilt or pillow (careful this doesn’t add to your own long list of projects *cough*)
  • Remind them of children less fortunate, and encourage a social conscience.

Feel free to keep sending your ideas, and I’ll add them to this list.  I’m sure I’m not the only parent in this boat.

I also just came across the Overindulgence website.  It discusses dealing with spoiled children, the feeling of entitlement some kids seem to have, and gives a few ideas about giving chores.

My own purge continues

Going back to my craft room for a minute, I worked on clearing that room out, too.  Yes, I’ve been on a purging kick the last 2 months and it’s feeling great.  I didn’t realize exactly HOW great until I sat down at my sewing machine and did a quick little project.  I mentioned this to another creative kindred spirit, my best friend, and she said “Rae, I think that’s how we feed our soul.”

How we feed our soul.  Yes.  Yes, I think that’s it.

And because my craft room is the dumping ground for when we don’t know where else to put something, I had crowded out my opportunity to feed my soul. And I was starving.  Funny how having too much can make you feel so empty.

Have you carved out a space all your own?  How do you keep it clear for spontaneous use?  I’d love to hear about it!

In case you’re wondering, Mom is still without a phone.  We’ve not spoken since I saw her about 3 weeks ago.  That seems like a long time to go without hearing from your mother, doesn’t it?


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.

Guilt

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.

Nostalgia

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.


It’s shocking.  And appalling, terrifying, heartbreaking, dangerous, and irrational.  And you probably know someone affected by it.  I’m talking about compulsive hoarding.

What is compulsive hoarding?

According to The Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, it’s defined as:

a disorder characterized by difficulty discarding items that appear to most people to have little or no value. This leads to an accumulation of clutter such that living and workspaces cannot be used for their intended purposes. The clutter can result in serious threats to the health and safety of the sufferer and those who live nearby. Often people with compulsive hoarding also acquire too many items – either free or purchased.

Essentially, a hoarder just can’t bear to throw or give anything away because they perceive it as having value, even if no one else thinks it’s worth it.  For instance, most people would have no trouble throwing away a lone sock with a hole in it, or empty takeout food containers.  But a hoarder finds all sorts of excuses to keep those items.  That sock could be used for dusting!  They’ll find the other one the day after tossing the first one!  Or that salad clam shell container could store spare clothespins, spools of ribbon, spare socks with holes in them!  The possibilities are endless!  But rarely does the re-purposing ever happen.  Instead, those items remain in a pile of other items.

This is my Mom.  She lives like this, surrounded by a house FULL of stuff.  It’s a mass collection of vintage sewing & crafting patterns, unused gifts, bolts of fabric, porcelain doll parts and molds, lace, and other ‘useful’ craft supplies.  It’s all my deceased fathers belongings…he’s been gone 6 years.  It’s all the toys I didn’t take with me when I moved away from home.  It’s the chemicals and materials my father left behind with his home statuary business.  It’s a deep freeze full of meat with freezer burn.  And so on.

I identified her as a hoarder after seeing an exposé on the Oprah Winfrey Show about 8 years ago.  Seeing the video on her show had me riveted.  I learned there was a name for Mom’s excessive clutter.  I was stunned it wasn’t unique to her!  Mom wasn’t just messy; she has a mental disorder!

Mom won’t admit it though.  Or even if she does recognize it deep deep down somewhere, she’s not willing or able to do anything about it.

And so here we are.

Time For A Decision

I’ve started this blog to deal with my emotions on this situation.  I am a happily married woman, with 2 beautiful daughters, and great career.  I live 3 hours away from my Mom, and feel totally incapable of helping her.  I also have a sister, Lynn, who also struggles in her relationship with Mom.  Lynn works in the mental health field, but it’s so different when you’re on the other side of the desk.  She’s afraid people will judge her for not doing more to help Mom deal with her mental illness…but how exactly do you do that?

We’re quickly reaching a fork in the road.  If we go left, it means continuing to sit back while we watch our Mother bury herself with her belongings, slowly eroding any personal connection we still have with her.  When she’s deceased, we’ll have the heartache of the cleanup of her 3000 sq ft house.  If we go right, we arrange to have an official visit her house, likely resulting in a condemnation.  She’d be so angry she would most definitely sever all ties to us, but hopefully it’ll save her life.

Either way, I’m losing my Mother.

Why Get So Personal?

I’ll be posting lots of back story on my life as a hoarders daughter, and also writing about the on-going saga.  Lots of personal reflection, and hopefully I’ll get some guest posters, too.  I also hope to post organizing tips, for those of us who want room in our lives for people instead of stuff.  I promise to always be honest…I’m making a big leap to put all this information out there.  Names have been changed to protect those involved.

I hope this helps bring some public awareness and understanding of Compulsive Hoarding.  I hope it connects with others in similar situations who feel overwhelmed and alone.  I hope by getting all this off my chest I can find peace and clarity.

Thanks for coming along on my journey.