What has more buts than a locker room? Clutter – But I might need it. But Mom gave it to me. But Toddler made it. But it was expensive. But I could make something out of it. If there were no buts in this world, there would be no clutter.
Clutter overwhelms us because it is the evidence of our indecisiveness. We know – we are absolutely certain – that the moment an item leaves us, we will need it. We have many examples of this from the past, but we can never seem to recall them at the moment they would be most useful in an argument. That’s the thing about clutter. There is so much of everything that we can find nothing.
I had an especially difficult relationship with my possessions while I was deciding to divorce. I simply could not find a way to decide which one of us would be leaving, so I neither packed up nor put away anything. Now that I see that I’m not staying, I can’t decide what to bring with me. Every decision leaves a trail of others that weren’t chosen. I mourn the loss of all the lives I will never have, even as I mourn the life I wasted by not choosing sooner.
My creative solution for my indecisiveness is to live a week a month away from my hoard, not unlike my earlier test runs in the mountains and foothills of New Hampshire, trying on different lifestyles and noting what items I regret leaving behind. I hope to report my struggles and achievements here, while learning to deactivate the glitch in my brain that says I must keep my entire collection of cast iron pans, even though I only use one.
Thirty two years ago we had not yet moved in. Finally, after sorting and piling and flinging and stashing, we have figured out which one of us is leaving. Me.
The kitchen table has been a hot spot for thirty-two years now, and I can finally say that it has seen its last Thanksgiving Dinner. And the TV room has also seen its last football game.
My oldest son is at Base Camp on Mt Everest. The mountain here at home is sure to tumble. I took the other sons to a restaurant. Spouse remained at home, as always. It was great.
However thankful I may be for the years of overabundance, I am ready now have Less Much. Nowhere am I more aware of this than when I see my kitchen table. What I mean to say, of course, is when I DON’T see my kitchen table.
We are all such creatures of habit. Whenever I crack an egg into a pan, a voice inside me says, “This is your brain on drugs.” I can’t help it. I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t hear that voice I would notice, and thus I’d hear it afterall. And so, whatever is in my arms when I walk into the house lands on the table. A couple of things have been there for a year. Seriously.
The good news is that I’ve had a table at all. The better news is that it isn’t coming with me when I leave. I have finally begun to see these Things as stuff that sucks the life out of me, and I’m almost ready to live.
When you purchase a builder’s house, they give you a year to watch for nail pops and other consequences of letting the house settle into its new home. That was 30 years ago. I’ll bet you don’t know how much life fits into a three bedroom two and a half bath walk-out basement colonial home built on a dairy farm. I know. If you aren’t a speedy decision maker, you’ll fill it up as soon as the first child is born. The space between objects fills quickly from there.
So why is it called an Empty Nest, I’d like to know? The only emptiness I can find is in the time that has passed unnoticed. I have settled into a routine that fills the hours and the corners of the space. Deciding what I will no longer have time to do or to be or to learn is harder than ever.
And the house hasn’t settled, the ground has… to the point where everyone on both sides of the street has to meet code by raising their front yard up to 10 inches at the front door so solicitors won’t sue for damages. Was I ever really that naive young woman who wondered if the house would be too big?????
What exactly is left behind when we move on to a new lifestyle? This question hit home for me last week when a health issue sent me to the Breast Surgical Oncologist.
My left breast. It took up a lot of room. It was no longer useful. I couldn’t sell it. I wouldn’t donate it. It was only the memories attached to it that I really wanted.
But when push came to shove, I couldn’t imagine having to part with it. Or part with part of it. Unless I was dying, I wanted to keep it. And so I did.
Fortunately, the surgeon agreed and I came home with it and found the perfect spot to give it the honor it deserves. I will take it with me when I leave here, knowing that I will always be able to revisit the decision at a later time.
It is mostly because I have given birth in a barn of a hoard with a bunch of asses shouting “push” that I know the real miracle to celebrate is Easter, not Christmas. Anyone can be born. Most of us can live. We all die. But to come back from death and give birth to hope and faith and love is quite an accomplishment. Whether a Phoenix or the Son of God, coming from the depths of darkness to the light of possibilities and dreams coming true, it is the guidance of these few examples which allows any of us to enter a tunnel with any expectation of coming out on the other side of the mountain.
If you are trying to help a hoarder, your gentle guidance is going to be far more effective than a big production. Ultimately, the hoarder wants to crack its own shell as it sees the light, taking all the time it needs to adjust to the bright light of spaciousness. If you are walking on eggshells around a hoarder, you are beginning to help. You are to be commemorated and celebrated.
There’s plenty of room in a coffin. Unless you want to Live. Because you CAN’T take it with you if it’s tangible. This is so entirely true that some hoarders are compelled to reverse their habits so as not to leave unwanted items as a sad inheritance . Shortly before tossing something in the trash, I sometimes have to ask myself not only the usual questions – do I want it or need it or love it? But: will my kids want it or need it or love it? And then: would ANYbody want it or need it or love it? Clearly, everything once passed the litmus test; otherwise I would never have owned it. Life is not static though, and the past is too crowded for everyday living, as is a coffin. Or an urn. Or an ashtray.
Eight years. 116880 cigarettes not smoked, saving $33,427.68. Life saved: 1 year, 5 weeks, 6 days, 20 hours, 0 minutes.
There is a deep connection between my brain and my belongings, and most hoarding experts would say “well, duh” to that. What better proof is there than to find yourself in a thrift store checking out the treasures you donated last month? This is why it rarely helps when well-meaning family members swoop in to remove your Stuff for you. They’re just knocking you upside the head, and your brain will spend hours, days, or even weeks explaining to itself why you deserve to be angry or sad or shocked or heartbroken.
What if, without that scrap of fabric, your brain could no longer recall the feelings you had when you wore that garment on the day that you met the love of your life? What if just holding it, you had been able to transport yourself to the exact moment you knew he was about to kiss you for the first time? What if that memory stayed in your head but you couldn’t get to it anymore, to relive it, to recall it, to compare it to all the other kisses that would come after that and fall short?
Feelings, for some of us, are tactile. I never feel the love of motherhood more powerfully than when I feel the top of my sons’ heads. They are all grown, but if I ever have the opportunity to pat them on the head (and don’t squander such an opportunity) I can feel my heart swell and fill with a love I could not contemplate before giving birth.
To dispose of an item is sometimes taking the risk of forgetting something you want to always remember – for a hoarder. If only we would use that brain to organize the memories instead of the clutter.