Recovering Hoarder

On Sunday afternoons during football season, I often take my girls next door to my parents' house where we can watch the game together and give Chris a little time to himself.

My mom has been on a decluttering binge while my dad and brother are out bow hunting this month. Last Sunday, she put me to work.

Back in 2008 when we moved into my parents' house after finishing up our university degrees in another city, we brought along quite a passel of stuff. I remember purging a lot of our belongings during that move, and then we transferred most of what was left into our own little house in early 2009. There were a few boxes and bags full of our stuff that we left behind since we didn't know where to put them.

Here we are, nearly nine years later, and my mom plopped an old school backpack in front of me and asked me what I wanted to keep.


I am not a minimalist by nature.

Is that surprising?

My family of origin leans toward the hoarding side of the spectrum, and all of the notions that contribute to that sort of lifestyle were burned into my psyche at a young age:

  • You don't toss something that "you might need someday."
  • If something could be repurposed, you should keep it.
  • You hold on to sentimental items forever.
  • A collection must never be abandoned.

And perhaps most importantly...

  • You never, ever get rid of a gift.

It took me a long time to move past these maxims. Some of them I still struggle with today. Living in a small home (with a non-hoarder) has had a powerful effect on me, though. I am proud of the progress I've made in the last nine years towards living with my hands less firmly grasping all of my "stuff." It certainly didn't come easy.

When we moved out of our first apartment, I was not very far along in this process. I kept a lot of things that I shouldn't have kept. Boxes of random mementos. School papers that I thought I might like to read again. Generous but impractical gifts that others had given us over the years. Manuals for pretty much every item we owned (few of which we still own today). And when I didn't know what to do with it all because I had no paradigm in my life for how to deal with more belongings than I had room for, I just crammed it into boxes or bags and packed it away where I wouldn't have to deal with it for a while.

Well folks, the past caught up with me last Sunday.

It was a daunting task, staring down all of the things that I didn't want but couldn't part with nine years ago. It felt like a bit of a test of sorts: could I handle the process now, with a new mindset about possessions and years of minimalist living under my belt?

And could I do it with my mom watching as I freely tossed things my upbringing had taught me to keep?

I went through the equivalent of two or three large boxes of random items, and I pared it down to a very small pile of things to actually save. Everything I held on to fit easily into a brown paper bag, and I've already found homes for most of it. I count that as a success.

But it was very draining. There were items that part of me wanted to keep, and trying to decide if I would feel good about my choices a year from now was a lot of pressure. Once I got going, though, it got easier. Toss this. Donate that. (Interspersed by the occasional "Oh, I'll keep that," from my mom while I forced myself not to stress about her clutter in addition to my own.)

After all, these items had held no part in my life for nearly a decade. There were only a handful of items that either Chris or I had ever even wondered about during that time. Clearly we could happily live without most of it.

The process was not entirely without levity. While I was in the midst of tossing math papers from 2004, my mother handed me a smallish package addressed to my husband at our old apartment. It was the type of shipping box that could be unpacked without tearing into it and then closed back up again, so it was hard to tell if if the package had even been opened or not. I asked my mom if she knew what was inside it, but she had no idea. I pulled it apart only to discover that all it contained was a packing slip and some packing materials. It was the box in which the replacement battery for my old laptop had shipped. I gave that laptop away ages ago. For reasons I can't understand, we packed this empty box up when we moved, and my parents have been storing it for us for nearly a decade.

Yes, we stored an empty box for nine years.

Hello, my name is Diane, and I'm a recovering hoarder.

I'm happy to report that I've come a long way since those days.