If you knew me personally, you would know that I come from a long line of borderline hoarders on my mother’s side. My great-grandparents lived a hardscrabble life in what was then Indian Territory (before Oklahoma became a state), my grandparents were children of the Great Depression, and my mom and her brother grew up in a household where waste was not tolerated. My mother has a strong streak of nostalgia running in her veins, and she finds it utterly impossible to get rid of anything that reminds her of something from the past. I’m not talking about family albums or other mementos; of course I wouldn’t begrudge anyone for wanting to keep those. I’m talking about tchotchkes from the discount store purchased in the 80s. Rooms full of them. Racks of clothes that haven’t fit in years. Stacks of mail order catalogs that pre-date the internet. While their house isn’t quite up to the standards of unhealthy living seen regularly on shows like Hoarders, I’m always reminded of the Collyer Brothers—two brothers who, because of their compulsive hoarding, were found buried alive in 1947 in over 140 tons of detritus they’d collected.
I’m sure much has been written on the psychological seeds of compulsive hoarders, but I like the way the late great Elaine Stritch put it even if she wasn’t specifically talking about hoarding:
Everybody’s got a sack of rocks. tweet
(Stritchy was actually quoting her late husband, John Bay. But her delivery of the line is priceless.) By this, I think she meant that the road of life is a rocky one, and it’s up to each one of us to decide if this particular bump in the road is one that we’re going to pick up and carry around with us, or leave it on the side of the road and continue on the journey.
While my mother has certainly made great strides in letting go of things that really don’t matter, there is still a lot of stuff in her house that could be jettisoned. I’ve tried to make her understand what a burden it will be on her only child (me) who lives 1,500 miles away to take care of all that stuff upon my parent’s ultimate departure. I have my own hoarder-ish tendencies to battle (I’m not convinced hoarding isn’t genetic) and I dread having to deal with that house during a time of grieving if my parents were suddenly no longer alive.
As an artist, my particular brand of hoarding extends to things I might potentially want to create something with at some point in time. For me, the value of an object is in its imaginative potential. I usually think as I’m about to toss something, “ooh, I know what I could make with this!” but I never seem to have the time to do it. So it gets added to the pile of junk in my studio. Naturally, it’s a way of avoiding what happens so often: as soon as I get rid of something, I discover a need for it. The trick is to use it or lose it. If I haven’t done the thing I was going to do with something in two years, why do I still have it?
So, a few weeks ago, I forwarded an article I saw on the internet to my mother about the 30-day De-cluttering Challenge. The idea is to get rid of one item on day 1, two items on day 2, etc. By the end of a month, you should have jettisoned 465 useless things from your life. It was meant as half-joke, half-suggestion. But to my surprise, when we talked on the phone a few days ago, she told me she was doing the challenge. I had said I would do it if she would, so this is the beginning of a journey both of us will take together. I don’t plan on blogging anymore about my mother’s challenge, but instead recording my own progress as a way of prompting myself to keep up with it. And hopefully, inspiring others to do it too.
So first, some ground rules. (There are other versions of this challenge online with rules about how many things you have to donate, repair, recycle, etc. I don’t care about all of that so long as I have less junk at the end of the month.)
- Some things count as one thing. A pair of shoes, for instance, does not count as two things in my book. However, a single shoe on its own still counts as one thing, not a half.
- My work schedule is often grueling. I expect to miss days, but I plan to catch up on my days off so that at the end of 30 days I have disposed of 465 (or more) discreet things from my home.
- No fair counting something I’m just replacing. If something breaks and I buy a new one, I don’t get to count the thing I’m throwing out. The idea is to get rid of stuff, not replace it with new stuff.
- I’m going to photograph the stuff I get rid of, to A) prove that I’m doing it, and B) so I can revel in all the junk I tossed at the end of the month.
- Just because I’m getting rid of something does not mean I’m throwing it in the trash. I might give it to a friend in need, or recycle it for example. However: turning two things into one thing by combining them (I’m an artist after all) does not count as getting rid of one thing.
- No fair acquiring stuff just to get rid of it. Again, not the point of the challenge.
- A box of junk can count as one thing, or lots of things if I choose. Sue me. It’s my challenge.
- I will try not to count things that were given to me as gifts—I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. That being said, I’m not sure I can remember who gave me what. So if I throw out something you gave me at one time, I’m sorry! I’m sure I enjoyed having it around at the time.
- Living things don’t count. Unless you’re a pet hoarder (and I’m not.) No plants, no animals. And much as you might love to donate your children from time to time, they don’t count either.
- Each item should have a story. Let’s make this interesting. My mom doesn’t like to get rid of things that remind her of someone or something that happened years ago. I say everything reminds me of something, but that’s okay… I don’t need to keep mementos of every time I parked in a parking garage or received a freebie in the mail. It’s about letting go, and telling myself “it’s okay to forget about that time….” Just like Elsa sings it, Let it go… let it go!
So, here we go! The next four posts were all done on the same day as this post to catch up.