Simple Life #1 — Stuff.

by Elizabeth on August 16, 2012

photo courtesy tallkev at Flickr.

 Tell the truth, now…

How many of you, just looking at the picture of all the clutter, had the insane urge to order a dumpster or light a match and walk away?

::raises hand::

I don’t know about y’all, but seriously cluttered spaces make me feel like I’m choking.

Sometimes, even literally.  I have allergies to dust and mold, and if there’s too much stuff (and too much dust), it can actually trigger a bigtime breathing issue for me.  And that doesn’t even take into account the weird sense of anxiety when unorganized stuff just crowds in on you from all sides.

It makes me crazy.  (Well, crazIER, I mean.)

Sit back for a second and let me tell you a little story.

My husband and I used to live in a giant metal box that was filled with the crap valued possessions of the previous tenants.  (Who, incidentally, were my husband’s parents.  Long term, probably level 3 or 4 hoarders, with an addiction to All Things Auction.)  It was a five thousand square foot house, folks.  Five.  Thousand.  Square. Feet.

And when we moved in, there wasn’t a single bit of it that wasn’t completely filled with nearly-useless, broken crap treasures.  Moreover, it had all sat there, untended and unmaintained, for nearly a decade and a half.  The only time the dust and dirt was disturbed was when the in-laws brought in another load of stuff that wouldn’t fit in their own 12,000 sq. ft. home, 20,000 sq. ft. “shop”, 10,000 sq ft. wood shop, 30,000 sq. ft. barn, or any of the numerous outbuildings their own property had.

(That’s right, math nerds.  More than seventy thousand square feet of stuff... even without our house.  It’s a sad affliction, hoarding.)

Our efforts to clean it out were met with resistance, of course.  We’d spend a twelve-hour day cleaning things out and throwing away broken photocopiers, sagging and broken chairs, or ancient (broken) microwaves…only to go outside and find one parent or the other sifting through the dumpsters we’d rented.  And pulling things back out of them.

At one point in my life, I could fit every blessed thing I owned into the back of a mid-sized sedan.  It wasn’t an ideal way to live, either, to be honest — but I was in college and was moving from undergraduate classes to my masters degree, which required a cross-country move.  (I got into law school a looong way from home.)  And even though that  wouldn’t work for my life now (I can’t imagine a life without a garlic press.  OMG.), it gave me a deep appreciation for having only what you need.

The house in Iowa had all kinds of Issues other than just the clutter.  And the more we cleaned out, the more *I* filled it up with other stuff, too…probably to try and ignore the fact that we were living in a giant metal box full of mice and spiders.  When we finally left it, four years later, to move into a space that was a tenth of the size, we were a little shocked at how much of Other People’s Crap Belongings were still there…that we’d been living around for more than four years.

Moreover, I was shocked to find out how internalized I’d made the clutter.

My tolerance for it had grown to a level that I’d been unaware of.

And that tolerance followed us, first to the tiny house in the south, and then to our (slightly-bigger) house on the plains.  Where cluttered surfaces used to bug the livin’ snot out of me, I noticed that…well…sometimes I didn’t notice.  And the NOT noticing freaked me out just a little more than the clutter itself did.

(Interestingly enough, when we moved to the plains house, we did not give his parents our forwarding address.  They contacted us through a relative, and had a box for us from Christmas of 2010 that they wanted to send…and the relative gave the okay to have it sent there.  When we opened it?  There was a Christmas card….and stuff they’d scavenged from the dumpster when we moved.  Our own discarded trash that we tossed out.  I’m serious.)

Too Much Stuff Syndrome

So when this year of living more deeply hit me, and I started looking very closely at what I was actually keeping, using, and loving (the big three, really), I started reading pretty intently about the way stuff can affect the person.  (Or so I say.  It’s probably just an excuse to watch a lot of Hoarders and throw stuff away, to be honest.)  And the research is all out there — having too much can be just as detrimental as having not enough.

I’ve seen it.  That house in Iowa was, for the lack of a better word, depressing.  And moreover, it was confusing.  Why would someone keep an entire box of broken scuba gear…when they don’t even dive?  Or boxes and boxes and boxes of paperwork that were so mouse-chewed that you wouldn’t be able to see what was in it anyway?  What possible reason could there be to save literal garbage?  To find it all valuable?

For the next couple entries, we’re going to talk about too much.

I’ve been collecting a lot of organization-type information.  A little bit of decluttering help.  Even a little theory or two about what too much actually means.

In the meantime, take a good look at your own Stuff.  Do you have junk drawers and that one closet where all the crazy lives?  (Or do you have seventy thousand square feet of hoarded space?)  How does it affect you?

(p.s.  If you’re a Hoarders watcher, too…how long can you watch an episode before you spring out of the chair and start cleaning something? Anything…?  Me, it’s about six and a half seconds.  OMG.)  :D

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