Our Little Secret

Yeah, there’s a reason why so many of my photos seem to be only shot in one or two rooms, or only show small, focused parts of our house.
There’s a reason why we never have people over to visit; why I’ve stopped having parties and game nights and overnight guests.
There’s a reason why I’m awake at 1:00 a.m. writing this because I can’t sleep because I’m so stressed out.
We have a serious problem. It’s more than just a problem that’s driving me out of my head, although that’s bad enough.
It’s making me physically sick, too – enough that I’ve had to go to the hospital 5 times in the past three years because I’m so allergic to dust and the house is so full of it.
We have a problem, and it’s time that problem comes out of the closet.
We have too much stuff – way more stuff than we can manage, store or enjoy. Way more stuff than we need.
These photos are just the tip of the iceberg; the garage is equally packed, and the basement is the same way, too. I just haven’t taken pictures there yet because it’s the middle of the night.
I have always had a serious pack rat problem. I don’t want it to appear that I’m blaming anyone. I’m certainly not. And I know I’m not the only one trying to fix it; Stephanie is working hard at this, too. But I’m getting seriously overwhelmed lately; and I’m worried that we’re not making progress at all. We spend all our time organizing, never have any fun, and the clutter just gets worse, not better. And we fight over it, a lot – and that has to stop because I love Stephanie so much; I don’t want this problem to ruin our relationship.
It’s interfering with living our lives, doing our jobs, enjoying what we have and our families and friends, and enjoying the blessing that is our relationship as well.
We really need two things:
1) HELP. Help confronting the problem, help accepting that it’s a problem and help fixing it. To some extent, we need to hire someone to work with us on this. But we sure could use some support from our friends, both in the clean up process and the encouraging us not to bring new items into our house as well.
2) For people to back the hell off. Ease up on seizing control of our time. Let us get this figured out without constantly hijacking our schedules. Understand us when we say we can’t do stuff with you, and lay off the guilt trips. Stephanie and I both have a tendency to say yes to everyone and everything, and we need to knock that off, for our own sanity and well being. We don’t want to blow off our friends; we love you, and care about you. But we can’t always do everything you want us to, and lately I just can’t manage to do anything at all.
I took an entire cruise and spent the whole time stressed out because I wasn’t at home organizing and cleaning stuff. I’m up late tonight because we overloaded our weekend again with events and won’t have time to relax or get anything done. We need time to work on this – lots of it.
This run-away freight train needs to stop, and now.

This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Denise Maindelle

    You are both smart and well read so I bet you know that “hoarding disorder” is a form of OCD. You know you have a problem and sincerely want to do something about it, so I’m sure you will get some help and overcome this . I love your blog and I hate for you to be so unhappy.-Denise

  2. Steph Mineart

    My perception of hoarders has always been people who kept trash in their homes, because those are the sensational cases you see on the news.

    My rationale was that we don’t keep trash lying around, so we aren’t hoarders. We are meticulous about taking out the trash and recycling everything, and we work hard to keep the house clean.

    But of course, that’s not an accurate definition of hoarding at all. Hoarding also includes “keeping things you don’t you use” and we certainly do that. We have lots of stuff piled up that is actually worth something, but not to us. We want to get rid of it, but we also want to get money for what it’s really worth, too. So we hang on to it, trying to plot some way to sell it. But I’ve had my mom’s cache of avon bottles to sell on eBay for 3 years now, and I never scrape enough time together to photograph everything and put it up, and then take the time to pack it, label it, ship it… I need to balance the real worth of that.

    The other thing I hoard – and this is particular to me – is data. I have way more mp3s than I listen to. I have way more fonts than I ever use. But because I can’t manage to get them organized due to sheer volume, I never get around to using them at all, which is a waste.

  3. lisa

    i’m so sorry that you are dealing with this stress. you both have my respect for confronting this issue head-on. so many people live in denial their entire lives.
    as someone on a similar path, you have my sympathy. divide and conquer, and just keep working at it. if you hire an organizer to help, i’ll be fascinated to hear more about that process.
    in addition to overcoming the stress and the health issues the clutter brings on, i can also see you guys unlocking the potential of your amazing house.
    i bow out of social stuff a lot because i need to get house stuff done. most of my friends are very cool about it– they own houses too, and know what it’s like.
    if the stuff you’re doing this weekend won’t be fun for you because you’re stressed, and working on the house will help relieve the stress, it’s okay to gracefully bow out. (of course, i say this without knowing what sorts of things you’re planning– maybe they aren’t fun things, anyway.)

  4. wil

    I’ve been reading your Commonplace Book for some time now and it seems that you have some great friends that will be happy to help you out. One key I think will be to break it down into managable tasks and areas – one room at a time.
    While I know it is a serious issue with you and Steph, I couldn’t help laughing at one picture – the one with all the books for idiots. Perhaps there’s a book called Organization for Idiots. No – you don’t need to buy anything else. Good luck. Wil

  5. Steph Mineart

    Wil, there actually is an Idiot’s Guide to Organizing in there. I should probably read it.

    I work for the publishing company that creates the Idiot’s Guides, so there’s always extra sitting around at work, and I have a tendency to collect them, thinking I’m going to sit and read them someday. Well, I’ve had them for some time, and need to take them back to work and pass them on.

    Except for that organizing one, I need to read that. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Maxine Dangerous

    I can help you organize. I find it very therapeutic to get rid of stuff. Generally I’m throwing stuff into the trash, but this also includes taking stuff to Goodwill or giving it to people you know, etc. A great place that can help you out is Freecycle. I think you’ve mentioned it on your blog before. You can clean out a BUNCH of stuff by posting it on that site. And people come pick it up from you, which leaves you time to tackle more stuff! ๐Ÿ™‚
    All of that said, I’m out of town this weekend, but I can help you in the near future. Ha — Freudian slip — I typed ‘neat.’ ๐Ÿ™‚ Drop me an email and we’ll chat. ๐Ÿ™‚ Besides, I miss petting the kitties. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Burn | The Demigod

    Hey Steph! I’ve also been reading your blog for quite some time now (in fact the first blog I ever read on the web, back in ’03, I think) and I do agree that it seems you have a lot of friends that are really willing to help out. I’d help out if I were within a hundred miles as a thank you, LOL.
    I tend to be a packrat too, until one day I just got so overwhelmed with the gargantuan volume of useless crap in my apartment that I just started chucking nearly everything out in a fit of rage. Not something I recommend, as I inadvertently chucked out some old comics and baseball cards that may be a tiny fortune.
    Anyhoo, I recommend work it one section of one room at a time, put the stuff in boxes for the great big grand garage sale.
    I’m also regularly on http://www.unclutter.com, and am happy to report that I’m getting close to becoming a minimalist. (But touch my carebears collection and you pick up your teeth with broken fingers. LOL)
    I’m rootin for ya!

  8. Kris

    I inherited my packratedness from my mother; that’s usually how it goes. Sometimes I think the only reason John hasn’t thrown me and all my stuff out on the sidewalk, is that he wouldn’t know where to begin. And alas, neither do I at times. However, I do know that Jonathan has spent lots of time watching TLC shows like ‘Clean House’ and I bet he’d be willing to help you. I know it was nice to have him to help me make decisions like, ‘do I really need to keep the softcover and hardbound of the same book?’, etc. Beyond that, just step back, take a deep breath (or many), and then start with one pile at a time. You can’t hope to do it all at once, so don’t even worry about that. Just try to do a little bit every day, and try not to bring in anything new unless you get rid of 1 or 5 (or some other reasonable number) old items. I managed to streamline quite a bit that way, and while I’ll never be a minimalist, I’m starting to find some organization in all my crap. You can do it!

  9. pooty

    holy cr@p! that’s a lot of stuff. i can understand the level of frustration and stress you feel. what if you rented a storage space, and just put everything in there, like everything… then your house would be clean and then you could go to the storage space each weekend, and spend time sorting stuff for sale, trash, giveaway, etc… just a thought… if i lived in your town, i’d totally help out. good luck to you both!

  10. Cordelia

    Zowie, that’s a loaded house. At this point the stress about stuff and dust is probably making you sicker than any of the dust per se. Inviting friends to help is a good move, because they’re not attached to your things. This is also a big downside; only you and Steph can decide what’s precious. I’d suggest letting go of the idea that you are going to somehow put every object up for sale and get what its worth. Freecycle is one plan, but the best is to just load up the car truck with things you haven’t used in a year, truck them off to the Salvation Army or another charity (does a women’s shelter need clothes and books ? liberal church in need of stuff ? Animal shelter need old towels, etc ?). Or best, you and Steph do the selecting, have friends do the moving. I like the storage locker idea, except that I have a friend who did that, refilled her house, and visits her storage locker, for which she has paid rent for ten years, like a shrine (that is a real case of hoarding disorder that doesn’t involve trash or collecting cats; you two just need to divest. There is clearly a lot of emotional investment in your stuff, or it wouldn’t be lying around out in the open looking so homeless and permanent at the same time. And someone else said it: don’t defeat yourself by thinking this all has to happen at once. I hope I don’t sound critical. I wish you the best of luck and am sure your friends will be willing to help.

  11. Burn | The Demigod

    Just one last thing I thought I’d chuck in there: the objects don’t hold any memories. Those are created by you & Steph. So that old, moldy, moth-eaten, pencil-eraser-troll-doll (fictional, lol) isn’t a memento of a first date. It’s just an old, moldy, moth-eaten, pencil-eraser-troll-doll. The first date was all you guys. ๐Ÿ™‚ I like to scrapbook to keep the junk down. I used to be a sucker for menus, movie ticket stubs, old condom wrappers… LOL j/k!

  12. Steph Mineart

    That’s a very good point, demigod. In some cases, what I need to do is take a picture of something I have sentimental feelings about, and keep the photo and let the item go.

  13. Tami

    One word–it worked for me….PURGE. It will be liberating.. I know your friends would help…have a Purge Party—ah…”cathartic release”..Eat pizza-clean like crazy-drink beer. Life is short, each day is a gift Steph-don’t stress this hard about this kind of stuff…..

  14. Steph Mineart

    There are a couple of problems with the “start small” approach to our problem.

    The first is that this is what we’ve been doing for a year or so, and it hasn’t made a dent. Partially, that’s because we’re not getting rid of stuff, we’re just shuffling it around trying to “organize” and “store” it, when we need to take it out of the house altogether. We also seem to acquire more stuff when the old stuff goes away, so we have a net gain every time instead of a net loss.

    The second problem with the “focus on one area” approach is that the dust problem is making me really ill – and we need to sort this out sooner than later.

    I’m not kidding – my allergist suggested that a possibility for making me feel better would be moving into a sterile nursing home for a short time. That’s pretty extreme, and there’s lots of things like medication and injections and stuff we’d try before that, but preventing the illness rather than treating the symptoms is preferable, and that means getting rid of the dust.

  15. Mikal

    Steph: If I still lived in Indy, and you hosted a purge party, I would so be there for you. If I feel that way, imagine how your really close friends feel. Every little bit helps.

  16. Kristi

    Wow, cousin, I don’t know what to tell you…everybody has had great suggestions (I second the Freecycle thing!). I received a different set of genes and cannot relate to the packrat thing, since my obsession swings in the opposite direction and I’m constantly trashing or donating things! I wish I could help — just looking at the pictures gets me itchin’ to declutter! organize! straighten! In my humble opinion, the first key is that you just need to try to detach yourselves from THINGS, as they’re just that…THINGS. I sincerely hope you can get a handle on it and not feel so stressed ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Jaq

    One suggestion – rent a storage pod, the kind that they leave at your house for a week then take away to a warehouse. While it’s parked at your place, put everything in it that you are holding onto to sell eventually. This accomplishes a few things: honors the fact that the stuff you are storing has value and keeps it safe, and gets it out of sight and opens up space in your lives. Once that’s done, don’t worry about the things that are stored, don’t think about all the work it’s going to take to sell them, don’t think about how much stuff is in there. But also: don’t acquire anything else with the intent of selling it for at least 6 months. Fight the urge, just say no, treat each other to backrubs every time you skip a bargain – whatever works.

    Once things are less stressful and you’re both more content with your living space and have the energy, go visit your storage and grab 5 or 10 things to sell. There’s no rush, they’ll be waiting.

  18. swissfondue

    I just finished reading this book on how to declutter your life:
    “It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff” by Peter Walsh
    It is exactly what you need to read now. Tip: Have everyone in the family read it first. Then discuss how you want to procede.

  19. swissfondue

    To expand on my previous comment: the book’s main premise is to keep the stuff you need to live the life you want to live today. Not yesteryear’s life, not a life some time in the hazy future. It contains tips on getting started, on how to decide what to keep or not and what to do with stuff that is in the “out” bin.

  20. swissfondue

    To expand on my previous comment: the book’s main premise is to keep the stuff you need to live the life you want to live today.
    (my comment: You’ll never relive yesteryear’s life, nor will your future life be as you expect today, so why save stuff “in case you might need it sometime”. No one has time today to process yesterday’s life; except if you’re writing an autobiography)
    The book contains tips on getting started, on how to decide what to keep or not and what to do with stuff that is in the “out” bin.

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