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Maybe you caught one of the shows Oprah has done on hoarding. Or maybe you’ve seen accounts on the news or in the paper of people who literally cannot open their doors or move about their houses because of the floor-to-ceiling stacks and piles of stuff — aka rubbish, trash, junk, garbage. Some people even hoard animals — much to their detriment (the animals’ and the people’s).

Hoarding is considered a real malady related to OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). And while researchers aren’t sure why people hoard, they think genetics and upbringing play a role, as they do in OCD.

Genetics and upbringing? In my family that means one thing: holy crap. 

While I don’t think we actually qualify as psychologically disturbed (at least not when it comes to hoarding), we definitely have those tendencies in our genetics and upbringing, thanks to my mother’s side. We recently had to clean out one room in her house — a sunroom (what we always call the sunparlor) about 10′ by 16′. It took 4 of us about 3 days. For one room. Granted, it was a bad one — with only the smallest of spaces to stand amidst old furniture, magazines, scads of plastic take-out containers, books, games, bags of old drapes, a rolled up carpet, a 4½ foot statue of Jesus (don’t ask), and more. It was a junk room gone mad. The house also has an absolutely insane 3-room attic, a berserk cellar, and a few nutty bedrooms.

Our task this week is to take advantage of the dumpster on site for the construction project to transform said sunparlor into a bathroom and small bedroom and get rid of as much of this accumulated madness as we think we can get away with without my mother noticing. It won’t be easy — like all hoarders, she’s extremely attached to her things. But, regardless of mama’s wrath, go it must, and go it will.  

I’m hoping to use the dumpster opportunity to get rid of some hoarded trash chez moi as well. (Nothing compels a woman to action quicker than the thought she is turning into her mother.) Unfortunately, I’ve married a hoarder (though he doesn’t think so), so there’s only so much I can do. But I’ve taken real steps to break my own pack rat tendencies. A while back, I actually threw away a couple shoe boxes full of old cards and letters from my childhood. It wasn’t easy — that postcard from Beth McVeigh from her 4th grade family trip to Florida…the letters from my sister when I was 10 and she was 20 and away at college (15 minutes away)…30+ years of birthday cards. But I did it, and I was proud of myself.

I still have a problem with boxes — empty boxes. I’ve moved half a dozen times, and finding moving boxes is such a struggle I have a hard time parting with a sturdy box. Right now, we have dozens of boxes, some flattened, some not, stashed all over the house. I also have “collections” that I have no idea how to part with — I paid money for these things on eBay, at flea markets, and at antique stores, and am loathe to just give them away. But who hasn’t seen Aunt Minnie’s 47 adorable raccoons or Uncle Al’s beloved salt & pepper shakers languishing on the 10¢ table. I can picture a similar fate for my treasures.

In the meantime, I’ll collect some good karma by pitching someone else’s “trash.” Maybe that’s the key — to let someone else do the pitching for you in methodical, detached fashion. Preferably someone with good sense and good taste. Hmmm….any takers? You declutter my house, and I’ll declutter yours. Chances are neither of us will walk away empty-handed.

You have succeeded in life when all
you really want is only what you really need. 
                                              ~ Vernon Howard

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