Monday, May 16, 2011

Are You a Hoarder?

RHYS: Later this week I'll be interviewing Mary Jane Maffini, who writes about a professional organizer, so I'm painfully aware of the clutter in my own life. My office looks--well--lived in. Our house looks equally well lived-in. Our children have made threats along the lines of "don't you dare die and leave us with all this stuff."

The problem is that we're both hoarders. I'm not as bad as John, who keeps every letter he wrote to the local water board and even the programs from a track meet during his prep school days. But I do keep a copy of everything I've ever written, boxes of my kids' art work from kindergarten on, my college thesis, German and French literature I'll never read again, plus boxes of photos that never found their way into albums, even old vinyl LPs.

I come from a family who never saved anything. My mother threw away anything that was no longer useful. I still lament my lovely doll house she gave away one Christmas (It was to a family who had just lost their father, so I couldn't say anything,but she didn't ask me first). My parents would change their furniture when the whim took them. They even changed houses more frequently than most sane people. So things meant nothing to them.

But they do to me. When I've been lying awake at night, I worry over what items to save first in a fire. I have a big project to put all of my favorite family photos onto DVDs and to store them somewhere safe. But I confess I do feel overwhelmed by a plethora of possessions. One of the reasons I like going to our condo in Arizona is that it's simple and contains no unnecessary stuff. Other folk our age are downsizing. I know we should be thinking of it too, but I can't see it happening in the near future. And my linen closet actually looked like this after my new cleaning lady got at it!

So which of our Jungle Reds are fellow hoarders? Who are our neat freaks?

I'm hoping Mary Jane will give me some tips on how to throw stuff away.

JULIA: I'm not neat - far from it! - but I'm ruthless about tossing unused items. I suspect it's the legacy of growing up as an army brat, always moving. If it hadn't been played with/worn/looked at in the past year, out it went. Ross, on the other hand--don't get me started. If not for me, he'd be living like those eccentrics you read about, barricaded in with towers of newspapers.

DEB: One of the problems is that everyone's idea of too much stuff is relative. I think Rick has too much stuff--he wonders why on earth anyone needs four sets of china and all those BOOKS . . . But I find that too much clutter (at least by my standards) drives me crazy, and as I work at home, I find it distracting. I'm having a stay-at-home year, and one of my goals is to purge some of the junk and organize those closets!!!!!! It just makes me feel better and function better if I can find things, and if I can keep things clean and neat.

I'm very interested in hearing how a professional organizer deals with the emotional issues involved in helping people downsize.

JAN: I'm a binge and purge girl. I have a hard time throwing stuff away, and it collects, but then I go on a tear and will throw it all away whether it needs to go or not. But Deb, you are so right, It's much easier to throw my husband's useless junk away then my own junk which never seems quite as useless.

HANK: Oh, heavens, yes. Deb, can you please come over? I have...clothes. Yeesh. I've given away lots, but I could use someone tough. And my press clippings, of course, must have. And books. Got to go. GOT TO! We called in a person to go into our basement..he had a big big dumpster and everything just went into that. It was terrific. Nothing better than getting rid of stuff--it's so empowering.

When Jonathan and I merged households, I got rid of LOTS of his clothes. That was easy. I called it his "southwestern collection." You don't wanna know.

I have a rule that I can't buy any new clothes unless I get rid of three things I have. That kind of works.

ROBERTA: His southwestern collection--that totally cracks me up Hank!

JULIA: Pictures! Pictures!

ROBERTA: John had a dreadful polyester warm-up suit that he wore to play tennis a couple of times a week. I overlooked it while we dated, but then it got the heave-ho. Of course then he tried to throw out my aqua sweatpants--not so fast Mister!

RHYS: And my John still has bush jackets that he wore in Indonesia. He used to show up at the kids' swim meets and embarrass the heck out of them!

HALLIE: My husband has clothes he wore in junior high. Really. I have a particularly effective hissy fit where I declare that I will not will not will not end up married to the male equivalent of a bag lady. Sometimes I cry. If I get het up enough it usually works and a few things go out. Or moved around so I'll think they went.

I am so not a hoarder. One set of china... er, stoneware. All I collect are feathers found on hikes and Chinese fortunes.

RHYS: I'm afraid I collect things too: rocks, shells, antique paperweights, dolls from around the world, and John inherited his parents lovely antique things--Chinese plates, English name it,we've got it. And they are lovely but I've no idea what will happen to them when we die.

ROSEMARY: Husband's stuff is much more annoying than mine. And this from a woman who probably owns 100 tablecloths, 40 vases, 5 sets of china, gardening magazines from 10 years ago and more cookie cutters and tartlet pans than Martha Stewart. And bowls of shells and coral. But I'm not a hoarder. I love them all.
And I do try to donate or throw away something every time I bring something new into the house.

Jonathan as a cowboy? I don't see it. But then Bruce had a jacket he referred to as his Italian jacket - I thought it made him look like a sportcaster from the 70s. I was so happy when we said ciao to that one.

JULIA: Ross had a disco outfit when we met in the early eighties. He had also saved all his wide-collared shirts. Sadly, they somehow got lost when we moved him from Washington, DC to Maine. These things do happen.

ROSEMARY: Let me ask a question many sets of sheets do people have?

HANK: Ro, I love you, I really do. And I ain't answering that one. Although I,too, would be interested to hear from others.

JULIA: Two per bed. Our house is almost 200 years old, and closet space is very limited. We can store a ton up in the attic our out in the barn, but that doesn't help when it comes to bedding, does it?

RHYS: No, not into sheets. Just enough to change every bed. How about shoes, Hank dearest? Or black suits? How many black suits does one person need?
And now let's hear from you? What is essential in your life that would be called hoarding to others? Come on fess up now!


  1. I'm not exactly a hoarder, but I think I lean closer to Rhys than to Hallie. The attic has STUFF in it. All my sons' books from their childhood in boxes waiting for them to have their own children. The big crate of Playmobil toys. The letters I wrote to my family from my exchange year in Brazil (1970). Several boxes full of African cloth. The old video camera. Family picture that never made their way into albums.

    I do feel rather dysfunctional when I open a desk drawer full of potentially useful stuff that I haven't touched in years. Why can't I just dump it?? But no, I close it one more time, undisturbed.


  2. I'm still laughing about the sheets. Ro, you and I will have to chat. Later.

    And I seem to also ahve a lot of Pencils at home. But I love pencils so much.

    Julia, I will look for photos of the SOuthwestern collection. Think: earth tones. But for your own good, don't think too long.

  3. Edith, you might need that stuff. No question.

  4. I'm not a hoarder at all, always throwing away things when I can't see the wall, floor or the back of the closet. I have two sets of sheets for my bed and one set for the daybed and trundle below.

  5. I have to watch myself. After my father-in-law passed away, leaving his home of 65 years to my clueless bachelor brother-in-law, I finally offered to help him out by sorting through the contents. Whoa. You haven't seen hoarding until you've discovered 65 years of tax returns and investment records, tidily filed in shoeboxes filling every available closet. There was so much paper in that house I was shocked it hadn't burned down. And they had all kinds of other stuff, too, tucked into every nook and cranny. It was such a major job that I decided I couldn't do that to our kids.

    Then I realized we had a lot of the same situation here, so I purged 30 years of his/mine/ours tax records, greeting cards, and book research, taking two entire carloads of paper to the shredding center. Then donated 1,000 books to the library (they came with a truck, bless them), four carloads of fabric and sewing stuff to various places, and no fewer than 12 carloads of stuff to Goodwill. And there was still more here.

    Luckily, we bought a second home, a farm in a rural area, and could use a lot of things there. I took all our extra sheets, for instance. And now we have three queen beds and two single-sized extras, so two sets of sheets for each. But I try to buy a replacement set about once a year, on sale, of high thread-count sheets. My big splurge.

  6. Hank: I have one of those leather cowboy jackets, with fringe down both arms and the pockets. I can't throw it away -- some steer gave his life -- and I can't give it away because there are no takers. It's still in the hall closet.

  7. I have a few desk drawers I have to go through today, Edith, purging.

    And Hank and Ro -- you two just need college nad post-college aged children. All your sheets and towels magically dieappear.

    Jack, we want a picture of the jacket

  8. I sense some kindred spirits here. Jack, that jacket is a keeper. It sounds like the brother to a motorcycle jacket I own. Last time I wore it someone asked if I had just been dragged by a car but I don't care - I love it.
    And there's something so orderly about a linen closet like the one in the pic. I considering labelling my shelves but decided against it. I still have the first set of Italian sets I ever bought.
    Edith...I have a lot of African cloth too! Would anyone like a Tanzanian kanga? Or barkcloth curtains.vintage tablecloths..

  9.'re absolutely right...I don't have all the kid stuff so I can save my own.

    Weirdest thing my husband has stashed in his closet - a 3' X 4' mounted poster of himself shaking hands with Pope John Paul II. Why is he keeping it?

  10. I have about 2000 golf balls (new, old, some from back in the sixties, I'm sure). And I've only played about five rounds in the past 3 years. (Hey, you never know when you'll get back into it, right?)

  11. Two sets of sheets each bed. And some of them are darned . . . um, mended. Can you believe my 27-year-old daughter literally can't sew on a button? Or iron anything to save her life?

    But back to hoarding. I have a question for all you other writers: What do you do with copies of your books? I've written fourteen, published in multiple languages, sometimes in hard and softcover, and then of course, you have to buy some remaindered copies of your own books, don't you???? (I just did. Boxes sitting on living room floor.) So, boxes in garage attic. Boxes in house attic. R says the floors are going to fall in. But can I actually find a particular book when I need it??? NO! Help!

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  13. Debs, the sewing ironing thing...that's a whole blog for you.
    It's astonishing!

    And yes, RO, I bought Frette towels when we were in Rome. Sigh. Yes, I did. Gorgeous. And then I found out you have to IRON them. IRONING TOWELS. Holy moley.

  14. I keep multiple copies of every book I've ever written--that's 25 in mystery alone and many others in other genres, so they require mucho storage space.
    I used to keep edited ms, but recently threw them away. My mistake. My British publisher now wants to reissue Evans Above and they can't find the original ms. Do I have a copy on disk or ms?
    Can't find one anywhere. This is 15 years ago and it was the old floppy disks. So the one time I threw stuff away was not good.

  15. I'm laughing at Rosemary's husband's pic-with-the-pope. Maybe he's keeping it as visual evidence for St. Peter?

    I have one copy of most editions of my books on a shelf in the living room. The rest are stored in the attic or under Ginger's (very high antique) bed.

    Rhys, a sobering thought about keeping the original mss. I think I've already recycled some of mine. I'll have to be more careful of them in the future.

  16. RO --
    ISN'T it obvious. That photo gets him straight into heaven.

    It's like a Community Chest card in Monopoly.

  17. Edith, I want your African cloth. And Jack, I'd LOVE that jacket. Maybe I do have some unexpressed hoarder in me.

  18. Dang, Hallie beat me to it...I'd love some African fabric & the jacket, too! But, that would just add to our hoarding problem, which dh & I were just discussing how to solve, the other night. I'm going on a mission to de-clutter this mess ASAP. (I always used to say I liked a bit of clutter because it feels homey. Now I feel like Edina on AbFab, and want to see clear surfaces!)

    We both come from a long line of very neat "pack-rats". In our earlier married years we liked to call ourselves collectors, and even owned record stores called "Collectors' Records" and "Vintage Records and Collectibles". Well, when the businesses were sold, we were stuck with even more "collections" at home.

    My dh is an only child, so when his parents died, we inherited ALL of their stuff, too much to furnish our 2nd small house in the woods, so we've been paying for a storage unit for, um, 11 years now. blows the mind to see it in writing!

    I know---maybe we should start a Jungle Red Swap, LOL!

  19. What a great topic. My household falls much more into the hoarder line than not, but what we hold onto are artifacts with memories. So no multiple sets of sheets, and I'm not even a big shoe collector (does admitting that mean I'm losing my female cred?), but we have tidbits from travels, collections of badges from special admission to car races and theater events, mementos from family weddings, and antique store finds that match the exact year of our house (1940). It's too much stuff. But I start to winnow down and get caught in the stories and just end up rearranging.

  20. Rhys, have your kids been talking to my kids?

    Yes, I have emotional attachments to ‘my stuff.’ My office is a disaster. My bedroom is a little better. I hoard books, notes, paper copies of everything I’ve ever written as an adult. Anything before that, I burned when I left home to get married. Dumb me! The rest of our house is fine, except for Hubby’s stuff in the basement, garage, and attic. He thinks I’m bad but to me he’s worse.

    I also hoard the clothes. I spent good money for those clothes and I love them—of course, I can’t wear half of them and have no need for another quarter of them. So, why do I keep them? Recently I cleaned out all my old coats. Did Hubby do his? Nope, he still has his high school jacket, not the kind with a letter, just a black and pink tweed coat. I’m not even sure it knows it’s pink. I guess it could be worse, like Hallie with her hubands Jr. High stuff.

    Regarding downsizing, take it from me do it while you are still physically able. I am not, and it’s a nightmare. Neither is Hubby, these days. Right now, every time I get a call from a charity, it gives me the incentive to put our a box of books, a couple of bags of clothes, and whatever else I think we need to get rid of. But I worry about my Pepe Le Pew collection the kids don’t want, all the music boxes and trinkets they’ve given me over the years, the glasses and china I got as wedding gifts, etc. The young people today don’t want ‘clutter.’

    Oh and I recently tossed out 17 years of RWRs, 11 years of SinC newsletters, 17 years of NJRW newsletters, 11 years of SinC-CJ newsletters, and Civil War Round Table newsletters. Now, I have to go through all the notes, handouts, lesson plans, etc., because will I ever really teach again?

    And, don’t get me started on things I’ve tossed, given away, or donated that I needed a year or two later? I try not to think about how often that happens.

    I’ll take any hints on getting rid of emotional ‘stuff.’

  21. I was going to say I wasn't a hoarder until I read a few of Rhys' comments. Yeesh. I have two large bins of photos plus 6-7 albums and baskets of negatives (remember those?). I bought and hooked up a scanner 16 months ago and have yet to scan one photo. Of course I keep everything I've written, then there are those old envelopes for the dreaded IRS audit that never comes, plus floor-to-ceiling bookcases packed 3 deep, and opera programs so I remember who sang, and.... I do adhere to Hank's rule: for every article of clothing that I succumb to, at least one goes to the local family service store.