When I was a child I had a bit of a hoarding problem, as most kids do ;toys which I outgrew, and books which I no longer read yet insisted on keeping. I also kept old magazines and piles of school work. Whereas most children tend to outgrow their old belongings as they blossom into young adults: I didn’t. I continued to hoard well into adulthood.
I wasn’t the sort of hoarder where everything covers every corner of breathable space – I’ve always been incredibly meticulous about tidiness. Instead, every available surface was neatly lined up with soft toys; figurines; ornaments from seaside resorts; books I didn’t read; DVD’s I didn’t watch, mugs from the Disney store, and those mugs you get free with Easter eggs. What I couldn’t display on the sides I either stashed in the attic for the future or stored in my bedside drawers, which bowed under the weight and became a pain to open and close. Things would fall out of the insides and down the back because there was simply no room for the immense amount of junk I was keeping in them: Keyrings; dried-out pens; old party invitations; old cables; small ornaments; needles;old school crafts; unworn jewellery, and unused makeup, were rammed into any available storage space. I dreaded searching the mini-city of boxes atop my wardrobe because spiders often took refuge in the alleys between them. Even beneath my bed was edge-to-edge with plastic boxes full of clothes, games, cables,workout equipment, and everything else that didn’t have a home. Out of sight, out of mind – or so I thought.
I was in my late twenties and renting a two-bedroom house with my fiance and toddler son before I realised how much stuff I had accumulated, and it took some hard truths to finally make me see it. The day of truth started with an irate phone call from my mum, who’d just spent the day clearing her attic. Most of the stuff was mine and she was ‘not hanging on to it all anymore because she was getting too old to keep maneuvering around my stuff up there’. Anyway, she loaded the car and drove it all over to my house. Anyone watching out of their windows at her bringing the stuff to my front door may have been mistaken for thinking that she was moving in, because there was a terrifying horde of bin liners and boxes. Part of me wanted to just store it in our shed and deal with it another time, but my fiance had threatened to bin the lot if I didn’t sort through them there and then. He and I had had a few rows about the amount of stuff I had, and now it was coming to head. There was no way that it could all go into our attic because even that was brimming with paraphernalia, so much so that I pictured the ceiling collapsing into one of the bedrooms and killing someone. A bit over-dramatic, I know, but it was a sure sign that something needed to be done, so I reluctantly started sorting through the bags, placing items into separate piles of things to keep and purge.
At first, the ‘keep’ pile far outgrew the ‘purge pile’, and as the clock ticked on I came to realise that all I was doing was moving stuff around the floor. I wasn’t making so much as a dent, and the living room looked like an obstacle course. With a small toddler running around, there was no way I could leave the room the way it was. Not only was I suddenly forced to confront all of my stuff, I had to dive deep into my psyche and find out exactly what was keeping me attached to items I knew I was never going to use again, or that were quite simply, rubbish. I had to become ruthless right on the spot, so I started evaluating the objects one by one, thinking deeply about why I wanted to keep them. If I really cared about it all so much, why was it that I didn’t even know I had them until just now? It was a slow and exhausting process, but eventually, all that was left was a single plastic box of some old school reports and pieces of school work that legitimately made me smile. As it turned out, there was no discernible reason I could think of to keep 90% of what was in those bags. As bags started going outside ready for the charity shop or the wheelie bin, I realised something that forever changed how I live my life: I felt free, as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and a part of my mind had had years of grime removed.
I hadn’t realised just how stressed I had been from keeping all my stuff, even in places I couldn’t see. It wasn’t out of mind, it never had been. All I was doing was storing emotional anchors from my past. Almost all of what I had been keeping was nothing but emotional baggage; things that were anchoring me to parts of my life that I simply couldn’t let go of, or had never dealt with. In my childhood, fights were often repaired by the buying of gifts, so I clung to the items as if they were real feelings. I didn’t have many friends at school and was often bullied, so I kept presents that old friends had bought me in the past – even those I hadn’t spoke to for years and never would again. I kept keyrings, soft toys, letters and postcards from people I no longer knew. I was so under-confident in my abilities that I’d kept all of my school work just to look back on the praise I had received for good pieces of work. Most of it was essays, stories, leaflets and any other writing assignments I had worked on in class. I’ve always dreamed of being a writer ever since I was a small child, so I would keep essays and stories with teachers praise written on, which reminded me that I could, in fact, write. I was an adult child, clutching onto the past rather than letting go and embracing the future. Simply put, I was substituting my lack of satisfying attachment to the people in my life, and my lack of self confidence, to things.
Aside from the more depressing reasons for my hoarding tendencies, I was addicted to the temporary excitement of buying new stuff, and therefore, terribly prone to buying things as soon as my wages went in the bank. I’d come up with convincing reasons as to why I needed to add to my DVD collection, or why I needed yet another snow globe to add to my window ledge. One day, I even bought a cheap CRT television, convincing myself I would find the space for it. I didn’t. More about my addiction to buying things in a future post.
An old picture of me with the clunky CRT TV I bought to play my old consoles on, knowing that we didn’t have the space. Just look at my guilty, caught-out expression.
I used to convince myself I was tidying and ‘decluttering’, when all I was really doing was moving stuff to another location. Rather than dealing with the problem, I would hide my past under the bed or buy more storage, which would inevitably get filled with more clutter. The more storage I bought, the more stuff I consumed, the more clutter I kept, and the more my space shrank. My true self was being crushed under the weight of material possessions, but it wasn’t until we finally bought a home that I realised my work was far from over.