How Did It Get Like This?

September 13, 2008

That is the question organizing expert Peter Walsh would ask on the TV show Clean Sweep.  I loved that show!  When the re-runs were played on Saturday mornings a couple years ago I recorded them and kept my favorite ones.  (Collecting episodes of  an anti-clutter show – how sick is that?) The usual answer from the homeowners to Peter Walsh’s question was some nervous laughter, and “we just never threw anything away”.

People who grew up during the Great Depression learned to keep as much as possible “just in case”, so they could survive with low or uncertain income.  They typically retain these habits their whole lives.  My grandparents were like that.

I suppose I went through my own personal economic crisis during the four years I was semi-homeless and unemployed.  Keeping all things with potential usefulness was a survival tactic for me that was necessary.  Now that I’m no longer in a survival mode, it’s still tough to give up those ingrained practices.

Add to this – the fact that as a kid I used to collect things as a hobby.  Rocks, electronic parts, magazines, plastic models, etc.  Nothing of real value, just stuff that was only important to me.  That mindset probably prepared me to enter my period of compulsive hoarding, triggered by the lack of income.  During that time, things that were broken beyond repair were thrown out, along with real garbage like kitchen waste.  Everything else was stored and packed away in case I could use it for something instead of spending money.

It wasn’t just my stuff I collected!  When helping a friend move, they usually had things that they didn’t want to take with them.  I’d accept this stuff – toaster oven, lamps, a chair, books, etc.

Lots of stuff was from my grandfather’s house that I took after he died.  Looking back, I know that I took way too much from that house.  Furniture mostly.  We hired someone to clear out the house prior to sale, and I could have left more there for them to deal with.  But the stuff reminded me of growing up and visiting the grandparent’s house.  It was the first death of a family member I experienced as an adult, and the grief seemed easier to bear with their possessions near me.

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