Tag Archives: space

moving to the country

Last night amid the bad television selections available, I paused on a British series “Escape to the Country” where an older couple were selling one partner’s London home and combining their possessions for the first time in a move to the country. I hadn’t read the episode description until just now, and the word hoarder was never mentioned during the program, but I recognized the hoarder in the mix from the start. Each time the couple saw a home that suited, the Hoarder began mentally taking over the spaces meant for his partner’s television room. It went a bit like this:

Agent: “And here is a perfect room for your television, Michael.”

Hoarder: “Wait, this would be great for my opera collection.”

Michael: “You already said the upstairs room would be fine for your opera collection.”

Hoarder: “But I like this space, too.”

Ugh. I think I just vomited a little. Every time the Hoarder admired the amount of counter space in the kitchen, I knew exactly what he was thinking.

In the end the couple settled for an old barn that had a wing for each partner and about five bedrooms that could be used for storage. I’m almost certain that the Hoarder will take over his partner’s wing and then some. 

permission to accumulate

Yesterday we finalized an application on a new place to live: this time it is unfurnished and unequipped. We’ve already struck a deal with the owner to purchase his refrigerator, washing machine, microwave oven and kettle. In our current rental everything has been provided except for linens. That means in the last six months I have only purchased some bedding, kiddy plates, measuring cups, spatulas, a meat thermometer and a cupcake tin. We are moving in three weeks and D. has given me the green light to shop.

After spending the last 16 months in declutter mode, this responsibility is daunting. We want to keep things minimal in case we move again in six months, but at the same time we finally get to make things the way we like them. Do we buy only cheap things, throw our mattresses on the floor, forego a kitchen table and wait to see if we will ship some furniture over from the States? Or do we have an opportunity to make things the way we like them?

As I shop online (we do not have a vehicle here), I had to study the latest Ikea catalogue for options. I’m highly impressionable, and my normal response to Ikea’s marketing is, “My life would be better if my house looked like that.” Only this time, I realized these houses look unusually cluttered, cramped, and dangerously close to something not so beautiful. If one tiny little element (say that gorgeous set of cheapy vases on the make-shift mantle) is out of place, the whole room looks off-kilter. Yet, Ikea has the magic to make me believe it’s possible to have all that stuff in one small space. Look at those rows of books up so high no one can reach them. If they’re that high, though, even I won’t read them. And if I won’t read them – I don’t need them in my home. *sigh*

Maybe this little hoarder is reforming after all, but I still feel like my heart could jump out of my chest as I think about all that empty space.


postcards from the edge, of reason


I’ve been considering selling my postcard collection on Craigslist for some time now, but the thought that some personal information might get misused has always interrupted my plan. I then offered the collection to a friend who has an affinity for postcards (and probably hoarding) and she smartly declined.

I finally tackled the box a few days ago, sorting the cards into four categories: received from someone, free cards, art cards, and cards from places I’ve been. I started collecting when I was about 15 years old and stopped not too long ago. I still have a habit of visiting art exhibits and picking one or two cards of the pieces that most affected me. As I was sorting, I fairly easily tossed the “free-card” pile with the exception of two or three cards I have often displayed in my office over the past 15 years. What surprised me most about the “places I’ve been pile,” though, was the careful chronicling of my travels. Places I have long since forgotten were documented there in pictures. Some of the most generic images (i.e. “Arizona Coyote”), I tossed willingly into the recycle bin, but I ended up keeping the majority. I stumbled across a few duplicates from Paris, and yet I couldn’t let go of the second copies. I feel compelled to find them a home.

Finally, I went through some of the “received” cards and was a bit dumbfounded. Some were cards that I had written home, but many were from people I no longer remember. I had a card, for example, from someone named Anastassia, and I have no recollection of ever meeting this person. Nonetheless, the card looked vaguely familiar. It somehow remains in the “keep” pile.


In the end, because I took the time to confront the memories in the card pile, I wasn’t able to let go of the bulk. I took too much pleasure in seeing my travels plainly documented in such a compact space. I do not have all the other souvenirs, because those did go onto Craigslist. Instead, I keep a condensed box of postcards without knowing if I’ll ever look inside it again.


Among the numerous bad television shows I watch at night in search of the perfect somniferous effect is an occasional episode of Bravo’s Bethenny Ever After. As much as I realize it’s a dumb reality show, I like Bethenny. She’s honest, says what she thinks, is a bit quirky and tough but vulnerable. She also has the occasional snippet of insight that sticks with me. A couple of weeks ago she was telling her husband she doesn’t want to be the “crazy one” in the relationship. Just because he had a so-called “normal” family life doesn’t mean that he is normal or that her detachment from (his) family is abnormal.

In the episode that was on late last night, Bethenny said her OCD was kicking into high gear and she was feeling stressed about all the food her nanny haphazardly left in the refrigerator. At the same time, she declared her love of her ten or more bottles of juice on the top shelf of the fridge. While I’m skeptical of Bethenny’s understanding of OCD, she had a few insights that have stuck with me. She recognized that she was the one allowing her home to become this way and was careful not to blame anyone else’s carelessness for the clutter and stress. Then when she began her lingerie purge in her closet, she said (slightly paraphrased from memory), “I don’t understand hoarders. For me it’s about control.”

Bethenny was purging her closet to have control over her life – exerting control over her stuff, yet I have always understood that hoarders feel the same way. It’s true that the stuff can take over life and relationships, but stuff is the thing that can be (or is perceived to be) controlled. Those objects invited into the home, however piled up they become, are objects of possession that we have chosen to keep or save. Unlike people, the stuff can’t just get up and walk out on you (unless, of course, the cockroaches take over).

This is really a think-piece… but in the end, perhaps, one purges for the same reason another hoards. It’s all about having control of one’s environment even when it is dangerously out of control. Hoarding or purging are both ways of protecting self. One erases and removes to create space or distance, the other collects and crams and piles to tightly tuck themselves in.


the normalcy of stuff

I was watching bad television last night and trying to fall asleep when I noticed that the New York apartment set for this bad sitcom was unusually cluttered. There were numerous odd and interesting objects around the place like a reel-to-reel film projector, and I do not know the characters well enough to assume this has something to do with their persona. I can only guess that the set designers were trying to give an eclectic feel to the place where a young, financially struggling couple lived. Personally, I would characterize that place as comfortably cluttered. There were knickknacks everywhere and no real blank space for the eye to rest.

As I struggle to dig out of our stuff and continue to remove the nonessential items, I’ve begun to wonder how much “stuff” is normal. I understand that hoarding can be diagnosed when the things get in the way of living well and personal relationships are put at risk. But what about the rest of us who are just decorating, collecting, or too busy to put things away? [Note: I should not say “us,” since I have already proven my problem to lie deeper.] What does society have to say about a nearly empty home? Even rented serviced apartments have decorative bowls and vases and coffee-table books to make the place feel more homey.

What about you? How do you live?

anxiety of space

shelf on Oct. 3

Yesterday I looked up at our bookshelves that used to be crammed full. Each shelf is now approximately half empty. Anxiety washed over me, if only briefly, as I looked at that blank space. Although my reaction somewhat surprised me, the feeling was certainly familiar. Each time I clean off my desk, the same stress overwhelms me. Something in me begs to fill that empty space. It cannot be there. I would prefer to remove the shelves than to see them empty.

Rationally, I can see the space as a sign of progress, but that emptiness provokes a visceral reaction. I fill them up in my mind with other people’s belongings. I’m making space for someone else to live here. But while the shelves are empty, they nag at me, longing to be filled.

shelf today

My feeling towards that space is akin to vertigo. The gaping hole is drawing me in, and only things resting there can stop me from falling.



advantages to hoarding

I just emptied out the small rubbermade box that has been sitting on the floor behind me for more than a week. I also decided I could fill it with the few things I’m allowing myself to keep in storage like Grandma’s jewelry, Great-Grandma’s wooden sleigh, a tiny box my best friend from ages 8-14 bought me in New Zealand … you know, stuff.


I said it was empty, not that I got rid of the stuff.


In the box I found a letter from an old boyfriend, ostensibly written long after we had broken up (maybe 4 years later). In it he spoke about finding lasting friendship and if that were possible in any form other than marriage. His letter was bright, full of humor, misspelled words and bad grammar – exactly what I remember about him. I chose not to recycle the letter and I quickly put it in a folder that contains notes written between me and friends in the 1980s (filed in chronological order). His letter doesn’t belong there, but it was an easy place to stash it.

And that folder contained a letter I had written in 1989 to “Mr. Journal” listing the pros and cons of a potential move to Missouri so my father could marry his now wife. The witty and poorly organized writing of a 14-year-old me further cracked me up. (One of my “cons” for moving was that I would have to go to church more often. And how would I live without my boyfriend at the time who I swore I was in love with – but also my crush at the time with whom I had no real relationship.) I got a few moments of real joy by reading crap that I have saved for more than 20 years and have now placed back onto a shelf.

Add to this, a Fedex truck sighting just interrupted this blog post because I’m awaiting some important documents. I scurried down to the garage to see if a package was left (it wasn’t), and looked into the garage for the first time since some friends used it to store their belongings during a move. D. had warned me that I might be unhappy about how much junk is in the garage. He vastly underestimates my tolerance for stuff. I laughed to myself, “That’s hardly anything. The garage is half-empty.” Second advantage to the hoarder: optimism regarding space’s capacity for holding things.

south park on hoarding: did the biblical hoarder exist?



Stan’s Locker

Last night’s episode of South Park was a staged intervention of Stan’s locker hoarding problem. Although Stan was sure it wasn’t a problem, once confronted with tossing his maggot-filled sandwich and rumpled old papers, his need for therapy became clear. Through the typical South Park comedic approach, we quickly see the phenomenon of hoarding reduced to mostly bullshit (the sheep herder as animal hoarder) but sometimes to traumatic events (Mr. Mackey can’t let go of his garbage because he was molested by Woodsy Owl during his childhood).

Now that hoarding has earned all of this media, it’s game on. But what was it called twenty years ago? Does it exist in third world countries where waste is not so readily available? Could the Biblical sheep herder as hoarder, although it sounds ridiculous, have existed in the newly post-nomadic world? Hoarding clearly interferes with the modern nomad lifestyle, especially given current federal aviation security measures. And in the end, it’s the uprooting that is both the source of and the forced end to my penchant for gathering useless things. I’ve somehow created a secure space out of the webbed surrounding of my things, but I’m cutting through them now out of firm belief that uprooting myself is good for me.

I know there are people who can carry everything they need in their backpack (I’m married to one of them), but how do we get to there from here?