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How can I become an un-hoarder?
Old 11-22-2010, 10:59 PM   #1
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How can I become an un-hoarder?

Confession: I have been a hoarder all my life. My mom is a hoarder, my grandma was a hoarder, and it runs in my genes. Earlier this year, I realized I was unable to throw away anything, I mean ANYTHING. Plastic bags, pen caps, you name it.

To make things worse, I am also married to a hoarder who is worse than me. We got into a "discussion" yesterday about whether we should recycle his hand-written notes from graduate school, which he had not looked at in 8 years. After unsuccessfully lobbying for recycling them, I gave in and we're keeping them in a box for probably another 20 years. We also live in a townhome but have a full set of gardening tools and a garden hose b/c we can never get rid of them.

But it really feels like a huge burden to have so much stuff! My basement is filled with things I might use but probably will never. I know it's a natural part of LBYM, but I need help!

I think my question is two-pronged:

1. What criteria do you use to decide what to keep and what to get rid of? Haven't used in the last 1, 3, 5, 10 years? Don't anticipate using in the next X years?

2. If you are married to a hoarder, what can you do to try to convince your spouse to de-clutter? Or, how do you reach some kind of compromise? (e.g. your room is yours to clutter up, but don't pile junk in the common space?)

--Pulling my hair out in frustration
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Old 11-22-2010, 11:07 PM   #2
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I'm not a hoarder, as far as I can tell. I tend to box everything up that I'm not using regularly, and mark the box with the date, and a 'Dispose of' date a year or two in the future. A few things, like supporting documents for tax returns, get a dispose date several years out.

If I haven't opened the box by the dispose date, then out it goes. If I didn't need whatever's in there by the dispose date, I don't need it at all. It gives me a hard line to follow, so I'm not tempted to peek and second-guess myself.
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Old 11-22-2010, 11:59 PM   #3
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I’ll confess that recently I met a woman in a ten minute line during intermission. She made an off-hand comment, and I told her something about myself. She introduced herself as a psychiatrist. I’ve talked casually to other psychiatrists I knew from work and socially but she was the first to really zero in on a problem of mine. Find someone who is easy to talk to. That’s my first suggestion.

Hire a professional clutter buster (or whatever they call themselves) to help you sort thru the stuff. In the long run, it may be frugal.

You call yourself “Good Sense” which is very positive. Concentrate on your positive qualities and this one could get me banned : turn off the computer and get at it, it is a real life problem.

Bty, I know two hoarders very well, one is a former friend who inherited stuff that overcrowded her apt.; the other inherited stuff and said she would just absorb it into her house. They both talked for years about the stuff; the second says she is now dealing with it. Maybe they needed to work thru the grief or some other issue first. Good luck, Good Sense.
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Old 11-23-2010, 12:35 AM   #4
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I guess I've never been a hoarder in the same class as you, but I used to hang on to things I think I might use someday or might want to, especially tools and hobby supplies. Moving it around to new apartment homes two or three times without using it really helped me lose the desire to hang onto things. Getting financially in shape has helped a lot, too. It's more annoying to have crap in my way that I could easily buy if I actually need it in the future.

My first difficult dejunking was getting rid of old computer stuff, especially my original Apple II equipment. Finally did it and never missed it.

The most difficulty I've had so far is getting rid of a bunch of photography equipment. I had collected a few cameras, mostly 35mm but a couple of medium format cameras. I think I sold one body and one lens at a garage sale, then with great difficulty decided to just give the rest away. I really struggled with that, but I rarely even use my digital camera now that I have the phone cam on me at all times. What was even harder is that my sister volunteered to take them with her because she was giving stuff away, but apparently she let the kids play with a couple of the cameras, so I'd see them at her house later. I got over it quickly, though, and don't miss them at all. In fact it's nice to have the room freed up.

I think my biggest future challenge is my grandmother's art. We have quite a few paintings, some painted "greenware" and some other art stuff. It's not bad, but it's not of interest outside the family, and none of us are art-on-the-wall folks. So far there are a few boxes of the stuff kicking around amongst us kids, but I know sooner or later we're going to have to pare it down. It will be rough I'm sure.

I don't have a firm rule, but I'm thinking if I haven't touched it in a year or two, then it's probably time to throw it out.
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Old 11-23-2010, 12:49 AM   #5
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The most difficulty I've had so far is getting rid of a bunch of photography equipment. I had collected a few cameras, mostly 35mm but a couple of medium format cameras. I think I sold one body and one lens at a garage sale, then with great difficulty decided to just give the rest away. I really struggled with that, but I rarely even use my digital camera now that I have the phone cam on me at all times. What was even harder is that my sister volunteered to take them with her because she was giving stuff away, but apparently she let the kids play with a couple of the cameras, so I'd see them at her house later. I got over it quickly, though, and don't miss them at all. In fact it's nice to have the room freed up.
I still have my film camera and lenses, too! It didn't even cross my mind that I would probably never, ever use them again.

I also paint, and if I ever have kids, what to do with my paintings will be something my children and grandchildren will have to deal with! Hmmm. On second thought, maybe I should destroy them first so none of them would have to make the difficult decision to.
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Old 11-23-2010, 12:51 AM   #6
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turn off the computer and get at it, it is a real life problem.
Touche! I know I waste too much time online. It's just infinitely more fun than going through boxes in my basement!

P.S. Good idea on the professional clutter buster! I didn't even know they exist. First though, I need to convince DH that we have a problem...
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Old 11-23-2010, 05:47 AM   #7
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Perhaps if you sell some of your accumulated stuff on ebay the sting of letting go will be softened by a bit of coin in your pocket.
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Old 11-23-2010, 06:50 AM   #8
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It sounds like there is a spectrum of irrational hoarding from keeping old computers/cameras to starring on a TV show. It strikes me that it needs to be dealt with if it begins to affect your life. Once you find yourself worrying about it it is affecting your life. I like the suggestion to consult a clutter buster. If that doesn't work (or if DW fights the change) you should consider therapy. The worry is that it might escalate into TV show levels.
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Old 11-23-2010, 08:00 AM   #9
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We cleaned out my mothers house when she died. There were cabinets full of plastic tubs and take home boxes from the deli. This convinced us to try and clean out some of our stuff.

For me, it is a combination of decisions. What did I pay for the item? What would it cost me to replace it. Does it get in the way? Would it be easier to find the things I am looking for if all this other junk was not in the way? When was the last time we used it?

I go buy far more things because I can't find the one I think I have than I ever buy to replace something I threw away, and, about once a year I go through the house and clean out 'my stuff'. I have no problem throwing away things I got for free and have not used in a year.
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Old 11-23-2010, 08:09 AM   #10
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I guess the first step is to recognize that it is a psychological problem and not a "space" or "clutter" problem. That for whatever reason, you are hanging on to things that you don't need. Your example of the grad school notes is a good one--why does DH want to keep them? This isn't a thing that can be looked at logically (though that is my first impulse), but rather to investigate the underlying emotions that make him (and you, to a lesser extent) so attached to these items or talismans.
This would be good work to devote time to. And reminds me that I have such, to revisit and perhaps misuse CFB's famous phrase, HAIRBALLS of my own with which to contend.
Good luck with this; unfortunately it is likely to get worse if not addressed, just through sheer accumulation over the years.
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Old 11-23-2010, 08:11 AM   #11
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I still have my film camera and lenses, too! It didn't even cross my mind that I would probably never, ever use them again.
See if your local high school or community college would want them for their photography classes. We had to dig out our old SLR for my daughter just last year. After a quick run through in manual mode, I verified that the shutter seemed to change speeds (based on the sound 'chik--------chuk' at 1/15, 'chik----chuk' at 1/30, 'chik--chuk at 1/60, etc). Then I 'invested' in a new battery and the meter and auto modes all worked too. Hmmm, now that she's done, with the class, maybe we should donate them?

I'm a pack-rat (I had that camera, right?), and I am starting to get enough stuff in the basement and one room and a few closets to be a problem. So I am somewhat motivated to do something. Here are my problems ( and some partially successful solutions):

1) (paraphrasing GoodSense) - Just about anything is just infinitely more fun than going through boxes in my basement!

--- take out a few half-hour times to do it each week - small doses.

2) I really do occasionally use some this old stuff. I am a DIY guy, I enjoy fixing something and getting it working again, and lots of times, these parts I save are just what I need.

--- it helps to pull everything out and sort it, I don't need ten of something, but maybe two is OK. This takes time though.

3) I'm trying to go through stacks of old magazines. It takes forever. I did a quick sweep and got rid of half of them pretty quick, but then I see an article and I think, cool- it would be interesting to read the perspective on that subject from 10 years ago. But it takes me forever.

--- gotta just keep plugging away.

4) DW is no help. I cleaned out one corner of the basement this week to sort/organize and throw out a few things, and make room for the refridge that we moved down there when we got a new one a few months back. One cheap little kids play table was in the way - when I asked if we can toss this, I got "We kept it this long - why throw it out now?" Arghhhh, I say that's no reason to keep it, but she just gets mad. I can see keeping quality stuff to hand down, but not this. Oh well, I stacked it in such a way that it holds other things up, not really in the way. But it is still 'stuff'.


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I also paint, and if I ever have kids, what to do with my paintings will be something my children and grandchildren will have to deal with! Hmmm. On second thought, maybe I should destroy them first so none of them would have to make the difficult decision to.
I've decided not to worry too much about this. It might seem 'mean' to say 'let the kids deal with it', but they won't have nay attachment to my old magazines and no need for my old pieces of metal and wires and switches and wood scraps - it will be easy for them to throw them in a dumpster, and that doesn't bother me one bit.

Paintings might be different - see if anyone wants them now - it would be nice to see others to enjoy them now while you are around. And, if no one really wants them now, might as well get rid of them, right?

-ERD50
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Old 11-23-2010, 09:42 AM   #12
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In my opinion, it is a lot easier for most of us to develop a "blindness" towards all the junk than it is to do the work to get rid of it. I have found that many of us (including me) will go to incredible lengths to delay taking care of the problem. I know I will think of any excuse imaginable.

When I feel like enough is enough, I tell myself to grow up and deal with it. I have to get tough with myself. I am an adult and it is my responsibility to get rid of stuff when too much accumulates. NO MORE EXCUSES.

A few of the myriad of excuses for hoarding that I have used: (if you find yourself thinking these while decluttering, get ruthless with yourself!!)

"That might come in handy some day"
"That is probably worth a fortune, or will be some day."
"So-and-so will probably want that. I should keep it for him/her."
"I might need those clothes if/when I lose (or gain) 4 sizes again."
"It was a gift. I should keep it, even though I really don't like it."

I have done some MAJOR decluttering while fixing up my home, and you know what? I don't miss all that stuff one bit. There is less to clean, and I finally have tons of closet space and space in cabinets and drawers.

Put a box by the front door for donations and try to fill it every single day and take it to GoodWill. Start by taking the gardening tools and hose to GoodWill this week. Try to put at least one extra trash bag out each week that is full of the stuff that isn't good enough for GoodWill. Find out the best way to donate books to your local library (ours has one location that accepts donations, and provides a cart for large donations two days a week, for example).

Think of yourself as someone who doesn't like to be a couch potato, and who when bored will clean out a closet or a cupboard. Imagine what it would be like for your loved ones if you should die of a heart attack, and they had to get a dumpster and ten men with shovels to clean out your place. I know I really don't want to do that to anybody.
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Old 11-23-2010, 09:56 AM   #13
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I guess the first step is to recognize that it is a psychological problem and not a "space" or "clutter" problem. That for whatever reason, you are hanging on to things that you don't need.
GoodSense,
This is the correct answer. Find a physiologist to speak with about your actions; especially since your spouse is one also. As it seems there are many hoarders out there so, the diagnosis and treatment should be easier for the counselor.
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Old 11-23-2010, 11:40 AM   #14
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I'm not a hoarder, and rarely keep things only for sentimental reasons, so I will only throw out a couple things that help me when I do get tempted to keep something I probably don't really want to keep.

1 - For stuff that's still useful, ask yourself who's going to use it first - you, or someone else out there who would be thrilled to come across it? To me, the camera stuff sounds like it would fit in this category. If you love your stuff and don't want it to go to waste, let it find someone who will actually use it.

2 - A psychological argument for keeping things cleaned out is that if your physical and mental space is so full of stuff from your past, there's no room for new things to come in. I like the idea of continually looking forward and having room in my life for new interests and ideas and activities.

Also, for those who are ok with kids or whoever tossing things out after you're gone, I hope you're saying that out loud to them now. They might think you're attached to that stuff and feel bad about getting rid of it.
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Old 11-23-2010, 12:21 PM   #15
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I survive my "hoarder" tendencies in two ways:

1. If excess things aren't actually hindering my enjoyment of life by literally being in the way all the time, I don't worry about them too much, even if unused. When I croak DW and/or the kids can order a gondola and a couple of day laborers to haul out the contents of my shop, hobby room, etc. and toss them. The total cost of that vs. me selling stuff now might be a few kilobucks. So what? But I do have some situations where stuff is actually keeping me from doing things I want to do and I have to go to step #2.

2. Sell. Especially for my excess hobby items, this seems to be a solution. When I happen across an item I picked up years ago as a project and never got to it, I'll post it on Craig's List or a hobby related web site. Stuff has been selling easily, probably due to my bargain pricing. I keep the cash in an envelope and buy myself something more useful. Example: sell 4 older 2-way radios that need some refurbishing. Buy one DVD player for the camper. I've felt so good about stuff, which had become value-less to me, turning into something immediately useful, it's kept me at it. The pile has actually grown smaller.
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Old 11-23-2010, 12:45 PM   #16
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GoodSense,
This is the correct answer. Find a physiologist to speak with about your actions; especially since your spouse is one also. As it seems there are many hoarders out there so, the diagnosis and treatment should be easier for the counselor.
Hmm...here's a different "correct" answer.

Each of you put your own stuff you know you should get rid of into a pile, so you end up with 2 piles. Then put the other one in charge of getting rid of your pile. If they look at the stuff you have and can't see any reason to keep it, they can slowly recycle/throw away/sell what you have without you having to do it. It's much easier to get rid of someone else's trash than your own. And often you never even notice it's gone.

I have actually done this with DW. I'm not really a hoarder, but there were things I just wasn't getting rid of, and her too. Sometime over the last 3 years my old Dungeons and Dragons stuff has disappeared, along with old textbooks and notebooks from classes I took when I was w*rking. On my part, I got rid of her old gardening books and magazines, as well as things like out-of-style handbags and chotzkies that have no real purpose.

Another thing to think of, is "if I get rid of this and it turns out I wish I hadn't, can I afford to buy it again?" If so, get rid of it and 95 times out of 100 you'll never re-buy it. Also, old tech and software should be easy to get rid of.

If you can't even get rid of each other's stuff, then I think Dex has a good suggestion, although I'd recommend a therapist instead of someone who studies the functions of living systems.
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Old 11-23-2010, 12:50 PM   #17
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I inherited the hoarding gene from my parents. But DW has helped me get rid of stuff (and I have helped her with her own hoarding issues!). Having kids helped also since we had to clean up junk for their newly acquired junk.

Maybe make a goal to fill up 2 large trashbags every week. Just set aside a couple hours each week. We have a big 96 gallon city trashcan that gets emptied weekly. That is usually a good couple of hours to fill it up with old files, papers, worthless toys and office junk, etc.

The biggest decision factors in the retain/discard decision is the replacement cost and the probability of using/needing something in the next couple years.

Think of it as a matrix:
High cost, high probability - retain the item
low cost, high probability - maybe retain if storage isn't onerous (small items)
high cost, low probability - sell it or gift it
low cost, low probability - gift it or trash it

This thread reminds me I need to purge some more junk.
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Old 11-23-2010, 12:51 PM   #18
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I do have some hoarding tendencies. Keeping a pen cap because it can be functional. Keeping around old receipts that I'll probably never need. For me, making donations to Goodwill helps as I make it a routine to donate stuff during the year. Goodwill and Itsdeductible, a win-win situation.
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Old 11-23-2010, 12:53 PM   #19
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I'm not really a hoarder, but there were things I just wasn't getting rid of, and her too.
That is probably why what you did worked for you.

GoodSense described herself as a hoarder and living with one worse than herself.

I think we need to acknowledge that self knowledge and assessment of the situation.

More importantly, while we all would like to have the solution to the OP we need to acknowledge the limitation of what can be contributed on a forum.

In reading your post it could be construed as blaming the victim and minimizing the condition down to the lack of simple logical thinking, evaluation and action. This is not much different than saying to an alcoholic looking for help, you do not have a disease; all you have to do is to stop drinking - without any help or support - it is your choice.
If GoodSense and her husband do have an OCD there is counseling and drugs that can help.


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Confession: I have been a hoarder all my life. My mom is a hoarder, my grandma was a hoarder, and it runs in my genes. Earlier this year, I realized I was unable to throw away anything, I mean ANYTHING. Plastic bags, pen caps, you name it.

To make things worse, I am also married to a hoarder who is worse than me.




Hoarding - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hoarding as a human behavior falls in to two main categories. One type of hoarding is triggered as a response to perceived or predicted shortages of specific goods. Compulsive hoarding, on the other hand, is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary. The compulsive collection and ownership of pets is known as animal hoarding. Compulsive hoarding is thought to fall along the spectrum of obsessive-compulsive disorders.
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Old 11-23-2010, 12:55 PM   #20
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To make things worse, I am also married to a hoarder who is worse than me. We got into a "discussion" yesterday about whether we should recycle his hand-written notes from graduate school, which he had not looked at in 8 years. After unsuccessfully lobbying for recycling them, I gave in and we're keeping them in a box for probably another 20 years.
Oh yeah, I forgot. On this particular point, tell DH that if he REALLY needs to keep these notes he has to scan them into the computer and get rid of the paper. Give him a time limit (say, by the end of winter). Pretty much anything paper-based that is not necessary is fair game for this method. You'll be surprised at how much stuff you you can live without if keeping it requires time and effort instead of just piling it up.
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