Bookcases with broken backs, bed frames where every support slat had been pulled out, uncovered mattresses coated in at least a decade of dust, high school homework from kids who graduated more than eight years ago, melted candles (after numerous summers in outside storage), bills from 2009, dot matrix printer paper and floppy disks. These are all things I’ve paid money to store. For years.
On Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I and some of our adult kids emptied out our storage unit — the one we’ve had for so long I can’t remember when we got it. We took five trailer loads to the dump and two to Deseret Industries (mostly books).
I found cute baby boy and girl clothes that I kept because I had this fantasy that my kids would want them for their kids. My youngest son turns 23 this month. My youngest daughter is 8. As it turns out, styles change in more than 20 years and my kids who are parents are not that interested in clothes from 2000 or earlier. Go figure. Also, I found out that elastic gets brittle after 20-plus years, making pants and socks useless anyway. For our youngest daughter, I forgot that we had stored baby girl clothes in the storage unit and we bought new items for her. Sigh.
After years of paying for a storage unit, why clean it out now? Well, I’ve been binge-watching the show “Hoarders” and it has been both terrifying and motivating.
Each show begins with the disclaimer that “Compulsive hoarding is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous or unsanitary.” Up to 19 million Americans have hoarding disorder, says the show.
The National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization, now the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, developed a five-level scale to define the seriousness of the hoarding. Level 1 has few visible indicators because the hoard can be kept out of sight, but the person who is a Level 1 hoarder has trouble throwing away items and may do a lot of shopping for things that are not really needed. Level 2 has noticeable piles, with at least one blocked exit, the clutter is starting to spill into the walkways and the hoarder is embarrassed to have visitors over. Level 3 involves so much stuff the walkways are narrowed, the home smells and the hoarder typically has poor personal hygiene. Level 4 has homes with structural damage, sewage issues and rooms that cannot be used. And with Level 5, there are clear fire hazards, no electricity or water, and accumulated human waste.
I may not qualify as a hoarder, but I definitely don’t declutter as often as I should. Why? There are a number of reasons, I’m sure. My ADHD means it’s easier to stick stuff in a box and forget about it rather than deal with it. We still have a lot of people living in our home. I’m busy. Sometimes, I have strong emotional attachments to things. When our daughter Angelia died, I held on to her blanket for 10 years before I could donate it. Ten. Years. My husband hangs on to things because his mom grew up in poverty and she held on to things, just in case. You just never know when you might need to reuse bread ties. It took me 20 years to convince Greg that the computer programming books that were current in the 1980s were just no longer relevant.
We kept what?!
I asked some of my friends what they were holding onto that they could let go of, and you know what I learned? We all hold onto stuff. Here are some of their answers: broken skates, rocks, old check registers from more than a decade ago, old Playstation games, hand sanitizer bottles, teeth (baby and wisdom), socks without a mate, old magazines, dried up paint, scrapbook stuff we paid a fortune for in the ’90s and haven’t touched since, the first training bra, a candy wrapper from a fun trip, floppy discs, stained clothes and a 33-year-old strawberry basket.
Radio talk show host Debbie Dujanovic shared her story about detaching from greeting cards.
I’m 56 years old and hauled around boxes of cards from my toddler years on up until last summer. I’ve moved at least 13 times and each time unopened plastic containers of well wishes went with me. It sounds ridiculous, but I felt guilty parting with them. Thanks to a conversation I had with Amy Donaldson Brass last summer I dumped the guilt, and thankfully most of the cards. ... I sat down with stacks of birthday, Christmas, graduation cards and went through each one. I kept some — the ones with kind words of encouragement or those from family members and close friends who have had a positive impact on my life. I donated the remainder, boxes of them, to a recycle bin.
At least two other friends have kept cards for decades — one of them more than 60 years. Uh oh. Looks like I have another decluttering project to tackle ...
Stay tuned for Part 2 on what to keep.
Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy.