Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Can Hoarders and Purgers live in harmony?

I am a Purger. I like to live as clutter-free as I possibly can, even though I have three boys who seemed to have come forth from the womb with closets full of stuff. Every few months, I start getting an itch to clean out closets, the garage, the kitchen cabinets, the bathroom cabinets, etc. Nothing in the world makes me happier than to see the floor in rooms, in closets, and the garage.

I, however, married a Hoarder. From a long line of Hoarders.

My husband likes to keep every last little thing, in the hopes that one day it will be useful again, or because so and so gave it to him. Using that incredible logic, our once near empty house now has closets and a garage busting at the seams. There is crap everywhere, in all kinds of disarray, without rhyme or reason.

While this used to drive me insane when we first got married, I have learned to respect his need to keep stuff. That is not to say that I don't hold on to some mementos of my own; my wedding dress, cards and letters from my sweetheart, my children's artwork from preschool (which, by the way, makes a lovely bathroom display). But I don't keep everything.

In order to illustrate this meeting (and marrying) of extremes, in one of my purging frenzies when John and I had been married just about six months, I decided to clean out the downstairs closet. In the enormous amount of stuff that was in there, I found a full trash bag. I was on my way out to the garbage can to dump it when my husband starts running after me, desperately waving his hands and yelling at me to stop. The prized contents of that black trash bag was his CD box collection (that someday would be worth a lot of money, if he could only part with it). I looked at him in disbelief and compromised that he could keep part of it: the part that fit into a cardboard box.

Crisis averted, but not for long. You see, my husband collects a lot of stuff. I think that particular bit of information should have been disclosed prior to the priest officiating over our wedding vows, but it is a little late now. Somehow, keeping something like his Calculus notebook from high school brings him some kind of joy.

I often wonder if he has kept me as long as he has because he REALLY loves me, or if he just can't bring himself to walk away...I don't want to find out, though.

He has gotten better over the course of fourteen years. Compromise has reigned supreme. And we have been respectful of each other. There are times I turn a blind eye. And to his credit, John has adjusted well to the twice a year "this house is a mess" purge.

But sometimes, the need to purge is just too great. There is so much stuff, and not enough places to keep it, and keep it organized. Many friends over the years have suggested that I just dump the loot when he is at work. "He'll never know," they have stated. But I would know. I wouldn't want my things tossed in the trash without a tearful good bye from me. I respect his need to keep what he likes. But everything has their limit. And our house has reached its capacity limit.

And there are too many people. It seems that much like green eyes, intelligence and allergies, my children have inherited the hoarding gene too. When you have three of a kind, the natural thing to do is to save clothing, toys, and books along with big ticket baby paraphernalia. But Joshua is three. The hardest thing I have ever done is give away the double stroller, all the teensy baby clothes that I had kept for so long. But I did it. To make room for the new, the now, the present.

My project this summer is to move Matthew into his own room, dismantle the guest room into a playroom/boy cave, and redesign the room that Andrew and Joshua will now share by themselves. That takes a lot of clearing out and getting rid of stuff. Matthew started trembling at the sound of cleaning out three weeks ago.

"But what will happen to all the old stuff?" he asked.

I explained that what toys were appropriate and in good condition would be donated to Joshua's school, the remainder in good condition would go to Goodwill, the rest, the trash.

He didn't seem too convinced. Just like Daddy.

And then I explained that in life, there are times when we need to discard the stuff that is not useful and keeps us from improving our lives. Bad habits, like eating junky food and sitting on the couch, should be tossed. Eating healthy foods and engaging in exercise should replace the bad. "Mommy is trying to be healthy. She is getting up early to go to an early exercise class to lose some weight and be strong, " I said.

I think that got his attention. Just like Daddy.

Of course, there are things that should never be discarded. The kindness of others. The elders in a family, with their stories, wisdom and love. Photographs and letters. Priceless heirlooms that help define where a family has been, has chronicled their evolution from the past into the present and into the future.

I think that is John's hesitation. He thinks that by keeping everything, perhaps we can make time stand still and keep our boys at the delicious age they are at. That we can keep ourselves from aging too much. That by eliminating some of the stuff, somehow, the precious stuff will be lost too.

But I like to think that we will have all the memories our hearts can hold, that photographs can document, that video can help us reminisce. We will have each other; he and I, our children, their wives, someday; their children.

In the meantime, the clutter will ebb and flow. He will slowly hoard and I will gently purge. To make room for the new, to make room for the truly special. For the here and now.

And really, to keep us from having mountains of junk inside and outside of our house, covered in blue tarp and with cameras rolling to capture for all of the States to see as it is all put on display.

'Cause, at the rate we are going, we are about five years from that...


  1. oh man, do i get what your talking about here! my hubs isn't too least what he hoards, he keeps in the barn and i don't have to look at it. it's my daughter who's the worst one. i pretty much weed out her stuff 2 times a year. once before her birthday and once before christmas. i foresee a tlc special on her one day in her future unless i can run some serious ocd hoarding intervention!

  2. There is nothing quite as cathartic as a good purge. I did a closet purge a few weeks ago and felt so accomplished afterwards!


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