Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mission #3: Consolidating

Phew! It's been a busy weekend!

The utility closet and basement hallway are nicely clear and organized
now, thank you. I have taken pretty pictures and will eventually
figure out how to post them.

The next challenge I've set is to consolidate the clutter in the
family room. On Saturday the room was very cluttered and
disorganized, despite past efforts to build "box shelves," a honeycomb
of spaces where individual boxes could be stored.

Three walls in the family room have these "box shelves," each of which
is 8 feet long and at least 6 feet high. They can hold 49 boxes each,
so that means this room already has almost 150 boxes. Then there is
clutter in the middle of the floor.

I'm not aiming to clean this room, per se, but organize it so that the
clutter is neatly contained and there is room for the boxes and
clutter from the other two rooms that are effectively unusable (the
former master bedroom and the laundry room).

Tonight I bought 36 "economy" storage boxes from Staples. Based on
what I found online I was expecting to pay $2 per box. But the actual
price in the store was 6 boxes for $9.99, and when I went to leave
there was a special (buy 2 sets of boxes, get one set free). I left
the store with 36 boxes, spending just $40 (less than $1.15 a box).
Awesome. These are nicer than moving boxes because they don't require
strapping tape, the ends are double strength, and they have lids.

The link to the Staples boxes is here: http://is.gd/pZHx

Off to pack stuff into the boxes...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mission #2 Update

The utility closet is almost organized.

I've been freecycling a lot of items. It's nice, because lots of
people tend to be interested in items you typically find in a utility
closet, particularly when I post a picture I've found on the internet
so they can see what they'd be driving over to pick up.

The other nice thing about posting the pictures is that I usually find
out where I could buy the item again, if I ever needed to replace the
thing I'd given away.

On the other hand, I once read a horror story where a "packrat" was
reacquiring the "retro" kitsch from their childhood through online
sites (e.g., eBay). That was a scary story. A very scary story.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mission 2: Progress

Awesome progress in just a couple of days. The hallway is now clear,
all shelves are now mounted to walls, and the amazing abundance of
light bulbs of all shapes, sizes; both burned out and brand new, are
now consolidated into two bins on a single shelf.

I'm using a system I learned from an organizer who used to work for
Don Aslett, author of many, many cleaning books, including "Who Says
It's a Woman's Job to Clean?"

You bring up a small pile/box of stuff. Sort it into three categories:

Don't Know.

Put the "Keep" away. Put the Toss into the proper bin(s).

Go through the "Don't Know pile and sort into the above three categories.

Rinse and repeat.

On the third and final go round, you must make a decision on every
item, to either keep it or toss it.

Now off to freecycle some of my "Toss" that I don't want going to a landfill.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mission #2 - The Utility Closet

This is a space that has gone through various organizing efforts.

A few years ago it was near-impossible to find tools.

Currently we have a system.  But there are two shelves that have never been connected to the wall, and there are boxes of tools and utility items that have been left in the vicinity of the utility closet without being put away.

Mission #1 - The Game Room

I don't have a good "before" picture on this one.  Back when I took pictures of the entire house, this downstairs room was being used by my then teen aged daughter.

After she got married, the room became available for other use.  The hope was it could be a guest bedroom.  But I also decided this was a place where I could get my spouse to put his board games, which previously were tucked at random around the entire house (and attic and in shelves in other people's homes).

You'll have to take my word on this that the floor was covered with random stuff.

Now the floor is clear and games are contained in shelves along two walls and in boxes under the lower of the two "bunk" beds.

There are still several boxes in this room I need to go through at some point in the future, but at least for now they are neatly stacked to the side.


In March 2009 I'd fallen a bit off the decluttering wagon.

The obvious reason is I had three weeks worth of business trips.

Plus the "fun" part was over.  The first hundred and more Freecycle items were easily plucked from the surface of the clutter in our main living areas.  Now I would actually have to go through the rooms that have served as storage/dump areas.

Around this time a friend on another forum offered to coach a couple of folks on motivation for free in preparation for a project of his own.  I waited for a few days, then put my name on the list.

The first telecon clarified my goal.  I have other pursuits in my life, but the more I considered, the "organization" goal is the one that is most important at this time.

During that first telecon, I committed to clear out the basement bathroom and guest room.  Despite unexpected time sinks over the week, I was able to accomplish enough to claim victory.

During the second telecon, we talked about what motivates me.

It isn't usually sufficient for me to set a goal for myself in isolation.  But give me a person I care about to whom I am responsible for an outcome, and I'll do what it takes to redeem my word.

So that is the reason for this blog.  To document the process of digging out.

I don't mind if this is of use to someone else, but altruism isn't why I'm doing this.

I'm blogging my process of digging out to gain human energy from interaction with others to help see me through to the goal - a home that is not consumed by the cancer of unwanted clutter.


Now that we all had a context for the "treasure" in which we were buried, slow progress ensued.

Then a miracle occurred. Freecycle.

The Freecycle Network™ [http://www.freecycle.org/] is a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. There are thousands of Freecycle groups, each with thousands of members (over 6 million members at this time all told).

I signed up, but didn't figure out how to offer my own stuff to the local Freecycle community until December 2008.

I set myself a goal - to freecycle at least one thing for every day in 2009.

I knew that merely assigning myself to go through boxes was doomed to failure - at least it had always failed in the past.

But with a goal of freecycling items, I had an initial spurt of energy. The spouse and the kids were emotionally supportive of this, even if they didn't actively participate.

Knowing that "valuable" stuff was going to a recipient who wanted it, rather than being thrown away, made a big difference to all of us.

When I'd get the multiple e-mails from folks hopefully asking for items, it validated our feeling that the stuff had worth. We hadn't been wrong to consider it better than trash.

Then there were the items that we wouldn't want to offer, and this too helped. If I wouldn't even be willing to offer something for free, then maybe it really was trash.

We installed a hook on our front door to hold the Freecycle bags. It has been so fun. We offer an item. We select a "winner." We put the item in a bag labeled with the winner's name and place it on the hook. Then the item effectively evaporates.


Buried in Treasure

Fast forward many more months.

First, a daughter got married. She and her new husband are college students. So she and her husband were delighted to pick through our holdings to furnish her new home. We packed up a 17' U-Haul with enough furniture to fill their two-bedroom apartment.

A challenge my spouse had experienced previously when asked to part with belongings was his emotional attachment to the items. But since the items going with our daughter were still "in the family," he didn't mind as much.

We were still buried in masses of stuff, however.

Then I came across the book "Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding." [http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0195300580/bookstorenow79-20]

The spouse did not share my enthusiasm about this new book as I read passages aloud to my visiting daughter and my younger children. When it got to the "quiz" to determine the particular factors contributing to having too much stuff, my spouse was at least willing to give his
answers as well.

To my surprise I learned that all three of us who were adults (me, my spouse, and our married daughter) had factors that contribute to accumulating more than we discard.

For my daughter, it is her love of free or bargain acquisitions.

For me, it is my belief that I will get around to fixing things.

For my spouse it is a love of collecting combined with concern about adding to landfills and avoidance of the resulting clutter in our own home.

By the end of the book, my spouse's resistance to discussion of clutter was (mostly) gone.

I've seen worse

Within minutes, maybe seconds, of entering the doctor's office, the OCHD diagnosis was confirmed.

Curse ADD.  My spouse had merely not paid attention during the previous visit.

I handed the doctor the stack of picture cards, showing the state of affairs.  The doctor flipped through them and stated, "I've seen worse."

The important thing about the visit, though, was that my spouse finally accepted he had a problem.  I had not been making this up.

However, we still faced the challenge of what to do to overcome the challenge.

I no longer faced hostility when I talked about the OCHD.  But my spouse was essentially passive.  He neither attempted to face the mass of clutter, not did he significantly curb his accumulation of items.

"Why are you obsessing about OCHD?"

Several months went by after the diagnosis.  Nothing much changed, and the spouse was resistant to any attempt I made to research or discuss the matter.

It came to a head when I printed out the article about the Collyer brothers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collyer_brothers).  The Collyers were two eccentric brothers who were famously found dead in 1947.  Their formerly upscale Harlem brownstone was filled with tons of junk they had hoarded.

"Stop it!" my spouse demanded.  So I did.

The medicine helped my spouse with his previously undiagnosed depression, though with the typical side effects.

But the nature of OCHD is to accumulate more than is discarded.  Mere medication does not magically make a hoarder start dejunking.

Six months went by.  Then I saw a note on a community bulletin board about a group meeting for those suffering from OCHD.  I called the contact lady and told my spouse we were going.

After meeting with the support group, the spouse again asked, "Why are you obsessing about OCHD?"  Turned out he had not heard the doctor pronounce this as a diagnosis, despite the fact that the discussion of OCHD had occupied more than half of the therapy appointment.

That's also when I learned there had not been any visits to the therapist in the six months since that time.

Cursing lost time and frustrated, I went through the house and documented the state of our spaces with a digital camera.  I printed the pictures and mounted them on cards.

My spouse willingly made another appointment with the doctor, for a time when I could also attend.  But he still thought I was wrong about the OCHD diagnosis.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

So that's what's been going on...

I love my spouse. But as the years passed, I became ever more frustrated with the number of boxes that moved with us. These were boxes that contained all manner of magazines and books and knick-knacks and junk mail.

"Honey," I would say, having identified a box that seemed full of particularly useless stuff. "Could you go through this box?"

"Do we have to do this now?" was the predictable response.

Over the years new boxes were added - boxes full of our own mail and papers, swept into boxes when company was coming over or we were clearing a room for a project. I knew nothing had been thrown away, but these items became lost in the mountain of unlabeled boxes shoved into rooms at random.

About a decade into our marriage, the possibility of ADD arose. The spouse began getting both therapeutic and medicinal help for this, but little changed.

Then came a session my spouse had asked me to attend (he expressed difficulty knowing whether the medication was making any difference). I was hot about the situation and told the doctor all about what life was like at home.

"Sounds like we may be dealing with OCHD." And the doctor proceeded to explain Obsessive Compulsive Hoarding Disorder.

Since the spouse was also apparently suffering from depression, an anti-depressant was prescribed and we went home.