My father is a hoarder. Shh! He doesn’t know, but he makes Fred Sanford look like a neat freak. Everyone but my dad knows he is a hoarder, but he prefers “collector,” or better yet, “antiques dealer.” You might think that this means his house is full from floor to ceiling with boxes, papers, knick-knacks, and miscellaneous junk. And you would be right, but I will get to that another day. What you might not think about is how this behavior affects the refrigerator and thus, you.
The day I cleaned out my parents’ refrigerator, I found nine jars of mustard. That’s right, nine. Now, off the top of your head, how many jars of mustard are in your fridge right now? My guess is one, maybe even two. But nine? And those nine jars were just a sampling of the approximately fifty different jars and bottles of condiments that take up most of the space in the fridge. As kids, it never seemed like we had real food in the house. But the condiments, well, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that condiments have at times played a starring role in my nightmares.
As a kid, I envied my cousins, who used to love eating mayonnaise sandwiches. If only I could have enjoyed mayonnaise sandwiches, I would have been all set, because mayonnaise, we had. I would’ve had a virtual smorgasbord as a kid. I mean, I could have had ketchup, mustard, relish (at least three different varieties), borscht (whatever that is), any number of salad dressings, mayonnaise, butter, Worcestershire sauce, barbecue sauce, and even honey mustard on my bread. But no, I was not a fan of condiment sandwiches. In fact, I hate most condiments. Judging from the collection he has amassed, however, I can only assume that my Dad adores them.
In fact, he seems to love just about everything judging from the things he keeps around. He doesn’t like to let go of anything without careful consideration. Inside of my parents’ house, there are countless pieces of jewelry, picture frames, lampshades, glass dishes, trinkets, knickknacks, and any other sort of “thing” you can think of. There are entire plastic bins filled with costume jewelry sitting on tables in the basement. This upside to this is that it’s sometimes fun to go “shopping” in the house. My dad gives me things if I ask for them, and my mom begs me to take more. I have learned to ignore the price tags that are attached to various lamps, paintings and mantelpiece décor. I have learned, in fact, to ignore a lot of things because sometimes there is just not enough room in my brain to process it all.
On the flip side, I struggle with “daughter of obsessive-compulsive collector” tendencies to amass things. In defiance of that behavior, I often imagine myself as a woman who has beaten the odds and manages to have it all together. In this fantasy I am a well-dressed fashionista, breezing gracefully through my morning with a sleek black coat and coffee in hand as I leave my white-glove-ready house for work. Everything is checked off of my to-do list, and my husband sleeps the early morning hours away as my smiling children trail me to the car on the way to school (early, of course). I am a walking commercial for Pottery Barn. This is all based on my carefully honed ability to be able to find everything in my life when I need it.
Rude awakening to the real me, who is usually running back into the house at 7:15 AM (late, of course) while my teenage-angsty kids sit in the car and sigh because I have, yet again, forgotten something. The sink is full of dishes, the coffee sloshing and splashing out of the cup and onto the carpet, and my nowhere near Godly husband is (I am sure) quietly praying for us to just leave so that he can get back to sleep before his real alarm clock goes off. There is food on the counter where the dog can’t reach high enough to lick it off (even though I’d be okay with that because at least it would look clean), and we’re going to be just in the nick of time, yet again. Oh, and my sleek black coat is covered in enough cat hair to make a wig (or at least a mustache) for the Sphinx.
The image that the truly together woman looks like a model from a Michael Kors advertisement instead of some vertically challenged 30-something wearing bits of breakfast here and there can be disheartening at times. And even though I like myself just fine, I’ll admit, there are parts of my life and my house that need to be decluttered.
And as much as I love the man, I’m terrified of becoming my father in that one most obvious way. I regularly check my fridge for signs of condiment takeover, and there are days when I can tell the bottles are gaining in number. But the fridge is just a microcosm for the rest of the house, where seemingly overnight and with very little understanding of how it got that way, the house has become overfull again. On these days it occurs to me that I am tired of paying for my stuff with my life.
Maybe you’re in the same position. You don’t know how you’ve managed to amass such a collection of boxes, papers, equipment, trinkets, and things you can’t even identify, much less classify. And maybe it all seems overwhelming. But if you have ever thought, even just for a fleeting moment, that it would be easier to just light a match to your stuff and start over, there’s a good chance you have too much. Of course arson is neither practical nor legal. Instead, you need to understand how you got here, that you are not alone, and that there are ways to slowly begin the process of regaining control over your stuff and your life.
There are countless articles available about how to get organized. There are entire stores and departments in Ikea that show you ways to spend a fortune on storage boxes and “solutions” to compartmentalize all of the crap that you currently own. This is not that kind of blog. If you are just looking to buy more stuff in order to help you to organize that stuff you already have, then close this page and head to the nearest Container Store (by the way, I could spend hours in that place).
Rather, this blog is a collection in and of itself. It is a collection of stories, of ideas, of theories and of advice that I have discovered and which I hope will help you in your quest to wrestle your life back out of the grasp of the things that have taken it over. I am no guru. I am just a person who has spent probably far too much of my life dealing with stuff. I have answered many calls for help, have spent many weekends helping people to purge, let go, laugh, and organize, and I have come to a few conclusions along that way that have enabled me to realize that I am not my stuff. And my friend, neither are you.