Tag Archives: clutter

Hoarder Confessions, part 3: The Hoarder’s Assistant

If you’ve ever tried to help anyone else clean their house out, you know how physically difficult it is, even if the person hasn’t hoarded things. From personal experience, however, I can safely say that helping a hoarder clean things out is about 3 times as physically exhausting and about twice as emotionally exhausting–for all parties!

So, if a hoarder in your life ever asks you to help them with their home, you can rely on the following road-tested guide as you work. This will keep you both less frustrated and more productive (and won’t destroy your friendship along the way)!

While They Sort, You Clean

One of the most irritating things about cleaning out a hoard is finding all the collected dust and dirt all over items, the floor, and even the walls sometimes (depending on how stacked-up the hoard is). When I’m trying to clean out my own collection of stuff, having to dust, sweep, and wipe off everything is a HUGE distraction from my real task. So, as the hoarder’s assistant, your primary task is to clean–dust surfaces, mop, sweep and/or vacuum newly exposed floor areas, wash or wipe off usable items, etc.

This takes a lot of the “cleaning” pressure off your hoarder friend so they can focus on the monumental task of sorting and purging items; it also serves as a confidence boost, as the hoarder sees progress being made. (Plus, it keeps you from having to figure out what to do with all these items which have no meaning to you–see next point.)

Don’t EVER Throw Anything Away Without Hoarder’s Permission

Speaking as a hoarder myself, this is my worst nightmare: somebody coming into my house like a tornado of cleaning power, and throwing away EVERYTHING in sight, no matter what it means to me. You might think a brutal purging spree is “just what they need to get started,” but I’m telling you, that’s a friendship-destroying move right there.

Clean and straighten to your heart’s content, but do not throw ANYTHING away until the hoarder has had a chance to check it. Something that looks worthless to you may not be worthless to them, and it will make things a lot less emotional if you just let them deal with it. One helpful tip: if you come across items that look more like garbage
(old receipts, broken/dented objects, crumpled papers with writing on them, etc), create a separate box for them so that they’re not just scattered atop more obviously keepable items. (If they’re having difficulty getting rid of even a wadded-up food wrapper or some crumpled gift wrap, however, gently encourage them to think about what use the item would have.)

Allow Breaks in the Cleaning Process

Both you and your hoarder friend will need breaks fairly often, due to physical exhaustion if nothing else. Breaks are necessary, otherwise your energy will flag early on and both of you will be sorely tempted to quit. When you take breaks, by the way, leave the room you’re working on and go somewhere cleaner, even if that means leaving the house so you’re not just sitting there surrounded by all the work you need to help with. This will refresh both of you, and make the process a lot easier.

Do Not Judge or Ridicule–Just Help and Listen

For a person who is trying to recover from hoarding, a purging process is not only physically demanding, but emotionally distressing. The hoarder can feel shame that they “let the house get this bad,” or they can spend the whole time fearing that they’ll “accidentally throw away something important.” (These are in quotes because I’ve thought these very phrases myself.) Hoarding is often a secretive, intensely private habit, and when another person becomes privy to the secret, it can leave the hoarder feeling painfully vulnerable.

As their assistant, then, you need to be as soothing and trustworthy as possible as you work alongside them. Your hoarder friend will need a lot of support and reassurance–they may need to talk out their feelings about the process, or they may even cry while working. Be there for them, facilitate the process of purging and cleaning as much as you can, and keep any negative words to yourself, since discouragement or judgment in any form can be more hurtful than you ever imagined.

If They Get Daunted, Help Them Restart–Or Find a Stopping Place

During my massive cleanouts, I tend to get daunted very easily; sometimes, I just look at the enormity of the task and want to either cry or vomit. I feel safe in guessing I’m not the only hoarder who reacts this way, either!

If your hoarder friend is getting daunted early on in the process, it’s up to you to be their cheerleader; you can keep dusting and mopping as they rest, visually demonstrating the progress you both are making, or you can stop and give them a pep talk. Keep it all positive, though–don’t shame them for this reaction, but help them conquer it!

However, if the purging process has been going for quite a while (several hours), and the hoarder is getting daunted because of mental and emotional exhaustion, it’s better to find a stopping place rather than to push them to keep working. Finish the section you’re working on together, and let that be enough–remember, this hoard wasn’t built up in a day, so it won’t be taken down in 24 hours!


When you’re helping a hoarder in your life, it will be demanding on you, but it’ll be even more demanding to them. Being a positive, encouraging, helpful hoarder’s assistant will be key to them finishing the job. Trust me, we recovering hoarders REALLY appreciate awesome people who are willing to help!

Hoarder Confessions, part 2: Help for Hoarders

As I discussed last week, hoarding is not a “weird” problem–it’s actually something that a lot more people do, and while some people are happy living with their various collections, some hoarders, like me, feel trapped by it.

I speak mainly from my own experience, having been a hoarder as long as I can remember. My main reasons for hoarding: I hate throwing away items that cost a good bit of money, even if they aren’t doing me any good anymore, because all I can see is dollars going in the trash. I also hate throwing away broken things, because all I can focus on is the waste of a good item…I end up keeping some broken things in the hope that I can somehow clean them up and fix them to work again.

However, one can only keep so many items before the collection begins to overwhelm your life. I am now in the fourth year of trying to dig out my life from amid the detritus…it’s not been an easy road, to put it mildly. But I’ve discovered a few tricks along the way that are helping me break through, and I hope this article will help fellow hoarders as well!

#1: The “Month Box”

The boxes pictured above have been the biggest help to me in deciding what to keep and what to get rid of. I call them the “month boxes.”

How It Works

The “month box” is a temporary storage place for items that need re-evaluation. Often when I’m cleaning and organizing, I become overwhelmed with the weighty task of discarding and purging items. Sometimes I’m getting rid of so much stuff that it makes me anxious. What if I’m getting rid of something I’m going to need later, just because I’m caught up in “purging?”

This fear has brought cleaning and organizing to an utter halt in the past; to ease the fear of discarding an important item, I have the “month box” set aside for items which I don’t really want to get rid of, but which I’m not sure that I need to keep. The ideal “month box” is small enough to keep it from becoming a junk storage place in its own right, but is big enough to hold a good number of items. (I’ve got two “month boxes” going at the moment, simply because one box has a couple of big, more fragile items and the other has a lot of smaller items.)

The most important thing about the “month box:” if after one month has passed, I have not touched any of the items in the box, then they can likely be safely purged.

This has helped me keep on cleaning and organizing without so much of the crippling fear of “losing something important,” and it also holds me accountable for either keeping or purging items at the end of a set time frame. (That box on the left is coming up on its month deadline here in about a week…eek, I better get moving on that!)

#2: The “Important Box”

I don’t know about other hoarders, but I do know that my house’s mess tends to “eat” important things, like medical paperwork, keys, bills, phone chargers, car registrations, spare change, appliance manuals, etc. The mess then regurgitates these items in various random places throughout the house…I kid you not, I’ve found spare change in kitchen drawers, thin appliance manuals stuffed between stray towels in the laundry room, and all sorts of weirdness.

When you’re trying to purge, these items serve as a HUGE distraction. All of a sudden, you have to shift out of “purging” gear and into “save-this-item” gear–you have to absolutely stop everything you’re doing and go find where this item is actually supposed to be. VERY ANNOYING, especially for us hoarders who have a hard enough time shifting out of “save-this-item” gear in the first place!

Thus, the “important box” is a set place where these items can live until you’re otherwise done cleaning and organizing the space you’re working on.

How It Works

As you discover important items hidden among the hoard, just stow them in the “important box,” and make sure that the box doesn’t get mixed up with other cleaning/organizing boxes. (I use a small, bright blue plastic bin as my “important box”, which stands out among the white bins and random boxes I usually use for cleaning and organizing.) Keep the “important box” close at hand, but not directly in the way of your flurries of cleaning effort.

Once you’re done cleaning and organizing for the day, it’s time to deal with the contents of the “important box.” This is imperative–if you don’t empty the box at the end of your purging, then it’s just going to attract more junk to lay on top of it. Trust me on this. Take the “important box” around the house with you, putting like items with like, until the box is empty; THEN you are officially done organizing for the time being! (For instance, put the random appliance manual near the appliance itself; put the keys near the door or in a purse as appropriate, etc.)

The “important box” keeps you from getting distracted and bogged down with one item while you’re trying to tackle a large organizing/purging project. Believe me, it works a lot better this way!

#3: The “Sorting Chair”

For me, the process of purging, cleaning, and organizing is physically exhausting, as well as mentally stressful. Not only do I feel like the purging process is about as easy as wading through quicksand, but I rarely have anywhere to sit while doing it. Usually the nearby flat surfaces, including chairs and beds, get covered with sortables in a matter of seconds. My injured joints and flat feet can’t take the strain of standing for even half an hour, and so sometimes I quit the cleaning and organizing project before I’ve even properly begun because of pain.

Thus, I have found that a simple folding chair works–I call mine the “Sorting Chair” (with a nod to the Harry Potter series, LOL).

How It Works

As you process each small section of your hoard, carrying your “month box” and “important box” along with you, have your “sorting chair” nearby, so that you can sit as needed. Sorting and purging of items can still take place while seated, since you can set a trash bag beside you and your Month Box and Important Box nearby, but at least you’re not getting as exhausted.

You wouldn’t think just a place to sit would be any help to organizing and cleaning, but it can help you regain some energy and keep you from getting tired so quickly. Cluttered collections in and of themselves are visually and emotionally daunting to tackle, so don’t give yourself any other excuses to quit. (Again, trust me on this–I’ve lived this truth often enough, sadly.)

Plus, if you’re able to stand for longer periods of time and don’t need your chair as much, it can also serve as another flat surface to work off of, whether you need to move a stack of stuff so that you can get into other areas of your house, or whether you just need a higher place to set all those magazines for a minute while you sort and purge them. (Bonus: when you’re finished with the chair for the time being, you can fold it up so it doesn’t take up extra organizing space!)

Next Time: The Hoarder’s Assistant

If a hoarder in your life has asked you to assist with their excavation project (hey, sometimes dealing with your collection is kind of like an archeological dig!), next week’s article will have tips on how to help. It’s not just a matter of holding a trash bag for them, after all!

Further Reading

WebMD: “Hoarding: More Than Just a Mess”

Hoarder Confessions, part 1: Humanizing the Cluttered Life

Hoarders–usually characterized as “packrats” by modern media–seem to be quite mythical, eccentric characters. We even have TV shows about them now (both fictional and non-fictional), which paint such people as willful clutter-gatherers, antisocial, and even crazy.

hoarding_example I, however, have a different perspective on this description of “hoarder”–because by most modern standards, I am a hoarder, and several other members of my family have been as well. (The pictured area is the hallway outside my bedroom door, just as an example.) I’ve been battling against my natural hoarding tendencies for a couple of years now, most notably seen through my Slaying the Clutter Dragon article series, but as you can see from this picture, I have a LONG way to go. What you see here is the unofficial “laundry station” in the house, a tiny bit of order balanced precariously on decades of junk.

What Exactly IS Hoarding?

According to the Wikipedia article on compulsive hoarding, it amounts to gathering and keeping objects long after their usefulness has passed, and being unable to let items go. In severe cases, it can actually keep a person from using much space in their house, turning the “livable” rooms into literal obstacle courses (I should know, my room is like this!). Hoarding is considered either a mental disorder all its own, or part of another mental disorder (usually it’s paired with OCD). (Additional information can be found on Psychiatry.org’s Hoarding Disorder page.)

A “Clutter Continuum,” Constantly Changing

Hoarding is not, however, made up of just a couple of easily-recognizable behaviors. Rather, it can appear in mild, moderate, and severe forms, all along a continuum of clutter. My maternal grandmother was a severe hoarder; for example, she had a stack of TV Guide magazines so large that it had formed a side table of sorts in her TV room. The entire second floor of her home was unusable, and several of the first-floor rooms were piled so full of boxes that the doors could not even be opened. And let’s not talk about the refrigerator. By contrast, I would call myself a mild to moderate hoarder; I don’t hoard old newspapers and REALLY obvious trash, but I have a hard time letting go of broken/messed-up items, old toys from childhood, etc.

Hoarding tendencies can also develop and change over one’s lifetime as life events happen; as a child, I hoarded just about everything that was “mine” because it was simply mine and I liked knowing that I could claim these items for myself. As I grew up, I realized that my cluttered room was not only keeping me from using about 80% of my bedroom space, but kept me from inviting friends and family over. Thus, I got a big attack of “Sick-Of-It-Itis” and started a slow purge of items that continues to this day. By contrast, my mom’s previously uncluttered and almost painfully-tidy rooms have become more cluttered as her health has declined; de-cluttering has become an almost insurmountable task.

The Mindsets Behind Hoarding

Having observed the hoarding tendencies both in myself and in my family members, I believe I can describe the thought processes that cause and perpetuate hoarding:

“I’ll Need It Later/Someone Else Will Need It”

This is the constant belief that the item will be useful for someone at some point in time–just not right now, or not for me personally. I fall victim to this all the time, especially if the item was REALLY useful to me in the past, or if it’s messed up and “just needs a little fixing” to be ready for someone else to use. It makes my skin crawl to think I’m throwing out a perfectly good item! (See next point for more on this)

“I Paid Good Money for This”

This, above all, is where my hoarding comes from. I cannot STAND it when something I paid for is broken/no longer useful and everyone else says I should throw it away–I can’t STAND seeing money go in the trash. During the Great Purge of 2009, I actually got physically ill at the thought of having to throw away a really expensive blouse, even though it had some staining and a little rip in it. I was angry at myself for letting the blouse get messed up, and I was angry that the money I had spent on it was virtually wasted. (Thanks to some super-awesome stain remover and a few stitches, however, I was able to save the blouse and wear it again…LOL)

“I’m Keeping the Memories in This Item”

This, I think, is what Gran suffered from the most. By the time her hoarding had gotten severe, my granddad had already died and a lot of her friends had passed away, too. Keeping Granddaddy’s old papers, records, and books, as well as cards from her late friends and old newspaper articles featuring them, may have made her feel more secure, as if she hadn’t lost all these people in her life. Plus, if she had started to deal with all the boxes in Granddaddy’s old study (one of the rooms that you couldn’t even walk into), she would have had to deal with the onslaught of grief at realizing he was really gone. I don’t know for a fact that this is what caused ALL her hoarding, but it’s a really good guess based on what I observed.

“If I Don’t Hang Onto It/Remember How Important It Is, Who Will?”

This question arises from a sense of preserving history as well as memories, as if the hoarder is somehow a caretaker and curator of their own personal museum. Mom and I both do this a lot–she and I have both kept a lot of old stuff from my childhood. In a way, the clutter becomes a memory book, except that you have to walk around it instead of being able to leaf through it…and there’s an underlying fear that if you get rid of the item, whatever it is, you’ll forget why it was important to you, and forget something vital to who you are today.

In short, hoarding (at least from my experience) comes from wanting to be prepared for everything, trying to keep memories (even when it seems no one else will), and preventing waste (either of money or items). These are all pretty valid concerns, but in our brains, it takes top priority. It seems it all boils down to preventing loss; it is our way, perhaps, of fighting Father Time and Death, and staving off grief. (I know I don’t deal with loss very well, at least, though I can’t speak for any other hoarders out there.)

Don’t Judge or Shame, PLEASE

If you don’t live as a hoarder or live in a house with one, chances are you have no idea why or how all this happens; the tendency to judge hoarders as “crazy” or “gross/weird” people is very strong, especially now that hoarding TV shows are such a media hit. But people really do live this way, and a lot of it is based on fear. Either we’re terrified to lose memories or be unprepared, or we’re terrified to let other people know how deeply we are mired in a mess of our own making. Other people’s judgments and shaming, including the TV shows which seem to just make a spectacle out of us, do not help in the LEAST.

If you know a hoarder who wants to get out of their cluttered mess, and you want to help them, then be supportive, be available to help, and be patient. Tangled in the clutter is a lot of emotions, possibly grief as well as fear and humiliation; be sensitive to that, even as you plod on, gaining ground inch by inch. Understand that not every hoarder wants to give up their lifestyle, but some of us feel more trapped than soothed by the clutter and would LOVE a helping hand. And finally, respect that we are human beings and don’t deserve to be treated like naughty children; after all, if a hoarder willingly shows you his or her house, you have just been deemed trustworthy enough to bear a secret, one that may be much more painful than you know.

Next Time: Help for Hoarders

In Part 2, I’ll discuss how we hoarders can start to overcome our fear and humiliation with a few simple-sounding tactics. You’d be surprised how much these little changes can really make a difference!

Slaying the Clutter Dragon, part 10: A Look Back

In 10 weeks, I’ve come so far in my war on clutter. From barely being able to swing my bedroom door fully open, now I can walk freely through nearly half the room, and I’ve cleaned out over half the closet. Who would have thought?

I certainly didn’t think my war with the Clutter Dragon would go this well, since it never has before. But then again, in my past battles, I tried to de-clutter and clean all in one day, and I ended up tired, defeated, and nothing really changed. And in the past, I didn’t really try to get rid of anything that wasn’t just trash.

This time, I made up my mind to sell or donate anything I didn’t need, and that was the big change. Plus, I tackled one small area a week, and documented it with this very series of blog posts, so I held myself accountable.

What Have We Learned from Battling the Clutter Dragon?

Part 1 (The First Sword Charge): Start with a small area to clean out. Don’t try to tackle a whole cluttered room (or a whole cluttered house!) in one day all by yourself, especially not one as cluttered as mine was to start!

Part 2 (The Valiant Sword Sweep): Clearing the floor of clutter is often the most important part–you have to have clear places to put your feet when you’re cleaning, otherwise you’ll get hurt.

Part 3 (Horrors in the Hidden Abyss): If you don’t clean out your storage spaces from time to time, you will end up with clutter so bad you can’t live in your space anymore. Clean out the storage places, and you create places for your new favorite/important items to live.

Part 4 (Blundering in the Dark): When you tackle a cluttered storage space, you have to divide it up into small areas just like a cluttered room. Try to tackle too much and you’ll just get discouraged.

Part 5 (Nitty, Gritty, and Dirty): Arm yourself with cleaning products (dusters, disinfectant, paper towels, wipes, broom, dustpan, vacuum cleaner/sweeper, etc.), especially if you’re cleaning out a storage space that has lain untouched for many a year. You’ll thank yourself for having cleaning stuff at the ready!

Part 6 (A Swipe at the Dragon’s Leg): If you find yourself daunted, take another look at the clutter situation. What’s keeping you from working? Once you’ve found the reason you’re suddenly too tired/discouraged to de-clutter, then set about getting rid of it. Believe me, this helps so much!

Part 7 (A Desperate Sally Forth): Even if you don’t feel like tackling a usual-sized small area of your clutter, do SOMETHING to battle the Clutter Dragon in your life. Even if it’s just half a tiny closet shelf, or one box of books, or one corner of your room, keep fighting the war on clutter!

Part 8 (Where the Beast Hides): Don’t just move clutter around your house thinking you’re “dealing with it.” You haven’t dealt with it until you’ve sorted it out, thrown away everything that’s too broken to repair and sell, and sold/donated the rest of the items you’re not using and don’t want to keep.

Part 9 (Hacking Away at the Cache): Be ruthless about what you’re going to throw away and what you’re going to sell. If the item doesn’t make you happy, isn’t useful anymore, and/or is too broken to use/display anyway, what good is it doing you? When you’ve spent your life trapped by clutter, you can’t afford to be overly sentimental. Keep what is truly meaningful, but make room for yourself to live in your house with your precious items, too.

Closing Thoughts

In closing this series of blog posts, I hope you’ve found courage and motivation to fight your own Clutter Dragons. It’s an ongoing siege, a state of constant vigilance against the problem of “too much stuff and not enough space,” and I’m not nearly done with my own war on clutter. (I’m just done blogging about it for now, since I think 10 weeks on the same subject is quite enough. LOL!)

This series stands as proof that you CAN reclaim a room, a closet, even a small shelf, even if you are a hardcore hoarder like I’ve been in the past. And what’s more, you can maintain the change, just by being a bit more aware of how much stuff you own. (And don’t worry–when I finally reclaim my entire room from the Clutter Dragon’s terrible reign, you’ll hear the shout of joy all the way over at your house, no matter where you live in the world. xD)

Slaying the Clutter Dragon, part 9: Hacking Away at the Cache

The siege on the Clutter Dragon’s hidden hoard continues, with another week and another installment of sorting clutter. ONWARD! 😀

This week, I began with this mountainous pile you see below:

This pile, affectionately nicknamed “Clutter Mountain,” was yet another obstacle to the process of cleaning. I had to scale Clutter Mountain and conquer it, like Sir Edmund Hillary conquered Everest.

Unexpected Philosophy Amid the Climb

The actual process of de-cluttering progressed much as the last post did–removing items one at a time from the top of Clutter Mountain, making a decision about each item on the spot, and putting it in one of three areas: keep, donate/sell, and toss. Another big black trash bag served as the Toss zone, so it could be easily removed from the house when it was full.

But I found myself waxing philosophical about the journey as I worked. Contrary to my expectations, I was beginning to enjoy myself, even if I had put off the work as long as I could. And once I was finished conquering Clutter Mountain (which actually only took about 15 minutes once I got down to it), I was even energized enough to think about tackling the more grown-up clutter that lay on the table where the mountain of childhood had once stood.

It led me to an interesting realization: the more you de-clutter, the easier it is to do, mentally. Even though I had dragged around part of the day trying to avoid the task, once I got around to doing it rather than mentally whining about it, it was much easier, especially since I had set the hard and fast rule of “make a decision about each item RIGHT NOW.” (You wouldn’t believe how freeing that is, not until you’ve experienced the kind of quick de-cluttering it engenders.)

The Results

At last, Clutter Mountain has been conquered! WOOT! Only the slight layer of grown-up junk that was there before remains, and that might even be gone later, if my cleaning bug gets me again. 🙂

The chair I appropriated for my “Keep” zone gained only one new item–a little Paddington Bear, much-beloved from my childhood. He ain’t goin’ anywhere. 😀

As for the “Donate/Sell” zone…well…it got more piled up. LOL! But that’s a GREAT thing–there are plenty of toys here in good to almost-new condition, just in time for Christmas. Just think, some of these toys in this pile could make a little girl’s (or even a little boy’s) Christmas that much brighter!

I even had to start a new “Donate/Sell” box on another surface in the basement, because I had so many toys I sorted into this zone! This represents another step forward for me–not only am I sorting these things to be taken out of the house, but I’m getting more comfortable with the idea of getting them out of the house, instead of hoarding them.

As for the Toss zone, I didn’t photograph it, but the big black trash bag, empty at the beginning of the task, is already 3/4 full. WOW. :O

Next Week: The Philosophy I Thought Of Today

In next Tuesday’s post, I’ll share some of the clutter and cleaning philosophy I came up with while busy doing the work for this week. What I came up with might surprise you!

Slaying the Clutter Dragon, part 8: Where the Beast Hides

Throughout this series, I’ve been cleaning and de-cluttering, reclaiming my bedroom inch by inch.

Wait, let me rephrase that. Throughout this series, I’ve been moving junk around and not really dealing with it, getting one space clean at the expense of another space. LOL!

This is how a lot of us deal with clutter, actually–we move stuff around instead of getting rid of it, or we shove it into corners and under furniture so that we don’t have to look at it. Neither approach treats the disease of “too much stuff;” it only makes the symptoms a little easier to live with.

In my case, my bedroom’s dumping ground has been part of the finished basement, seen below:

Yeah, all of that mound of toy clutter came from my closet upstairs. I stacked it all down in the basement instead of dealing with it weeks ago, mainly because of low energy levels and wanting to get closet shelves clear first. But as I decluttered the closet, I ran into a problem:

The closet clutter did not just confine itself to one section of the room, but began to crawl into other areas…

…hiding in plain sight…

…spilling forth onto the floor…

…commandeering other tabletops and various surfaces…

…and generally taking over the basement room, as it had taken over my bedroom closet so many years before.

I surveyed this with a weary eye in my last installment; I thought I had been routing the Clutter Dragon, defeating it where it lay, but instead, I only moved its habitat. Now the Clutter Dragon reigned over its hoard in the basement, rather than my closet. 🙁

I simply could not put off the job of sorting and donating/throwing away any longer. If I kept delaying, I would end up with nowhere to put the rest of the clutter from the unfinished closet, nor would I be able to use the basement space for anything. So, with a tired sigh, I began to attack the clutter problem directly, finally dealing with the cache of childhood that had been stored so long.

Invading Clutter Valley

Since I knew I would not have the energy to deal with all the items today (especially not the mound of items in the first picture), I decided to tackle what I could–the valley of clutter between the coffee table and the love seat (both of which are hidden by clutter in these pictures).

This floorspace absolutely had to be cleared first before I could even begin to scale “Clutter Mountain.” Thus, I began to sort and deal with items as I could.

Zoning the Room: Keep, Sell/Donate, and Toss

First, I established part of a nearby tabletop as the “sell/donate” zone, with several small boxes to hold items that still had good life in them. For instance, the box above holds small toys, dolls, and game pieces…

…while this box holds various children’s literature, and so on.

I even did establish a “keep” zone as well (the seat of a broken computer chair), though I made sure it was a lot smaller than the “donate” zone. (Since this basement room has been pretty cluttered anyway, I had to work with the zones and the space I had–thus, why a chair seat functioned as the “keep” zone.)

As for the “toss” zone, that was the big black trash bag I carried around the large room with me, which you’ll see later in this post. This was possibly the most important zone of all, the one I had to make big decisions for, and the zone that, as a hoarder, I hate and fear the most. There’s just something so wrong about throwing away items one has paid good money for, even when they’re irreparably broken or otherwise ruined.

And yet, I couldn’t just leave them scattered about. Not if I wanted to be able to live in my house rather than just tiptoe around teetering piles of junk. If I was truly going to reclaim my room from the Clutter Dragon, I had to start actually chasing it out rather than just chasing it around the house.

Sorting, Tossing…and Surprising

So, with the makeshift zones established, I began to slowly fall into a rhythm of picking up items and deciding where they went. I did not move on from one item until it had been solidly put in one of the three zones, and I forced myself to move quickly through the items, making decisions that should have been made years ago.

Nor did I allow myself to fall too far into sentimentality as I categorized. Some objects that did have fond memories attached were put in the keep pile, but anything that didn’t have a memory with it, or didn’t absolutely have to stay because of the memory, got put into the sell/donate pile. Not only that, but I kept the trash bag with me so that if I found an item that was too broken or ruined, I could quickly put it in the trash and be done with it.

I really hated this part at first. My ankle was hurting, I was tired already, and I detested having to make quick decisions. But I also knew that if I didn’t do it right then, and do it quickly, I would never get it done at all. My record of cleaning and organizing (or rather, procrastinating about such tasks) showed that plainly.

So I kept moving…and as I did, I began to enjoy myself. It felt–GOOD to purge some of this old stuff. (Yes, I just admitted that; I just admitted that it felt good to throw stuff away. You may check my identity later. XD) The rapid decision-making, the firm, decisive action being taken after years or decades of hem-hawing, was in some way electrifying. The process became easier and easier, until…

Clutter Valley Cleared!

While it may not look a lot different from the “before” picture of Clutter Valley, now you can at least tell that there are furniture pieces and floor under there! And now I can walk through without stepping on Legos or tons of other tiny little toy pieces! YAY!

This is the “Donate” pile, rife with toys–the other items seen in this picture are not part of the “Donate” pile officially, but there was nowhere else to put them in the room. This pile will grow larger in the weeks ahead!

And this is the itty-bitty “Keep” pile–it’s mainly made up of empty boxes and small crates that I can use for categorizing later, as well as some very special memory items. Can you believe it? I have committed to keep less than 10% of what I categorized today! :O

And this is the “Toss” pile, stuffed inside this giant black bag. It’s pretty much stuffed to the brim…

…and this picture proves it! WOW!

The Real Victory Today: My Mindset

Though it may not look like much of the war on clutter was won today, there was an important mental victory scored–me actually learning to like the de-cluttering process. I’ve put it off for weeks and weeks, hating and fearing it because of its time-consuming, hair-tearing decision-making…but I learned that it can actually be a rapid, freeing process, if you let it. That just might be the most important lesson you can take away from this whole series!

Next Week: Scaling Clutter Mountain

You remember that big mound of clutter on the hidden coffee table? Well, it’s getting conquered in next week’s post–just wait and see!

Slaying the Clutter Dragon, part 7: A Desperate Sally Forth

Despite pain from old injuries in my right wrist and right ankle, this clutter warrior managed to battle the closet enough to clear one more shelf. This post, while being just a little shorter than usual, does represent one more victory.

The Constant Thorn in My Side: An Incomplete Shelf

About a year ago, I partially cleaned off the most accessible shelf in the closet (a little below waist level), just enough to store my HeroClix and other gaming supplies.

The problem?

I didn’t clean off the left side of the shelf…

…or the right side of it, for that matter.

Plus, there was a little stuff piled up in front of the shelf (sitting on top of massive stacks of junk, lol), which made it hard to get to the parts of the shelf I actually am using these days.

So, with braces wrapped around both my wrist and my ankle, I studied the closet, and determined that today was a good day to finally clean off those three un-cleaned areas. I figured it would be an easier task that wouldn’t strain my injured joints too badly.

I Crammed HOW MUCH Stuff On That Shelf?!

After a little work to clear the left side of the shelf…

…and a little more work to clear the right side…

…and even getting that middle stack a little lower…

I ended up with all of this spread across the bed. My powers of junk hoarding and compacting are unsurpassed. XD

Most of it is remnants of schoolwork, old projects, a few books, and the like–a childhood time capsule, if you will. I threw out all the obvious trash (such as a box of super-old Halloween candy corn…God only knows what year it was from, ugh), and carried the rest of the items down to the basement, where the Clutter Dragon’s infamous closet hoard is currently stashed.

A few avalanches of junk happened as I shifted the closet’s junk topography (LOL). This is one of the many little crashes I heard and saw as I moved junk and set it on the bed. Ah, the hidden dangers of cleaning! The closet never fails to try to attack me with the only weapons it has–clutter! 😛

The Shelf Finished at Last!

Finally, after moving all the junk off the bed, wiping down the shelves to get rid of any dust (or worse), and readjusting the remaining items, I had a finished third shelf in the closet. YAHOO! At last! I have yet to use the space I reclaimed, but I’m sure I’ll find something. You know me, there’s always a need for more storage in my room!

Next Week: The Part I Hate The Most

As I carried my burdens down to the basement, I realized something…the basement room is beginning to overflow with all this closet clutter. The LAST thing I need is for the Clutter Dragon to find a new home in my house! >:C

So, next week, you will see the true carnage begin, as I start to sort these remnants of childhood into “toss,” “keep,” and “sell/donate.” This is the part of de-cluttering that I have been avoiding for too long, and it can’t continue. If I don’t remove these items from the house in some way, then all this effort has just moved stuff around, like a kid avoiding eating vegetables by moving them around on the plate.

This is the takeaway lesson for this week, and for the weeks to come: if you want to de-clutter, then you have to actually GET RID of items. Hoarding them won’t make you happy, especially if you move them to another part of the house only to keep tripping over them. Stay tuned as I begin to toss, sell and donate items from the Clutter Dragon’s horrible cache!

Clutter Interlude: Finding the Stuff You Put Away

(Don’t worry, I’m still progressing on the Clutter Dragon Saga! I’m just taking a little time off to regroup before I continue my onslaught on the evil Closet of Hoarding. 😛 )

Today’s post is about a very important part of de-cluttering, one that most people don’t take into account. Once you’ve cleaned up and de-cluttered your space, what do you do with the stuff you chose to keep? And more importantly, how do you FIND it all again?

If you’re like me, you probably stuffed the “keepable” items into any convenient box and put them away willy-nilly, all in the name of “keeping them from getting stomped on/destroyed” in the savage process of cleaning. However, that approach doesn’t help you actually FIND those items you stored when you need them next.

How Do I Know This? I Lived It

A couple of days ago, I was sorting through my HeroClix collection, admiring the way I could now access them all because of the cleaner state of the closet. All was going well, until I realized something: where were my HeroClix character cards? These cards, printed alongside the newer HeroClix figures, are essential to gameplay…and they were ALL missing.

You can probably imagine what happened next. I began to tear through the closet shelves, searching through all those boxes I had haphazardly stuffed items into, praying fervently that I hadn’t thrown them away. “Surely I would have known better,” I kept thinking. “Surely I wouldn’t have gotten so carried away as to throw something like THAT away!”

What I was experiencing is every hoarder’s nightmare, and probably one reason I stayed away from de-cluttering for so long. It seems that every time I get the cleaning bug, I end up losing track of everything I want to keep–even to the point of “keepable” items getting accidentally thrown away.

In this case, however, the crisis was over within an hour, as I found the box of character cards in the closet–they were crammed behind a box of items utterly unrelated to HeroClix, and thus they were invisible to my panicked eye. But the panic soon resolved itself into indignation: why is it that I can always find things in a messy room, but never find things in a clean room?

The “Logical Place” Trap–It IS a Trap!

It never fails: when I’m cleaning and reorganizing, I handle each item, then put it away in a place that’s “more logical” than the place I had put it before. “Surely I’ll remember to find it here,” I always think. “This location just makes more sense.”

The problem? The “more logical” place is definitely NOT the place I’ve been keeping the item for years on end. Thus, I never remember to LOOK in the “more logical” place!

That was the problem with my HeroClix character cards. For four years, I’d kept the box of character cards on my blue plastic dresser (the one I cleaned off in this blog post). I honestly did not remember having moved them to the closet, though I figured I’d probably put them somewhere close to the HeroClix figures which were already stored in the closet. Nevertheless, when I began my panicky search, where did I look first? The top of the dresser.

Solution: List and Label Everything AS You Organize

Don’t save this step for last, and don’t be daunted by how big this task sounds. I will tell you now, if I had stopped and done this while I was cleaning, I could have saved an hour of hair-tearing panic.

#1: List Everything You’re Keeping and Note Its Location

As you clean and sort items into “keep,” “toss,” or “sell” piles, keep paper and a writing instrument handy. Note all the items that you’re keeping, and out to the side of each notation, write a short description of the place you’ve put it in, or where in the room you’ve placed it.

An example:

  • Scissors (top drawer of desk)
  • Gift cards (bright red shoebox, middle shelf of closet)
  • Program install discs for computer (green box, top shelf of closet)
  • Hair accessories (small white box, top of dresser)

…and my list could go on and on…but you get the idea.

#2: Label The Locations

Listing your items, however, is only half the process. Once you’ve listed where everything is housed, at least temporarily, then you’ll need to label the locations accordingly. (Post-It notes or some other kind of sticky notes are absolutely GENIUS for this.)

Why do you need to label every box and container? Because in the wake of your massive cleaning effort, you have made the room a very different place, so you need to ease the disorientation factor as much as possible. (Think you can’t be disoriented in a clean room? I beg to differ. I still wake up surprised that I can walk to my window without having to wade through junk. XD)

So, using the first example of gift cards in a bright red shoebox, I would stick a label reading “GIFT CARDS” on the box, somewhere where I can easily read it. Label every location (especially closed storage!) so that you can quickly scan through your newly-organized stuff and know where everything is.

Why Does This Solution Work?

Writing labels on Post-It notes or other easily-removable labels means that you won’t have to scratch through or tear off more permanent styles of labels (like Sharpie labels or typed labels). It allows you to have a more flexible system as you determine what locations truly are “logical” for certain items, and which items you actually do need access to more or less frequently. After you’ve gotten your organization system in place, you can add more permanent labels to your storage areas. But let the organization be a little more free-form, at least for a little while, so you can make a few changes even as you get re-familiarized with all your new, tidy storage places.

For instance, if you decide to take the gift cards out of the red box to put them in with the program install discs in the green box, all you have to do is remove the corresponding Post-It note from the red box and add it to the green box. Done! What could be easier than that?

Those of us who are not tidy/organized by nature (like me) have to have some time to get used to being organized, and the list of items plus the temporary labels do just that. It also helps you be aware of just how much stuff you have, and possibly points out unnecessary duplicates along the way.


De-cluttering does not have to lead to the new stress of losing track of your possessions! Keep your will to de-clutter alive by keeping track of your kept items, and labeling their new homes within your newly-tidy space. Believe me, it will make the whole process a lot smoother!

Slaying the Clutter Dragon, part 4: Blundering in the Dark

(This installment of the Clutter Dragon Saga brought to you by: sheer stubbornness and willpower.)

Illness, exhaustion, and my old friend procrastination teamed up on me this week, to keep me from sallying forth to strike at a single closet shelf. But by yesterday afternoon, I knew I could not wait any longer without disappointing myself and losing the rhythm of my accomplishments thus far.

So, around 4:30 yesterday afternoon, though I still felt under the weather, I began my clutter counterstrike, stumbling forward into a darkness of storage, which has held onto my girlhood much longer than I have.

Due to some freak fit of gravity, this little avalanche out of the closet had occurred at some point during the week. I got this out of the floor first, but put it aside carefully, since it had some items that actually needed to be back in the closet when I had room.

The REAL Work Begins: Clearing the Shelf

This first bit of shelf was cleared pretty easily, since it was only a couple of small boxes and a book or two. But I uncovered some evidence of mice (to put it as non-grossly as I can) lying about on the shelf, so I had to stop and disinfect the surface as well as I could before moving on.

Note to Fellow De-Clutterers

If you encounter such evidence of mice, which is unfortunately quite common when you’re cleaning up stuff that’s been sitting in the same spot for a while, BE CAREFUL how you handle it–it can make you sick! Use rubber gloves if possible, and make sure to use disinfectants in a well-ventilated space so you don’t get sick from fumes.

The second bit of shelf was much more difficult; not only was there more evidence of mice, but several toys from the shelf above attacked me as I removed items from the working shelf. (Guess they were defending their fellow toys from being removed from the closet? LOL!) Not to mention that when I tried to shift the largest box of toys, it began to vomit Lego pieces everywhere. xD

Disinfecting the shelf, defending my head from falling items, and picking up about a thousand Lego pieces slowed me down, but eventually, I did get that bit of shelf clean, too, as seen in the picture above. Small victories in the name of cleanliness!

The third part of the shelf was almost too easy after the near-disaster I’d had a few minutes before. There was only one box of toys left, and it was mainly big, soft stuffed animals. Once that was out of the closet, I disinfected the remaining surface, and was rewarded with this sight–one completely clear shelf in my overstuffed closet!

A Little Reward: Using the Newfound Storage Space

I had already planned what I wanted to store on this newly-cleaned shelf, so I had everything already picked out, stacked, and ready to be sorted.

From left: my Hawk & Dove comics collection; an old makeup box I used for Clix storage, which will be repurposed soon; computer doodads, install discs, and other techie paraphernalia, all in various gift and shoeboxes.

I was also able to store many small travel bags I’ve picked up over the years on this shelf. It’s a bit messy at the moment, but eventually I’m going to repurpose one of the small totes I recovered from the closet to store these properly.

This is where all the travel bags used to live–piled up beside the dresser, in a stack almost 3 1/2 feet high. Now you can nearly see the floor beside the dresser. It’s a tiny victory, but a victory nonetheless!

The three bins seen here (which I’ve been using for organization in the last couple of “Slaying the Clutter Dragon” installments) will stay in the closet, though their contents will likely change a lot between now and when I finally finish the closet reorganization. They fit well on the shelves and are easy to take down when I need them, thanks to the handles. (In fact, I’ll probably be getting a few more of them for other shelves, too!)

Work, Interrupted

As always, the bed ended up holding all the detritus from the cleared shelf–it’s literally a bed full of my childhood in this picture. LOL

In the beginning, I had planned to start sorting out which toys I wanted to keep for my own children vs. which toys I wanted to donate. Sadly, at this point my body sharply reminded me that I had been sick all week, and that if I didn’t want to be horribly sick/dizzy again in a few minutes, I should lie down as quickly as possible.

Thus…this had to happen:

Sigh. I worked so hard to clear that space in front of the closet, and now it just looks like my childhood puked all over the floor. xD Ah well, it was for a good cause. And actually, I can more easily pick up the work of sorting any time between now and the next installment of “Slaying the Clutter Dragon.”

(I even had to use some of the other bits of floorspace I’ve so painstakingly cleaned earlier in the series. Grr and grumble.)

But this is an important lesson of cleaning/straightening: you have to work with the space (and the physical energy) you’ve got, and you can’t expect every clean section of a room to stay clean while you work with other sections, especially if other sections are as cluttered as my closet.

The room isn’t absolutely finished till all sections are clean and straight–till then, it’s allowed to look like a work in progress. I can’t be mad at myself for making two giant steps forward, even if it looks like I’ve taken a giant step back. You fellow de-clutterers out there keep that in mind for your own clutter projects!

Next Week: Another Shelf, Another Pile of Childhood

Now that I have braved the horrors of dust, mice, and attacking toys, what else can possibly await me in the closet of horrors? Tune in next week to find out! 😀

Slaying the Clutter Dragon, part 3: Horrors in the Hidden Abyss

I return triumphant, flushed with my most recent victory against the Clutter Dragon! *heroic music*

This week, I tackled the giant mess in front of the overflowing closet–this area has been jokingly named the “Clutter Abyss,” and this picture proves it:

This is where I started; my goal was to clear the floor immediately in front of the closet, and to uncover the old TV in the corner so we can take it to be donated. (Don’t see a TV in this picture? I promise you there is one–it’s just hidden by all the clutter! SAD!)

Task #1: Everything Off the Floor

Just like always, my bed became the staging area for all the keepable items:

Sadly enough, this is just the first layer of junk that I removed from the floor to sort through. When I took this picture, I had not yet waded down to the second layer of keepable items, which was hidden beneath yet another layer of paper clutter and trash. (Side note: that is my computer you see in the background–I needed a little cleaning music to keep my spirits up. 😀 )

As you can see, the layer of trash/paper clutter was quite a bit more daunting than in the last episode–more had been allowed to accumulate, and was actually covering up more stuff. Sigh, such is the life of a pack rat!

The most random things showed up when I began to sift through the mess…like this VHS case for the first Pokemon movie. I have no idea why it was mixed in with everything else; I have a theory that my room’s mess comes alive and just swallows stuff at random. LOL

Once the paper clutter and trash was all dealt with, this was the vista I was greeted with. Still quite a ways to go…my fight was not yet over! I still had plenty of stuff to put up–and nowhere to put it.

The Root of All (Cluttered) Evil: The Closet

I have not yet spoken much of my bedroom closet itself, though it is actually the main reason my room remains cluttered. Having been converted into shelved toy storage in my childhood, many of those girlhood toys have remained on the shelves collecting dust ever since.

The end result:

Um…yeah, it’s kinda bad. The closet was physically unreachable for many years due to severe pack-rat-itis, and when I finally did reach it during the Super Duper Cleanout of 2009, I did not tackle it; the project looked too daunting after finally clearing the rest of the room. My energy flagged, and so I procrastinated on completing this final task.

But the no-storage problem in my room has not gone away; indeed, it led to the Clutter Dragon taking up residence yet again in my room. (Food for thought: if I had tackled the closet 3 years ago, I might not be fighting the Clutter Dragon now. Sigh…)

A Small Closet Side Quest

So, to start using the closet space a little better, I rearranged the middle shelf in the above picture just a little bit, to allow for more things to be stored on it. Then I put up the few things from the floor that would fit onto it, being careful not to overload the shelf in the process.

Now, that shelf is better-used, though it still looks as messy as its brethren. But this won’t be the last you hear about the closet!

Uncovering the Bed

This time, after cleaning up the floor, I was left with quite a big pile of junk on the bed, none of which could leave the room–it was all my stuff and needed to find a home somewhere within the room.

Not to mention that there was still junk to be cleaned off the old TV in the corner. (You can just barely see it, bottom center of the picture.)

Though the sight of all these items left to deal with made my energy begin to waver, I knew I could not quit now. After all, I had this very blog post to write, and I did not want to disappoint myself by doing less than I had planned. So I struck out at the Clutter Dragon yet again, and began to work at uncovering the TV and the rest of the floor in front of it.

In the middle of this effort, I randomly discovered a box full of Christmas presents from about 2 years ago. I had forgotten I even owned these books! :O They were quickly taken from the room and put with my other books, elsewhere in the house, so they wouldn’t get messed up further in the cleanup effort.

Cleaning off the TV also meant that I found several of my colder-weather jackets strewn about. In need of a place to hang them, I finally made use of the six-hook over-the-door hanging system I had bought a few months ago, putting it on half of one of the louvered closet doors. It’s not ideal, but hopefully it won’t be permanent. (Famous last words, at least in my room. LOL)

Believe it or not, there’s a TV under there! With the floor mostly cleared and the random stuff atop it removed, now I can maneuver a dolly into the room to cart the TV off to Goodwill or wherever else might take it.

With that, the second half of the job was complete!

But there was still a problem: the bed was still covered with boxes of random stuff. And, unlike earlier in the day, I was not much in a mood to continue sorting. More than anything, after almost an hour working with little rest (or ventilation in the room, for that matter), I wanted the bed cleared off.

So, I reverted to a solution that always worked well for me in my childhood. I cleaned off the bed…

…and stuffed all the randomness into the next small area of the room, to be dealt with later. 😛 (This junk pile will be part of a future episode of “Slaying the Clutter Dragon,” I promise. :D)

One Small Step for Woman, One Giant Lunge at the Dragon

This is basically what the Closet Clutter Abyss looks like now–it may not look much better to the neat-freak’s eye, but it will enable us to cart away the TV, which will free up the corner space and the closet door. And once that space is open for maneuvering…

…the next phase of defeating the Clutter Dragon will go into effect. I know now that no room-cleaning will ever be effective unless this closet is confronted and conquered–the last three years are living proof of that.

So, next week, I will begin the unenviable task of tackling the closet, one shelf at a time. Though I might be trapped in the Closet Abyss for several weeks, I will not overload myself each week–that will only lead to procrastination and ultimately quitting. The closet must be conquered bit by definitive bit, rather than trying to do it all in one go. Kind of like weight loss, I guess!

Tune in next week for my first foray into the Closet of Childhoods Past! Who knows what I’ll find in there among the detritus of girlhood?

BONUS: The New and Improved Display Shelf

In the first installment of this series, I showed you how I first designed the display shelf for my figurines. I have since improved on it, using the display shelf as a way to store my DVD collection as well as my figurines.

This picture encompasses the smaller of the two Belle & Beast figurines on the left, my entire DVD collection, and my little collection of figurines off to the right.

I freed the Dove figurine from her packaging and set her up on the included stand; I added the small Belle figurine and a newly-acquired Princess Peach figurine alongside, to create a little vignette of some of my favorite characters.

The larger of the two Belle & Beast figurines did get her special display spot at last, sitting atop my dresser. Once the dresser gets cleaned off (in a future issue of “Slaying the Clutter Dragon”), she’ll be showcased properly.