Thursday, May 12, 2011

Project commences in 3... 2... 1...

As I gazed at the disaster that is my living room last night, I realized describing things was not going to be enough. I need pictoral proof of any progress I make. Maybe it will keep me more accountable to the project, too.

This weekend, I will be taking some Before pictures. I'll most likely take an additional Before photo before tackling the room, but it might be good to get a good baseline set. I'll post the pictures I take over the weekend or early next week so that people can better understand what I'm up against.

I plan to break the enterprise into bite-sized chunks. I'm going to work on one room each week. That way I can really focus - and maybe not feel so overwhelmed. I'll take a Before picture, a During picture, and an After picture. I'll write a bit about my decision process on what get kept, what gets donated, and what gets put in the sale/giveaway pile.

I'm going to begin in the upstairs family room. It is probably in the best shape - it is a public space so we generally keep it in better condition than private spaces - so won't take as long. I hope. It is also a space that the family uses every day, so it will make me feel good if it is clean and organized.

I'm marking my calendar: on Sunday, May 15, the Project Useful Beauty officially kicks off!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The personal psychology of de-cluttering

As I mentioned previously, I come from a long, proud line of packrats. So what would cause me to go against my genetic grain and attempt to reorder my DNA to de-clutter?

Hoarding, some psychologists say, is a means for the hoarder to maintain some semblance of control in their life. Attachment to things becomes a thread of emotional security. For instance, if a beloved family member passes away, keeping all of their personal belongings is a way of keeping the connection strong; death is uncontrollable, but keeping stuff is. The irony is that clutter frequently makes things less controlled, so there is a spiral of failure waiting to suck you down.

De-cluttering, as it goes against the grain for me, is my own control mechanism. Life becoming overwhelming? Feeling stressed out? I can't control the situation I am in, but I can control the clutter within my house. Break out the garbage bins! Start the donation pile! It is time to de-clutter!

And, sure enough, I'm in the midst of a tumultuous time. I've organized two events within the past 3 months for over 300 people total. I've had my wisdom teeth removed. I've made some large purchases in the form of a new car and a travel trailer. I'm trying to refinance an investment property. Long to-do lists: I have them. All of this has left me (and my loving and patient husband) feeling wiped out and stressed out.

It has also left our house a bit of a wreck. Cleaning and tidying has moved down the priority list and it shows. As my circumstances leave me feeling overwhelmed and out of control, I seek to gain control of some aspect of my life. My house doesn't look like house beautiful. Target sighted.

Recognizing the impulse behind this does not mean the project loses credibility. Rather, I want to be aware of my motivations. The project will go forward. And you never know. Maybe I will feel better for doing it. Certainly having a more organized and beautiful house can't be all bad!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Packrat: Nature vs. Nurture

I come from a long line of packrats. De-cluttering goes against my DNA structure.

My grandmother, whom I adored, could have been featured on one of the hoarder TV shows that are so popular right now. She lived in the same home for 45 years. From pictures, it looks like the house was clean and orderly until my grandfather died. Then everything went off the rails. My grandmother, a product of the Great Depression, began saving everything: newspapers, plastic containers, broken appliances, tins of old food. She got a job at a salvage store and brought home the items the store deemed too bent or broken to sell.

Most of my childhood memories of her house involve walking sideways down the hallway because the newspapers and boxes were piled to the ceiling and only allowed a narrow space to get by. Two of the three bedrooms in her house were always inaccessible because of the amount of stuff inside. She would sleep on a small section of exposed bed or on the living room sofa. My brother and I were never allowed into the basement. Never. It was one of the great mysteries of my childhood. I remember my brother and I peeking down there from the top basement stair step and seeing a jumble of boxes, papers, and junk.

To a child, this was heaven. I was always discovering something new at my grandmother's house. She kept all of my mother's toys (near mint-condition, highly collectible 1950s toys and comic books. My brother and I systematically destroyed most of them). We loved going over to her house because we could always, always find something new and interesting to play with. Sure, we had to crawl over boxes or dig through 25 years worth of junk to find it, but that was part of the fun. She did use this stuff as it was uncovered. I can still remember her ecstatic joy when she uncovered a metal box full of bar soap she had made back in World War II. A bar of it was at the kitchen sink for use thereafter.

When she passed away, I was in my early 20s and life circumstances allowed my husband and I to be the people to clean out most of her house. It took four 30 cubic foot dumpsters to clean it out. The dumpster company said it was a new record for them. The basement mystery was plumbed. I vomited in the front yard after inhaling the dust, mold, and grime that sailed off of an 80 year old sofa as it was carried to the dumpster. There were jars and boxes of strange chemicals and compounds. Probably most of it was toxic, but at that point we just had to make it go. It took two years from her death to get the job done.

My mother got the packrat gene, too, in a diluted form. Her tendencies were curbed by my father who was a throw-it-away-if-it-isn't-nailed-down type. (His mother lived a Spartan and utilitarian life in her tiny home where there was just enough of every item and everything had its place. Cleaning out her home after she passed was a breeze; it was done in a few weekends.) After my father's death and my mother's remarriage, the amount of stuff kept has mounted. My mom admits that there are spaces and rooms that are accumulating piles.

Me - I have the packrat gene, no doubt. One look at my crowded, cluttered house will tell you that. Unfortunately, the man I love is also a packrat, even more so than me in many ways. In his previous marriage, he lived in hoarder type conditions (apparently he is attracted to packrats). So I'm fighting an uphill battle here: my own predisposition and the instincts of my spouse. To de-clutter and organize will go against the grain for the both of us.

But, oh, the pay off at the end! The ideal of living in an organized and charming home! Instead of fruitlessly hunting for a required item, giving up, and buying another one - only to discover three versions of the lost item two weeks later - we'll be able to find what we need when we need it. Bliss.

So I'm going to do it. I'm going to fight against generations of packratdom to acheive an organized and de-cluttered household. One room at a time.