Wednesday, January 25, 2012

confessions | on hoarding and decision-making and keeping it real

our messy house
I originally started writing this post as an introduction to a new photo series I'll be featuring on my blog: Collections. The new photo series isn't about my urge to hoard things, it's really about photographing collections of ordinary items around my house - things that I don't even realize are collections until all the items are together in one place. 

While writing this post that was supposed to be about collections, I ended up getting carried away analyzing my urge to hoard things and how owning extra stuff clutters up not just my home, but my life, and my ability to make decisions and be productive.

The post below really has nothing to do with my photo series, and to be honest, it makes me seem a bit wacko. Since it wasn't relevant to my photo series, I thought about deleting it, but realized it's a subject worth addressing. I know I'm not the only one who struggles with owning too much stuff. While Larry and I joke that we're hoarders, don't worry, we don't have a stack of dead cats in our basement. (Ok, we don't have a basement. But we do have an attic, and I'm 100% certain that it is completely free of cats, dead or living.) Our house is comfortably lived in, we entertain (just ignore the collection of dog hair!), and the messes are hidden behind closed doors. (Please don't look in the guest room! No really! Don't go in there! Wait, you want to stay (gulp) overnight? Do you mind...sleeping on the couch?) Everyone has a room like that, right? (Oh yeah, don't look in our closets either. And for the love of God, DO NOT go in the attic.)
our messy house

I'm happiest and most productive when my home is organized, minimal, and clutter-free.

My home is never organized, minimal, and clutter-free.

our messy house
We own a LOT of CDs. Most of them are not in their cases.

Despite my best intentions to rid my house of junk and live simply, clutter-free living is not in my nature. I am constantly battling my instinct to save, to keep, to hoard. "I might need this someday," "I paid good money for this," "But it still works," "Someday I might be skinny enough to wear this again," and so on. I didn't live through the Great Depression, so I have no societal influences to explain my urge to save that aluminum can (But I could make it into a candle holder! Or a flower pot!), that bit of rope (Wrap a present with it!), or those old stumps in the backyard (I had the best intentions of transforming them into gorgeous garden stools!).

our messy house
In our mudroom, aka Mt. Trashmore. 
Things to note: Paint cans left by the previous owner. Grungy towel for wiping dog paws. Overflowing recycling bins.

There are catalogs to go through, old clothes that need to be donated to charity, and don't even get me started on the scraps of paper and post-it notes, all scrawled with To Do lists, cryptic sketches, middle-of-the-night ideas, and websites I need to check out, etc.

our messy house
Dishes that refuse to wash themselves. Jerks.

our messy house
Papers that refuse to file themselves. Assholes.

I'm well aware of my shortcomings and am always trying to remedy them. Yes, I've read about clutter-free living, clutter-reducing boot camp, purging your possessions down to 100 things (that's just crazy talk) and yes, I know it's best to only have useful and and beautiful items occupying the space in my home. A noble cause, but that's easier said than done!

our messy house
In the linen closet: a collection of beach towels.

When we bought our house and I moved out of my apartment, I used the move as the opportunity to get rid of lots of crap. And boy did I purge! But still, there were some things that I couldn't decide on, so they got packed up, and 3 1/2 years later, those items are still in boxes. Clearly, I didn't miss those things and it is unnecessary for me to keep them. But yeah, they're still in the attic.

our messy house
The top of my vanity. Disgraceful. 

I've found that the problem that bogs me down most in my daily life is decision making. I am the most indecisive person in the world. I can't decide what to wear, where to eat dinner, or which book to read next. When I buy something new, I spend hours researching ALL the different options and comparing prices before I make my purchase. It's a major character flaw. It's annoying - to others and to me. The internet, which makes millions of options for everything available to everyone, does not help with this problem. Information overload is not a good thing for me.

In analyzing this flaw of mine, I've found that my problem with decision-making comes down to having too many choices. When I'm on vacation and I have only 5 outfits to choose from, getting dressed in the morning is a breeze. When I'm at home and I have a whole closet full of clothes (plus a couple of laundry baskets with clothes that never got put away, plus a dryer full of clothes that haven't been folded yet), the decision of what to wear can be paralyzing. That's lame. But true.

our messy house
Pile of clothes. Location: On a chair.
So in attempting to declutter and simplify my life, I am striving to reduce the number of choices I have, so that daily decision-making isn't such a challenge for me. (Don't even get me started on major life-altering decisions. Baby steps, please, baby steps!)

Do you see the catch-22 here? I need my space to be clutter-free to help me make decisions and stay motivated, yet to eliminate the clutter I have to make decisions as to what to keep/toss/donate and be motivated enough to go through it all. Oy.

our messy house
Junk mail in its natural breeding ground: Our dining room table.

our messy house
Our freezer (stocked with Unidentified Frozen Objects) and fridge (Hey, who wants a 3 month old rotten peach???)

For someone who has packratting in her genes (my mother can't visit without bringing me a newspaper clipping, some coupons, and some sort of trinket, while my dad's house is littered with piles of books, newspapers, and magazines), and a creative personality (all artists are messy, right?), I fear this will be a lifelong struggle for me. Some sources of clutter I've conquered over the years (Do I really need 17 kinds of hair gel when the one that works best is from the drug store? Just say no to the expensive stuff they try to sell you at the salon!) and some I just cannot beat (I try to open up the mail over the recycling bin, but still it piles up on every flat surface in the house. Damn you, junk mailers! Also, do I really have to do the dishes EVERY day?!).

CLEAN ALL THE THINGS?! (I don't wanna!)

our messy house
Dog snot on the window. Easily remedied in 15 seconds with a bottle of windex. Easily messed up again in 15 seconds with a dog nose.

I've recently been going through some of those "still packed three years later" boxes as part of a goal to start the year organized. New Year's cleaning if you will. It's a gargantuan task. And some of the things I've found in those long forgotten boxes are what inspired the Collections photo series. But really they reveal a bigger issue: Larry and I are pigs. And we might need professional help.

our messy house
My studio. This room should be condemned. OMG.
(I took the pictures in this post several months ago because I had planned to do a photo post that was a confession of sorts - all the little messes in my houses artistically photographed out of focus - the piles of laundry, the dirty dishes, the shoes by the back door...all the things that show we're real people. I've seen other bloggers do the same and always think it's so refreshing to see that bloggers are real and imperfect. I think there's so much pressure for bloggers to portray their lives and homes as perfect, so here's my dirty not-so-little secret: we're messy. Oh yes, we are.)


Jane @ The Borrowed Abode said...

Oh dear. I totally understand your predicament, that's how I used to be. I'm still somewhat like that, but Ryan helps me reign it in. I've found that getting rid of crap, even if I think I might need it someday, has really helped me because it keeps the house easier to maintain.

You said "my mother can't visit without bringing me a newspaper clipping, some coupons, and some sort of trinket, while my dad's house is littered with piles of books, newspapers, and magazines" - this is so describing my parents. Except I think I reacted the opposite way to being brought up in a more cluttered home - I ended up wanting to be the opposite of that.

If you want help decluttering, I would be super happy to help you! I'm really good at it, especially when helping others. And I actually ENJOY helping people with that stuff. I don't know what's wrong with me.

Sarah Rosemary said...

You're in luck! My favorite activity is decluttering! I absolutely delight in purging and organzing and cleaning out. I am absolutely serious about helping you declutter. Sometimes it helps to have a neutral third party come help.

Also, you are completely normal. I, too, can feel the paralyzing effectsof decision making. I totally get you on that. I find that the fewer choices, the better I do. Do you read Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project? She addresses a lot of these things, and I think you'd enjoy reading her blog.

Pickles and Dimes said...

Too bad I don't live closer to you, because I would come over and organize your place while we drank and I spoiled your dogs.

P.S. We use the same mascara!

Lauren Margaret said...

Oh Rachel, you are awesome. I really appreciate when bloggers and friends get real, and this is no exception.

I too suffer from paralyzing indecision - to the point that I will pout by myself instead of deciding what we will have for dinner.

I used to have a really cluttered life, but moving five times in two years sort of rid me of that. I didn't want to carry so many boxes over and over again. It also helped to declutter when I was drunk - I don't know why.

Anyway, holler if you need decide you need or want help. I'm really good at turning cleaning into a dance party, and somehow actually still CLEANING ALL THE THINGS :)

Grace said...

Oh the similarities....

untidy/messy rooms ✓
piles & piles & piles of 'stuff' ✓
enter-at-your-own-risk rooms ✓
purged and still oodles of stuff ✓
can't decide worth a shit ✓
paper scraps of ideas everywhere ✓
wanting it all to just go away ✓
love organization but not organizing ✓
feeling better that i'm not the only one like me ...big✓

looking forward to the collections you come up with Rachel.