Imagine living in an ant hill, walking throughÂ trails barely wide enough to pass and finding a little pocket of space here and an empty chair there. If you were an ant, you might not mind, but if you’re a human being, it’s no fun.
My mother was a hoarder.
She wasÂ the kind of hoarder you’ve seen on tv, where there are pathsÂ through the house and the stuff is piled up to your chest in every room.
She’s been gone for almost two years, but I feel ashamed even now to talk about it, like it’s a dirty secret that I shouldn’t bring into the light of day.
She had a lot of good qualities, my mother. I still miss herÂ almost every day. But the facts are the facts, and I grew up in a unique situation.
I desperately wanted the house to be different. I even took it upon myself to clean a spaceÂ a few times, but it always got filled back up.
There was no realÂ cleaningÂ at my houseÂ because we couldn’t see the floors or reach the walls. We ate out a lot because the stove was covered in stuff and dirty dishes were piled in the sink and the table was piled as highÂ as we could see with papers.
There was aÂ swivel chair in the living room where one person could sit at the computer desk. The rest of the room was full of boxes and bags and piles. There was no other furniture save some shelves against the walls, long since piled in.
Every surface was covered with something.Â Even the landing above the stairs was filledÂ with old clothes, too old to be worn but never donated or thrown away. A glow-in-the-dark cardboard mobile of the planets hangs from the hallway light, made in the nineties and still hanging, caked with dust.
It all made me feel trapped, claustrophobic, like I had nowhere to go. People are not meant to live like ants.
After I graduated from college, I couldn’t wait to get a home of my own and get away from the mess. I did, and she filled in the spot where my chair used to sit.
Everything was important to my mom.
The inserts from the newspaper. The pages from the TV Guide magazine (remember the TV Guide magazine?). Cardboard boxes from all sorts of purchases. Everything she ever made or painted. Everything we ever made or painted. Expired food. Magazines. Plastic grocery bags.
Actually, I can’t think of anything that she threw away on a consistent basis. She put one small kitchen bag out at the curb every week, but she brought in bag after bag from shopping trips all week. There was a constant flow in and barely a trickle back out.
To be honest, I’ve inherited some of my mother’s tendencies. I have a real problem with books. I have hundreds of plants. School supplies pop up everywhere. My kids’ toys clutter up all our rooms.
I’m largely blind to the piles.Â I tolerate a lot more mess than an ordinary person.
I’m a work in progress. I forget to clean the toilet every week, and then I have to get out the pumice stone and scrape off the gunk that accumulates. Â I forget to wash the windows and the tv screen. I forget to dust. I don’t notice the fingerprints on the walls until the walls are brown and grimy.
People don’t often come over to eat a meal with us because of the state of our kitchen.Â There is grease on the cabinets, and there are crumbs in the corners. I have six crocks full of utensils on the counter because they all seem to be important. We recently went through them, and I donated a few, but what if I need the rest? I just can’t make myself get rid of them, so we have virtually no counter space.
I think I might know how my mother felt because I am overwhelmed at the work that needs to be done to make my home feel pride-worthy.
When you grow up seeing your mom and dad clean every week, when neat and tidy is the status quo, you learn to keep your own home neat and tidy.
But when you grow up with a hoarder, you don’t. You have to come up with your own routines and plans.
I’m quite good at coming up with routines and plans, but I’m quiteÂ bad at followingÂ them. I’ve written about that before, and it has never changed.
One thing I’ve gotten good at is purging. I donate books to the library with regularity, and I go through the toys every couple of months. I have bags of clothes destined for the Goodwill store (but not there yet, another problem), and I have boxes in the basementÂ waiting to see if I miss them.
I need constant encouragement and inspiration to keep fightingÂ in the right direction.
Here are a fewÂ resources I have been turning to for that encouragement and inspiration (partly because I can’t afford to hire a professional organizer):
- Simply Clean Home by Nina Nelson of Shalom Mama
“Once you see that your relationships, your time, your home is cluttered up with a bunch of
stuff, stuff that has no meaning, that you really could do without, itâ€™s hard to want to hold on toÂ it.
And you start to let go.”
- Your Simple Home Handbook by Elsie Callendar of Richly Rooted
“This handbook aims to help you be systematic and ruthless in your quest to simplify. In this book, I’ve divided up the home into thirty areas, thirty projects, so you can simplify piece by piece and not feelÂ overwhelmed! For each area, I provide a process for you to follow and questions to get you thinking about your stuff.”
- Drowning in Clutter? Don’t Grab a Floatie, Drain the Ocean! by Dana White of A Slob Comes Clean (I’ve written about this one before.)
“Psychologically, living amidst too much stuff feels like drowning. I often use the phrase ‘swimming through jello’ when I describe being overwhelmed with the amount of stuff in my home. Too much stuff makes every little task more difficult. Keys are more easily lost, homework is harder to do.
Life is more difficult.”
There isn’t a quick and easy answer for someone like me.
I guess there probably isn’t a quick and easy answer for any of us, but there is hope.
I have hope. You should have hope, too.
© 2015, Tara Ziegmont. All rights reserved.