Monday, March 9, 2015

TheGreat, Crushing Wheel of Stuff


I spent an exhausting weekend helping move a family member into assisted living. This person was a hoarder, verging on the kind of hoarder that you see on TV, with tiny trails through stacks of stuff. At two different points I broke down in tears (as did a helper) trying to deal with the masses of crap. We reached the point that all families do, when we just started throwing things away out of desperation, after putting a good amount of it in storage, and pawning some of it off on neighbors. And still, the job isn't done---we either have to return and try to clean the rest out or just abandon the whole thing.

Now, I make part of my living selling vintage and antiques that probably come out of situations just like this---stuff that ends up on the curbside or in thrift stores. Yet, as I stood there, tears streaming down my face, exhausted and frustrated, I had the absolute, overwhelming urge to get rid of everything I own. I did not want anyone else to be in the position that I was finding myself in, raking through someone's stuff, trying to make the judgement calls on what should stay and what should go. I want to make it easy for whoever has to clean up after me when I am gone. And not only that, I want to make it easy to just live in my own space NOW, without the tyranny of the material. Because your stuff can bury you alive.

I have always prided myself on shopping almost exclusively at thrift stores. But let's face it. The reason there are so many thrift stores with so much stuff in them is because here in America, we are drowning in stuff. Yeah, its great that I can go pick up a skirt at a thrift store for 3 bucks but that's only because gazillions of skirts are being made every day and people are so used to the abundance of crap in this country that they discard clothing and other things like used kleenex.

I still advocate buying and owning vintage clothing and goods. It was often well-made and under better conditions than what is made these days.  And I probably won't give up my business selling vintage. But after this weekend, my view has definitely changed on just how much stuff one needs to have personally. I probably won't go minimalist---I have another relative who is almost pathologically minimalist, to the point that they become totally anxiety-ridden if they feel they have one too many towels, or whatever it is they are obsessing on at the moment. That's the flip side of the extreme, and I am most certainly a moderate :) But I no longer want to be digging through amorphous piles of crap looking for the one thing I really care about.

How do you deal with "stuff"? Hoarder, moderate, or minimalist? Have you ever had to move someone out?


  1. This is so interesting to me - we're obviously on the same wavelength. I was watching the hoarder show on TV last night so I got thinking about the whole thing... I think when you're a vintage collector/seller there's a fine line. I want to make sure I don't cross it.

    I rent space in a vintage co-op and I'm worried about that line. Some of the dealers are to the point of piles, places you can't quite walk, etc... Not good.

    On the other hand, like you said, I've met people so minimalist they can't have pillows on their beds. Not good either. I'm cleaning, sorting and trying to find the balance...

  2. I know a little bit about the emotional toll of dealing with hoarding. ((hugs))
    Cleaning out my little art space in the basement for the past week. Amazing how many craft supplies I bought back when I worked at full time stressful jobs and bought stuff to make me happy. That may be a blog post for me soon. xox

  3. A very interesting and thought-provoking post!

    Oh, what a stressful situation to find yourself in! I think I would have cried too. In the last few years I have been seized with that same urge to get rid of everything (well, not absolutely everything, but you know) a few times, and I think it's the age I'm at, when you hear stories like this. I don't want to be that person either, where friends are left with the horrible job of clearing out my stuff.

  4. When we got married and pooled out belongings together, my husband wasn't what you would call a hoarder... just a collector or STUFF. When we moved into our second home from a one bedroom apartment we had an extra bedroom now and it still wasn't enough space for all the stuff. Sick to death of the clutter, each day when he went to work I would take a box of stuff to the dumpster, often times not even opening the box to see what all was in it. It's been two years and he hasn't even noticed the missing crap. I did that with his old ratty clothes he kept hanging on too! Sorry about your stressful day!

  5. It's a horrible situation to be in, Tilda. I feel for you. After my father died, my mum got rid of everything, to the point where I was angry that she did it without asking me first if I wanted to save anything of his. In retrospect, she probably did me a huge favour.

    I am still getting rid of things, months after we've moved in. Because our son keeps saying please don't start hoarding again - and it is hoarding, no matter how beautiful or potentially useful the stuff is - and I don't want my kids to have to deal with it after I'm gone. But the books ... I'm still having a hard time with the books. :)

  6. I have am in the middle of a massive cleaning-out of my space as well but nothing like you have endured cleaning up your relation's home. I feel for you, I do. You have no choice but to throw out or recycle things in such a desperate situation. Like you, I want to pare down everything. Stuff, stuff, STUFF!! Good luck. Clearly, you have done a tremendous TREMENDOUS job and favour already.