Friday, 14 May 2010

Frugality and Clutter

I decided some time ago that my parents were packrats because they grew up during the Depression. Seemed as good an explanation as any. Then again, lots of other people who grew up then didn't become packrats. Growing up in that time didn't make my Dad careful with money. I suspect living with my Dad is what made my Mom so financially cautious. I didn't grow up during the Depression, but I'm a packrat. Not, thankfully, on the same level as either of my parents, but certainly leaning in that direction.

For quite a while now, I've been thinking about how to improve on the clutter around here. Bill is good about helping me keep the downstairs tidy and helping get the other public areas ready for company. But I always have things I don't know where to put, because the place I would normally put them is already full of other stuff. Assuming that one's house is not completely chaotic, like my parents', this means one either has a full-to-the-seams attic or basement, a designated 'junk room', a rented storage unit or some combination thereof.

Bill rolls in the floor laughing whenever he looks over my shoulder to find me reading Unclutterer or when he comes across the several books I've bought on the subject. He never saw Mom and Dad's houses, so perhaps he doesn't really appreciate that it could be much worse! However, my eye is on the highest of goals: a place for everything, NO junk room and only useful, seasonal things in the loft.

Like many people I have bought lots of stuff I didn't need, didn't really want, can't use but can't seem to get rid of. Being an only child and a very sentimental person in an ever-dwindling family, I seem to wind up with things that belonged originally to someone else. Except that now I'm working on it. Last weekend I took down all the boxes of clothing I could find from the loft and went through them. I filled the boot of my car with clothes and shoes to give away; I filled another box with textiles to be recycyled (even charity shops have their standards). Whoever opens these bags will think they've taken a trip down memory lane to the 1980's at least!

No, I didn't get rid of it all, I just made myself look at it and make a decision. I shopped before I got too tired, as I didn't want to made choices I would later regret. I plan to do this every season and hopefully to cull a bit more each time. I took things down and put them back up myself, so I know where and what is there.

I know I hang onto things because they belonged to my Mom or my Aunt Rita. I hang on to things because I was young and thin when I could wear them. I keep things because I spent a foolish amount of money and can't face not getting value from them. Part of me is half-way convinced that I've spent all the money I ever need to for certain items. The chore now is just to be disciplined or creative enough to use them up, but of course it doesn't work that way. Clothes get so out of date they are embarrassing to wear; shoes wear out; things break and I don't have the skill to fix them -- not that the manufacturer ever intended them to be repaired!

I should live long enough or have so much creative energy to undertake even a small portion of the 'crafty' projects I've put away. I could make a fortune on eBay, but for the fact that it takes ages to list an item properly and much of the stuff I've hoarded probably isn't worth listing. Charity shops would be much cheaper sources, particularly as that is where I got quite a bit of it myself.

There are small things that remind me how much I burden myself with stuff. You know, when you spend lots of time looking for things, or go buy something you already have because you can't find one you have. When you start resenting the amount of time you spend organising and moving stuff around. I find a little of that is fun; too much is a waste of my remaining life. How many times have you ironed something and then crammed it into a too-full closet only to have to iron it again? So many little things like this I've lived with all my life and so they didn't make much of an impact. Then came the bigger triggers that really started shifting my thinking.

When I moved to England from the US, my job paid my moving expenses. One day, we'll be ready to move to Salt Lake City and we will have to pay to move our possessions. Am I really going to pay money to move old magazines, clothes I can't wear or craft supplies I haven't used?

I finally went to a lawyer last year and wrote a will. It was a chore, but it took a weight off my shoulders. I now know what will happen to my estate when I'm gone and that was such a relief. Only it made me aware that someday someone will have the task of sifting through my collection of stuff. That's not a chore I would wish on anyone. My biggest fear as that truly valuable items could end up in a landfill because it was all so overwhelming and they just gave up.

Another awakening came when Bill finally put more lights in the loft, something we've needed for ages. When I first went up the ladder and could actually see how vast that space was and how full, it frightened me. I felt myself get a little numb with the thought that Bill (a psychiatric nurse) had well and truly brought his work home. I'm just another of his patients... I had a similar sensation when reading about the psychology of hoarding, via RealDelia. Part of me didn't want to read that, and I took it as a signal that it would be a good idea to persevere!

On the more positive side, somewhere on the Oprah website there was something about uncluttering that said to imagine how you would want the space to look instead. How would I rather use my box room? I can think of several ways, but any of them will require taking everything out to make space to re-arrange what's there and it certainly can't all go back in! That's the next project.

It's the hope of one day having a grown-up's house that keeps me reading blogs like Struggling to be Stylish and Nesting Place. I mean, I'm only going to be 54 at the end of the month, I still have time to grow up, right? Well, to grow, anyhow...


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing. I understand how hard it must be to part with things that have special meaning to you. I wish you good luck in sorting through everything.

My husband's more of a pack rat while I'm the complete opposite. He wanted to keep "everything", including childhood toys that are broken. I used to throw things out while he was at work. Thank goodness he didn't even notice. =) We've now struck a balance. The main floor of the house is clean, organized, and free of clutter (a place for everything). He stores his "stuff" in containers or on shelves in the basement (also more or less organized). There are still times when I'd call the Salvation Army to come pick up few bags or boxes here and there though…

Jo said...

Oh how this hits home. I have a spare bedroom that collects this and that which includes projects to be done, Christmas gifts, and anything else I have in my hand and need to get rid of quickly. It does get "cleaned" at least every other year when Rick's cousins come for the family reunion and stay with us.

I can remember when I though I had a big house and had emply space in cabinets and closets, was able to put everything away and keep saying I am going to get back to this point.

See you are not alone. We have our parents teaching of not throwing things away and our own lives where we made a little more and were able to buy more.

Rick Stone said...

Growing up at such a young age? I've recently decided that "growing up" is not necessarily all that it seemed to be when I was young. Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional. I've decided that at age 63 I'm far from being grown up, don't want to be grown up and am going to refuse to do so. Life is too short to be "grown up". Besides I had to be a "grown up" all those years I was a working stiff. Now I'm retired and don't have to be grown up any longer.

Merrie said...

I found you tonight in a google search on frugality, and found your discussion of one of my favorite topics.
Try visiting She is the clutter bug hero. She is not a Martha Stuart, but rather a reformed clutter saver and procrastinator who found her way out of the chaos. Try her babysteps for controlling clutter. It works and it's easy!