Posts tagged ‘clutter’

May 28, 2019

Coulda, Woulda, and Should Have!

I’m wondering why my relatives who coulda, woulda, and should have thrown out the trash chose to hang on to it? I just spent yet another weekend in my hometown cleaning out my mom’s cousin’s house. Although I thought I’d already emptied all of the bags and boxes that have to be slowly sorted, I discovered I was wrong!

There were bags behind a chair, boxes under the dresser and the beds, and piles on top of the cedar chest. There’s unopened mail from 1987 mixed with family photos, used Kleenex, financial records for still active accounts, pharmacy bags with prescriptions attached, and pill bottles filled with quarters all in the same box or bag.
bags
In the past 3 years, I’ve been tasked with cleaning out two houses and a 3000 sqft storage building filled with similar mixtures of trash, recycle, shred, keep, and donate. Trash, recycle, shred, keep, donate. Trash, recycle, shred, keep, donate.

I can quickly think of four relatives no more distant than second cousins who have stopped throwing things away. They don’t shop compulsively. They are proponents of recycling. They pay their bills. They have active social lives. And they keep trash. And they mix trash with non-trash. And they leave the trash casserole for someone else to deal with.

This weekend I was joined in the cleanup by my psychologist cousin who thinks this is a form of hoarding or obsessive-compulsive behavior. Of course, my first question was, “Is it genetic?” According to Dr. Nancy, there is most likely a genetic component, but no specific marker has been identified. I know I came home with a compulsive desire to get rid of something.

In my mom’s house, there was an identifiable point in time at which filing and organization stopped. Prior to that, she saved a lot of things, but it wasn’t unheard of for her to pare down. There is an identifiable year when things changed in her cousin’s house as well.

While the cousin’s change in habits seems timed to correlate with the loss of her mother, my mom’s appears to correspond with her marriage to her second husband. I guess the commonality in the two is significant life change.

Logically I understand how loss might trigger a desire to hang onto things that belonged to a person you lost or that hold fond memories of a person lost. It’s interesting that it might trigger hanging onto junk mail or ceasing to file.
pile
I think it’s possible that a triggering change can cause a freeze response that manifests in an inability to take care of yourself in some way. Perhaps it interrupts your maintenance of your environment or perhaps you struggle to feed yourself.

Saying it’s a triggering change implies a previous wound or a latent biological response. Obsessive-Compulsive disorders and Eating Disorders are closely related to anxiety. Anxiety is at its most simple, distress.

Distress can come from old or new feelings of terror, grief, sadness, helplessness, humiliation, danger, distrust, rejection, invisibility, shunning, defectiveness, and unloveability. Old incidents of neglect, abuse, or cruelty sensitize us to anything that feels the same.

All of these feelings can be so powerful that we can become overwhelmed. Pushing ourselves gently into action may seem like the straw that will break us. Of course, the reality is that the only way to heal the distress is to find a way to feel then release the feelings.

Hopefully most of us will find a way to do this instead of ceasing to throw away trash. Living in the midst of clutter weighs us down. The dust collected can irritate allergies. Piles can create a falling or fire hazard.

Neglected kitchens and bathrooms can pose other health risks. During my weekend, I observed that canned vegetables can sit unused long enough that the can begins to disintegrate and leak thick, black tar-like liquid that runs out of the cabinets and drips onto the countertop. I’m not sure I can describe to you how gross this is!

I donned a mask and gloves, but I felt like I needed a full hazmat suit to dispose of the cans. An antique Kerr jelly glass with a metal lid accidentally tumbled into the contractor bag along with a can. I did not go after it. I realize they sell for almost $20 on Etsy. It still wasn’t worth the dive.

Yesterday, I drove the three hours home wanting nothing more than to wash the day off of me and go to bed. Now that I’m back, everything in my house is suspected trash! I’m looking to see if there’s anything I coulda, woulda, or should have thrown away by now.

I sometimes feel like taking the position of my mom’s cousin Jimmy. Jimmy had a barn in disrepair that he wanted to tear down. The barn was located on the original homestead and contained some family heirlooms. Jimmy tried to get the family to come claim those treasures so he could proceed with demolition.

Instead, they stalled, lobbied, guilted, humiliated, and generally made him so miserable that for 15 or 20 years whenever someone mentioned that barn he’d just shake his head and say, “Light a match!” That was almost 40 years ago. He never demolished or torched the barn.

In fact, he finally sold the land to my dad and I now own the repaired, refurbished barn. I have no idea what’s in it. Maybe I coulda, woulda, or should have, but I’m afraid to open the door!

…Light a match?

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/hoarding-disorder/what-is-hoarding-disorder

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml

https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/eating-disorder/eating-disorders-anxiety
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March 27, 2018

What’s Worth Preserving?

In the kitchen and in life it’s important to consider what’s worth preserving. After recovering from a severe stomach virus in December, my system has been slowly readjusting to raw vegetables and meat proteins. I’ve cooked a number of dishes that I ultimately couldn’t tolerate. I feel a bit wasteful throwing those away, so I’m constantly faced with a decision about what’s worth preserving.
jars
I don’t have a canner, so preserving food is primarily limited to freezing. I have to confess that I’m really bad at freezing anything other than baked goods. Actually, I’m really bad at remembering to thaw the food.

Of course I open my freezer every day. I get ice out of the ice maker. I grab a handful of almonds I store there. I sometimes grab flour out of it to bake. But those things can be used immediately. A muffin can be microwaved for a few seconds. On the other hand, a roast, Cornish hen, or chicken thighs take time to thaw. That’s where the problem comes in.

I plan when I’m creating or testing recipes. When I’m cooking for myself, I fly by the seat of my pants most of the time. Thawing and last minute cooking don’t mesh well. And I haven’t been pleased with the results I get from microwave thawing. Knowing myself as I do, I work around this weakness by rarely preserving in the freezer.
beef
Instead, I ask the following questions when I’m deciding what to keep:

How much longer will it last?
What I can’t tolerate today, I may be able to in 3 or 4 days. If it will last 3 or 4 days it still has usefulness and I will keep it.

Can I freeze it, then give it away?
My sister falls on the opposite end of the freezing spectrum. It’s her favorite way to store food. Sometimes it makes sense for me to freeze something, then give it to her.

If I cook it, will I eat it?
The answer to this question may lead me to cook the food, but give it away. If I have a friend who is overly busy or has been ill, I can do us both a favor by preparing the food then delivering it to them.

Can I donate it?
A local food bank or food closet may be able to accept fresh food. We have a new local organization that only serves veterans and disseminates quickly so perishables are acceptable. Churches may also be able to use the food to feed members of a congregation.

Should I throw it away?
Sometimes throwing something away is the best decision. If you were raised to conserve, reduce, reuse, and recycle, this may be a difficult concept to absorb.

When I was small, we had very little money. I don’t like wastefulness. It makes me feel anxious and insecure. What’s gone can’t be gotten back and I internalized the idea that I might not be able to afford to replace it. Most of the time, this serves to make me more efficient and less wasteful, but it can also cause me to want to hold onto too many things.

This is the point at which questions about food preservation begin to intersect with questions about what’s worth preserving in life. Should I hold onto every piece of furniture or knick-knack that I remember from my grandmother’s house? Should I keep every blurry photo of my family? Should I hang onto grudges against my aunts and uncles that originated before I was born?

Our experiences and families leave a legacy often left unexamined. But in life it’s valuable to ask what’s worth preserving. Sometimes what we retain is limiting us from having the life we desire. We accept a version of reality that may not have to apply.

When deciding what’s worth preserving in life, I often begin a question with – Can I know for sure that…

Can I know for sure that I won’t have funds to replace my mom’s dresser that has outlived its usefulness?

Can I know for sure I’ll forget the warm feeling I had in my grandmother’s kitchen if I get rid of her cookie jar?

Can I know for sure I won’t see that same smile on my cousin’s face in a different photo that’s not blurry?

Can I know for sure that Uncle John is as rotten as my dad said if I don’t get to know him myself?

Can I know for sure that I won’t find love again if I let go of this relationship that makes me feel really bad about myself?

Can I know for sure that I won’t get that dream job even though I’m only 80% qualified? Should I just stick here where I’m miserable, but secure?

If I can’t know beyond a shadow of a doubt that something is true, then I turn the question around and ask – Is it possible that…

Is it possible that I will find a dresser that’s cherry like my bed instead of a mismatched maple one with a drawer that sticks?

Is it possible that the smell of peanut butter cookies baking in my oven will remind me of the warm feeling I had in my grandmother’s kitchen?

Is it possible that I have 15 pictures of my cousin’s smile in the 5 boxes of photos I haven’t organized because there’s so many to go through?

Is it possible that Uncle John tried to apologize to my dad, but my dad wouldn’t listen and he’d actually love to have a relationship with me and my sister?

Is it possible that I don’t believe I deserve to feel good about myself in a relationship?

Is it possible that a fear of being inadequate is standing between me and the job I want?

If I can’t know for sure and it’s possible that exactly the opposite is true, what am I preventing by holding onto my current belief? Am I cluttering my house with so much stuff that has to be cleaned that I don’t have time to enjoy my family? Am I cluttering my collections with so many extraneous things that the best aren’t easily visible? Am I missing out on a positive, supportive relationship because of someone else’s beef? Am I missing out on a loving partnership that makes me feel I am being my best because I keep trying to make a bad one work? Am I missing out on my dream job by letting doubt keep me from applying?

It could be that some of the things I’m holding on to are costing me dearly. By asking a question and then turning that question around, I can quickly identify things in my life that are not worth preserving. Sometimes they seem so obvious, I wonder how I could have been so blind.

One thing I know to let go of is guilt; another is shame. I will make mistakes. I will make decisions of which I’m ashamed. I will fail. I can hold onto guilt, shame, and failure and in the process lose my best self or I can let them go in order to learn, improve, and shine in my life. I choose to let them go. Some things just aren’t worth preserving!