One reason those ghosts are so strong is because they are really a manifestation of anxiety. Spend any part of your childhood or young adult life where food and shelter were in jeopardy because of money issues, and those anxieties get a lot of power. And because we survived some of those situations thanks to some packrat in the family who kept that old appliance when they bought a new one which we can now use after ours broke until we can afford to replace it, well, those anxieties can rightly remind us that “You might need that someday!” is true.
To get out of the abstract for a bit: one of the tasks that has been on my list for a while was to go through the closet and my chest of drawers to purge clothes that I don’t wear anymore. We last did that seriously two years ago while preparing to move… and we did it again when we unpacked, because after all that packing and moving we were both feeling that we had not been ruthless enough in the purge leading up to the move.
But we’re both also busy with work and chores and so on, so it is easy to put it off. I have also learned that those ghosts will enlist the aid of my inner procrastinator in interesting ways. Usually I distract myself with another chore or project that is important, but manages to grow into something bigger. The trick, I have learned, is to actually say out loud, either to myself or my husband, “I really want to go through the closet and drawers this weekend to get rid of the clothes that don’t fit me any more.” And even though whether they fit isn’t the only reason I plan to get rid of some clothes, if that’s the only part I admit out loud, it’s harder for my to procrastinate.
Yes, I just admitted that I have to trick myself. The funny part is that it works.
Weekend before last I started at the closet. One reason it had become urgent is that the closet is so full of clothes that it is difficult to put clean clothes away after I do the laundry. It’s a struggle to squeeze things in. The side effects of that are that it is difficult to find a particular garment when we want and that a lot of shirts especially get weird creases because everything’s jammed in.
Because I had been doing other housework that day, I didn’t get started on the closet until nearly 2:30 in the afternoon. As I pulled things out of the closet, giving them a look over and trying them on, it was easy to toss things that don’t fit (or don’t fit comfortably), or if they have another physical issue (there was one really nice dress shirt that I really like that got a coffee stain on it that resisted all my attempts to remove, and it wound up being put back in the closet because the packrat ghosts in my head convinced me that I could think of something to remove the stain later.
It was more difficult to put things in the “get rid of” pile that had no physical problems, but that I just know I’ll never wear again. There are a few reasons that I know I won’t wear something ever again. Sometimes it’s something that I bought because I thought it would go really well with something else and I either no longer own that other garment or once the outfit was assembled it didn’t look good or it had a major impracticality or whatever. Other times it’s just that while it looked good in the store, later I didn’t like how it looked on me. And other times it’s just, I’m over that–whatever look it was.
If I keep it, it will just hang in the closet. It will be looked at from time to time while I’m looking for something else, but I will never pull it out and actually wear it. I know that. No matter how much I know that, I feel a tide of guilt rising inside as I contemplate tossing it into the “give away” pile.
The trick I have used in that situation is to ask myself, “If my friend Kristin were here, what would she ask me?” And what I imagine Kristin (who I sometimes call “the Ruthless One” in these circumstances) would ask me is, “Are you really ever going to wear that, or is it just going to take up space that you could put to better use with things you actually do use?”
And once I have imagined Kristin saying that (or similar), the guilt recedes and I can put the shirt or whatever into the pile.
A bit over two hours later, I had pulled every shirt, sweater, pair of pants, jacket, and so on out of the closet, tried it on, put it into a pile, and then had re-hung all the clothes that I was keeping. I had an embarassingly enormous pile of clothes to go, and an impressive mass of empty hangers. And I was tired and sweaty and felt grungy and grumpy.
I checked in with Michael about how many of the hangers to keep, I bagged up the clothes and the hangers, and I hopped in the shower to wash the grunge and (mostly repressed) guilt away.
I looked at the chest of drawers–three of the six drawers so overfull that they couldn’t be fully slid in, looked at the time, and decided that it was not procrastinating to put that off until next week if I loaded up the car and actually took all the stuff we had in the get-rid of piles away. And it wasn’t just an excuse, between that and the other housework I’d been on my feet and moving for many hours. Value Village was only open until 8pm, and we were now past 5.
So we loaded up the car (which took longer than I thought), drove up to the donation center, dropped the things off, did a quick run through the store on my usual quests (I am trying to replace one decorative plate that got broken while we were hanging the set on the wall at the new place, I keep hoping to find a matching sixth cut crystal wine glass for one of my sets, and I have slowly been acquiring semi-matching bone china saucers to go with a small set of teacups that belonged to my late first-husband’s grandmother — and which, yes, I actually use!). And then we stopped at a nearby sushi place for dinner.
Then, this last weekend, I went through the drawers. Since taking things off hangers wasn’t involved, it went a bit faster. The pile of things to get rid of wasn’t nearly as impressive as the one I’d had the weekend before. But now I am able to easily open and close all six drawers on my side, and there is actually room in the drawers for some new things when they come along (because they will).
Michael, on the other, spent something like five minutes going through his drawers, and all he did was move heavy winter things to the drawers drawers in the bed pedestal (we decided after the move that they only we we’d remember to use them at all was keep seasonal stuff in them), because as the hot weather had come on, he’d started pulling summer clothes out of the drawer, but hadn’t transferred. But all the drawers on his side now easily slide closed, so, win!
Of course, while he was a lot of packrat tendencies, his are focused differently than mine. And he doesn’t have the same habits I have of, for instance, if I have to toss out a couple of socks because they wear out, I will replace the two thrown out pairs with six… and then a month later not remember that I have already more than replaced those “bunch of socks I had to throw out” and buy another six-pack.
One last trick for dealing with all of those ghosts. Whenever I win a little battle with them, I make an extra donation to either Northwest Harvest or True Colors United–gotta use that guilt for something useful, right?
I don’t make coffee at home on days that I go into the office. I’m the only person in the house who drinks coffee, so it doesn’t make much sense to make a pot just so I can have one cup in the morning before I go to work. And making a single cup takes as much prep work as making a whole pot, so I just don’t make coffee at home on those days.
Some weeks ago the “Clean” light on my coffee maker started flashing insistently… Read More…
So I rousted Michael last night to walk up to my favorite restaurant for dinner. It was a little late at night, but fortunately they’re open until 11 on Saturdays. During the walk back, we noticed that a lot of buildings were completely dark. Then we turned a corner and saw that all the houses and streetlights on our street were dark.
The power outage, according to the power company website, hit about 11,000 customers. Once we got home and grabbed a couple of flashlights, we were mostly concerned with getting our computers (that were all plugged into uninterruptible power supplies) properly shut down. Then making sure that not everything in the house would turn back on at once when the power came on.
I went to grab a couple of candles in jars from the top of the entertainment center. Sitting on top of the first one I could see was a cute little plushy husky that had been given to me by a friend when he came from Alaska to attend a sci fi convention with us. I took hold of the plushy and tried to lift it out of the way so I could get the candle. But it was hung up on something. I tried to get it loose, and after a few seconds, something came loose and flew over my head, clattered against the wall behind me, then hit the floor. I had the plushy free in my hand, so I set it aside and got the candle down. I started toward the kitchen, where I knew the matches were. Fortunately, I swept the light down on the floor just before I stepped on the big brass spike.
What brass spike, you ask? Why, the one-and-a-half inch long brass spike sticking up out of the little brass pillar candle holder that was apparently wedged between a couple of the candles in jars up on the entertainment center. As best I can figure, since there is no sign on the cute little plushy of any holes or even snags, is that one of its legs was somehow wedged between the candle jar the plushy was atop, and the brass pillar holder. The pillar holder is what flew over my head and made all that clattering noise, and of course landed right where I would have stepped on it, with the spike that is probably more than capable of going right through the soles of my tennis shoes and well into my foot.
I picked up the small brass foot trap and put it on a counter. I retrieved the matches and my little kitchen step ladder(I’m only 5-foot-5-inches tall, I need the ladder to get into cupboards which in most kitchens appear to have been designed for use by NBA players). Once I got the first candle lit, I climbed up on the ladder to get the rest of the candles.
There was a lot more junk up on top of the entertainment center than I remembered. More candles, yes, but also a bunch of other things that I had completely forgotten about.
We got enough candles lit and spread around the apartment that we could move around without carrying flashlights with us. And even though the power company web site (smart phones are a wonderful thing in these situations) had predicted power wouldn’t be restored until 4:30 am, just shortly after I got all the candles set up, the lights came back on.
Today I pulled the rest of the stuff down off the entertainment center, dusted, and tried to figure out which things up there we actually need, which should be thrown away, and which just need to be put away somewhere else. One of the things up there was a Magic 8-ball. Yes, the silly toy.
It wasn’t just a little dusty, the dust was adhering to the plastic, so I had to get soap and water to clean it. But it looked all pretty and glossy afterward. I asked it, “Am I going to get the rest of the house cleaning done today?” shook it, and turned it over. The little plastic-dodecahedron inside with the silly answers on it floated up… with the point up. The level of liquid inside has gone down enough that it won’t push the dodecahedron against the little window so you can read one of the answers.
Now, a rational person would toss it into the trash at this point, right? It isn’t worth taking to Goodwill because it doesn’t work. But here’s the problem. This Magic 8-ball is the very first Christmas present I ever opened from Michael. It’s a present he grabbed precisely because it was silly, and he thought that I should have at least one silly toy to open for Christmas. Unlike a couple of other things he gave me that Christmas, it wasn’t something picked up because he thought I wanted it or needed it. It was entirely an impulsive buy.
But it’s the first present I opened from him. So, the moment I even thought about throwing it away, a voice in my head lamented, “What kind of heartless person would throw away the first present your husband ever bought you?” And I could feel the guilt and future regret cranking up in my subconscious.
Michael was out running errands when this happened, so I set it on the table and moved on to other things. When he got home, I showed it to him and his first words were, “You’re pitching it, right? I mean, someone gave it to us as a gag gift, right?”
I told him he had given it to me. “I did? Okay. Well, I can buy you a new one.”
“No! That’s even worse than me holding onto it!”
And I threw it in the trash.
I was 99.9% certain he would tell me to throw it away, but here’s the thing about having been raised by a whole family of packrats: no amount of rational thought on my own can completely silence the guilt-inducing voices in my head. Any time I want to get rid of anything I have to fight a chorus of, “You might need that some day!” and “But so-and-so gave that to you! If you don’t hang onto it, that’s the same as not respecting so-and so!” and so on.
People who aren’t packrats don’t understand this.
And it isn’t enough to have just anyone tell me I can throw it away. I have to either argue with myself for days to muster the determination to toss it, or someone who falls in the “extra-special-trusted-person” category of my irrational side has to tell me it’s all right to get rid of.
It’s a constant battle. I only win on my own as often as I do by thinking about Hoarders. Because I could so easily turn into one of those people.