Here’s a simple exam to tell ifyou’re a hoarder: Move out of your apartment of 13 years. If a bomb looks like it’s gone off after your movers have picked up your boxes and left, you’re a hoarder. I know, because that’s what happened to me.
I had officially moved into my boyfriend’s apartment. My clothes and volumes carted off, but my old place was still in shamblings, the accumulated ephemera of my life occupying every nook and cranny.
I’m a hoarder, and I simply hadn’t been able to pack or dispose everything in time for my official moving day, so I’d been living with all the detritus, unsure how to tackle the problem.
I’m not employing hoarder as a way to exaggerate. This is notthe clutter equivalent of a size-four girl saying, I’m sofat. My hoarding interfered with my everyday activities. Mystuff encompassed every surface of my home, from the doorway, where I had to slam my body against the door to enter, to the living room, spare room and into my bedroom.
Iwould regularly trip-up as I constructed my style through theassorted papers, publications, books, shoes, purses and randomother items I’d collected over the years.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that there was so much stuffI felt swallowed up by it. I’d always been a packrat, but whenI’d started living alone seven years before, my stuff had trulytaken over and I’d let it. Once “youre starting” down that track, it’sincredibly hard to simply set things away, so I was dealingwith the aftermath of years of simply tossing thingsanywhere I wanted. I didn’t even know what I had, only thatI still felt like I needed to take the time to sort through it allbefore officially leaving.
When I arrived at my cousin’s wedding after being cooped up in said apartment since the movers had left, I was desperate, stressed beyond belief because I was supposed to have officially cleared out three days before.
I was wheezing because of all the dust being kicked up, and I felt utterly trapped by all the stuff waiting to be hurled out.
My worst nightmare was that my landowner would come in and assure the shamblings I’d made of his apartment. Even though I didn’t expect my security deposit back, I was more concerned with my dignity than my finances. I couldn’t imagine facing him inan entire apartment filled with clutter.
In the nights after my moving day, I tossed and turned as I waitedfor an ominous knock on the door, but all I heard was my own panic. How was I going to get rid of everything when there was so much stuff that I had bruises from tripping over it whenever I strolled across a room?
Even getting inside was a struggle; I’d slam my body against the door to push my way inside the morass of newspapers, books, clothes and gifts littering the floor. I’d learned to live with this level of rubble, and I’d always assumed that moving “wouldve been” panacea.
I’d devoted myself four months to pack my belongings, but those months came and went unbelievably quickly.
I had tried my best to clean out my apartment, but there was simply too much stuff for that to be a practical objective, which is what happens when you stimulate zero attempts to purging for over a decade.
Friends had liberally offered to help, but I’d rebuffed them all, assured that if they got a good look at just how messy my apartment was, they would no longer be my friends. I couldn’t envision inflicting all the dust, dirt and sheer magnitude of stuff on anyone I cared about, even if their hearts were in the right place.
I had get myself into this mess, and I wanted to be the one to get myself out of it except I clearlyhadn’t been able to do that.
My belongings seemed to have taken on a life of their own. They’d grown larger than my mind could even fathom. When you steadily accumulate possessions for that long, they become part of you or at least that’s what it felt like to me. Parting with them felt like parting with a piece of myself, which constructed the task not only daunt but impossible.
I’d no sooner burrow into a corner to sort than unearth old issues of Talk still in their packages. I couldn’t throw them out without at least perusing them, could I? Floppy disks that perhaps contained brilliant old writes from virtually 20 years ago? My first computer, a Mac Color Classic? Keepers, lest my urgent early-2 0s jogs be destroyed forever.
The same ran for letters from pen pals whose names and life tales I’d since forgotten , notebooks from statute school( even though I never graduated and don’t practice law ), and the sneakers autographed by Cisqo.
Nevermind that I barely knew who Cisqo was; I’d won them in a contest, and I therefore had to save them.
En masse, it was amorphous junk, but individually, each thing became invaluable. I’d grab a pile, determined to do some damage, only to get immediately sucked in by nostalgia.
It didn’t matter if it was a volume I’d never cracked open, dust clinging to its pages, or the velvet Betsey Johnson skirt I’d bought on eBay, worn once, and stuffed into the back of a drawer.
For every item I hurled into a trash bag, at least three more landed on my must keep listing. It was a never-ending chore that seemed to grow exponentially more stressful by the day.
You might think that by that phase, I’d have been so sick of the process that I’d be ready to part with previously coveted items, but in fact, the opposite happened.The closer I got to having to say goodbye, the more ferociously I clung to my possessions.
They were my ultimate safety net as I got ready to uproot my life — to go from complete independence with no oversight, which was part of what had gotten me into this mess, to living with someone who I feared would monitor my every move and purchase.
That’s how I wound up wheezing at the beach wedding, my beleaguered lungs thankful for the ocean air. At the reception, I asked my former roommate( a different cousin ), what I should do.
My boyfriend said to just leave it all there, but I can’t do that. I don’t want to get sued.
Plus, I would never have been able to live with the guilt of leaving over a decade’s worth of litter in my home for someone else to handle.
You could hire a trash-removal service. We did that when my dad’s apartment caught fire. They came in and threw everything out.
There are people who do that? I asked, shock and exhilaration constructing my voice creak. I couldn’t believe a hoarding fairy godmother existed. If I’d known you could pay someone for this service, I would have saved myself many sleepless, stressful nights.
He sent me off to Google my options. As it turns out, there are multiple trash-removal services for hire in New York. Some were eco-friendly and recycled as much as possible, which would have been my first choice, but those were booked on such short notification; I was in a day crunch, so I prefer the fastest option, which would simply take my trash and throw it away.
I sent them photos of my home so they’d have a sense of what they task necessitated. They were up for it. For $700, they promised to send someone the next day.
The following morning, three humen arrived with a small truck. When I demonstrated them inside, they didn’t bat an eye at the garbage I had to wade through, the filth I’d been too ashamed to show anyone. That was my first sign that things were going to be OK.
We didn’t talk much beyond that. I got out of their way, because I simply couldn’t watch. But something about their methodical , no-nonsense approach stimulated “i m feeling” less awful about myself. They were there to do a job , not to judge me.
Outfitted in masks and rubber gloves and armed with garbage can, the men were like decluttering robots, whizzing through the towering piles I’d agonized over so painstakingly.
They didn’t stop to ask my opinion or weigh the health risks value of selling an item on eBay. They weren’t being paid to care about my stuff, just to get rid of it.
Meanwhile, in the living room, I huddled over my laptop, pretending I was wholly fine with strangers rummaging through my old bras and clothes, my voluminous adult publication collecting from having worked at one for seven years, the random electronics I’d never bothered to dispose, and whatever else was there.
Yet even though I knew they did this every day, I found that I couldn’t simply sit still. That old guilt kept coming to the forefront. I felt like the ultimate spoiled brat, paying somebody to literally toss out my dirty laundry along with my old lipsticks, journals, books, publications, shoes and stuffed animals.
I listened to them fill up those giant cans. It felt wrong on every level. I’d thought they were coming to my rescue, but it wasn’t actually easy tosit back and letsomeone else do what should have been my job.
You should keep this, the superintendent said, handing me the Social Security card I hadn’t known was missing. Again, my irresponsibility stared me right in the face. I thanked him, then shut my computer, utterly unable to focus. Even though they weren’t expecting me to assist them, I couldn’t live with doing nothing.
To feel marginally useful, I decided to help them, but even at that late hour, my hoarding brain overrode my common sense.
Instead of adding to the trash cans, I reverted to my old M.O. andstarted rescuing the final must-saves. Yes, while they tore through my bedroom as quickly as possible, I was in the living room grabbing Cds, artwork, an old cell phone and whatever else abruptly seemed too vital to part with forever.
I lugged several huge suitcases to a nearby friend’s home, sure my life would never be the same if I didn’t salvage that rare, out-of-print 10,000 Maniacs album with the Cat Stevens cover.
Looking back, that seems ludicrous, but in the moment, you would have had to pry that record out of my hands, and I would have fought you.
Hoarding is an act deeply embedded in the core of who I am, and while I’d hired the cleansers to help me get out of my rock-bottom situation, I couldn’t completely “lets get going” of the person who’d get herself into that situation in the first place.
Here’s another way to test if you’re a hoarder: It’s when thereality of saying goodbye to your stuff is so painful you simply can’t face it, even when you know you must.
Despitemy initial hallelujah moment when my cousin indicated I hire someone, having someone else do my dirty work didn’t entail I escaped unscathed. The four hours I awaited while they filled the truck were my penance, every minute a reminder that I clearly didn’t respect my stuff, because I couldn’t take care of it.
If I’d ever guessed I was better than the person or persons you consider on “Hoarders, ” that day was my comeuppance. Having to witness all those things I’d acquired with such great hope be tossed on top ofeach other as if they didn’t matter and paying someone for the indignity was not some walk in the park.
My guilt was merely compounded when I realise I alone was responsible for a truck’s worth of stuff being taken to the local dump; as someone who’s diligent about recycling, this stimulated me feel like I was personally cutting down a tree for my own use.
Eventually, my former home was spotless, every last keepsake tossed out like old coffee grounds. As I signed off on the $700 fee, I was fully aware that the mental expense was much greater. I’m unbelievably grateful such services exist, because I truly don’t know what I would have done without them.
What I learned, though, is that you can’t simply hire someone to absolve you of your worst behaviour. Having my apartment ultimately clean and clutter-free didn’t simultaneously cleanse my conscience.
It’s been almost three years since I hired the service, and I still shudder to remember how humiliating it actually felt to know I couldn’t do something as apparently simple as throwing out my own garbage.
My hoarding is far more under control these days, but it still surfaces, especially during my three subsequent moves since that big one.
I’ve tried to use this experience to remind myself that no matter how passionately I want to keep an item , no possession is worth “re going through” that kind of emotional turmoil.
I believe I’ll always fight, to some degree, with being a hoarder, but knowing exactly how bad it can get guidebooks me in trying to make better selections so I never find myself in that situation again.