Like many TV viewers, I am fascinated by programs that show people coping with clutter and disorganization. I loved Mission: Organization and Clean Sweep, and tried to apply some of their organizing principals in my own cluttered life, with some success. Lately it seems that shows that depict the merely messy have given way to shows that depict the extreme end of the spectrum of disorganization: Hoarders, on A&E, and Hoarding: Buried Alive on TLC. The formats for both shows are similar, with the viewer first being given a look at the crammed-full homes of the featured hoarders, a session with a psychologist (on TLC, it's a family therapy session), the attempts to clean up the hoard with the help of professional organizers, a clean-up team, and psychologists, and a look at the finished product.
While I am not the neatest and most organized person, I am certainly not a hoarder. You can walk on my floors, and not just on narrow, pre-established paths. There may not be a place for everything and everything in its place, but for the most part, there is a distinction made between storage areas (shelves, cupboards, drawers, desk tops) and non-storage areas (floors, tables, the stove top), although hubby is less finicky about this distinction than I am. I have to be careful to put the ironing board up as soon as I'm done with it if I don't want to find the mail there. Right now, there is a stack of boxes in the den holding books that hubby brought home from his office when he retired, but I have a plan for those in the form of a low bookcase/window seat made with stock cabinets from the hardware store. I just haven't sprung it on - I mean, discussed it with him yet.
When I watch the behavior of the hoarders on these shows, though, I can see our kinship. They all seem to have trouble making the connection between parts and whole. Many of these people are in desperate circumstances, facing loss of children, loss of homes, possibly even jail time if they don't clean up their surroundings. At the very least, they can't live comfortably or entertain family and friends. When we first meet them, most of them are eager for change and grateful for help.
All that changes when it is actually time to deal with the mess. "I'm keeping that" is the response to almost every item. Often the hoarder insists on going through every bag of trash before it goes on the truck, and if by chance a useful item gets in there by mistake, cleaning will grind to a halt. The forest may be dark, dank, cheerless and filled with scary things, but each tree, shrub, and snake, live, dead, or poisonous, is precious.
And I can relate to that. When I try to go through my closets, drawers, desk organizers, mail and shelves, I can see at a glance that there is clutter and I realize I don't know what most of that stuff is and wouldn't know where to put my hands on any particular item if I needed it. Once I start going through items one by one, however, I can think of a reason to hang onto most of them. That's a perfectly good sample size tube of toothpaste. True, we use regular size tubes of toothpaste that we buy at the grocery, and I get two of the sample size every six months at the dentist's office so even with all the travel hubby and I do, I'm not likely to use them all up, ever, but it's a perfectly good sample size tube of toothpaste! And yes, that T-shirt is showing signs of fraying at the neck and armholes, but what if I decide to paint something? I can't wear my good clothes for painting (gardening, cleaning). The last time I painted anything was 5 years ago, because hubby prefers to do it himself, but you never know. And true, I never use aprons, but that apron was a gift. Maybe I should use aprons, so I don't get grease on my clothes. I'm going to use aprons from now on. (Okay, stranger things have happened. The Saints won a Superbowl, after all.)
The effect that watching hoarding programs on my life has been to interrupt all that self-talk with common sense. Michelangelo himself wouldn't have been able to use that many old T-shirts in his entire career. I'm not going to wear the aprons because I never remember I have aprons, except when the kitchen drawer gets stuck because an apron is jammed in it. Anything that's in that catalogue is also shown on the website online. And instead of worrying that I will forget to pay the insurance bill that's due next month if I don't leave it sitting in plain sight, maybe I should pay it now. The money for it is already in the savings account anyway.
So bit by bit and fraying T-shirt by fraying T-shirt, I'm getting a grip on the clutter. I have a box ready to go to the local thrift store right now.
I wonder if they take toothpaste samples?