Sunday, December 30, 2012

This is what minimalism prepared me for

Remember the good 'ol days when you first discovered minimalism and its lofty promises? It taught us that if we could get rid of our attachments to physical objects, we could:

Ditch all of your things and roam the globe freely without a care in the world! 

Free ourselves from consumerism and you can quit your job and write a blog!

Let us get rid of our mortgage, so we're no longer trapped in a huge house we can't afford that's 2 hours away from our boring-as-sin job!
When I first learned about minimalism, none of these three ideas was my motivating factor. They seemed a bit lofty for me. I just wanted a cleaner house. But in the process I did become far less attached to stuff. But this month I finally learned that minimalism really is freedom. Why? Because...

I moved out of my parents' house! Completely!

This was all I took. And it was all I emotionally needed to take.
All of the rest I left's just stuff.
Last time I talked about my childhood bedroom, my mother had pretty much told me that I was not allowed to clean it out. More or less, this meant that she'd claimed everything in that room for her. 

Tension has obviously been building with my mother and my sister. My mother and my sister live lives of delusions when it comes to clutter. They both think the level of clutter is fine. Wait, let me rephrase that...they think that the size of the hoard is acceptable. I'm sure it will be fine until my mother falls and breaks her hip in the hoard. 

But my mother generally lives a life full of delusions that she has to keep her psyche from falling completely apart as a result of my father's emotionally abusive behavior. The end result of his behavior is that she has practically no self-esteem and little self-worth. My mother wanted to get into medical school when she was younger. She didn't get in on the first try, and instead of trying again, she changed fields. But she's phenomenally jealous of doctors. She thinks that they have lots of money and fantastic lives (sorry mom, money can't buy happiness, and doctors have lots of money because when you work 80 and 90 hour weeks like my doctor friends do, you don't have time to spend money!) She's got a God complex about doctors. 

So anyways, at the holiday dinner table my mother started going off about the amount of alcohol a woman can drink during pregnancy (no, I'm not pregnant. Yet). I haven't done any literature searches lately, but my MIL is a licensed OB-GYN and she told me what limits she gives her patients. I rattled that information off, and my mother immediately decided that my OB-GYN mother in law was wrong, and that she was right. She was playing doctor because she couldn't get to be one. 

I lost it. In front of the entire family, I told my mother off. "You don't have an MD, my MIL does, so  no, mom, you're wrong. Stop pretending to be a doctor, because you're not. You may have studied some of this is school, but you aren't the one practicing medicine. So shut up." 

I didn't cross a line, I dropped a nuke on it! I lost control. My uncle once asked me about how abusive my father had been. He said that he himself had been temped to hit my cousin, and had done it once, just once -- but it was because he, my uncle, lost control, not because it was my cousin's fault. 

I realized that I had lost control and it was my fault. It was therefore my job to keep from losing control again. I knew it was time to leave. Not just for the weekend. But for good.

There was still plenty of stuff that belonged to me in my childhood bedroom, but I suddenly realized that I wasn't going to be able to retrieve it all, because I was never coming back to that room again. Maybe I'll return to the house some day, but I'll never return to that room. That house is too full of delusions. I need to be around people who are grounded in reality in order for me to recover from my own problems.

I got up from the holiday table and asked my husband for two things: Four boxes, and twenty minutes. And with a mantra of "it's just stuff, it's just stuff, it's just stuff..." running through my head, I packed the most important things to me, and said goodbye to the rest. I suddenly understood why minimalism leads to freedom. I finally had psychologically detached from my stuff enough to let a childhood worth of emotion-laden objects go, so that I could go where I wanted.

In the end I took my piano lamp, a handbag, three pieces of expensive china from overseas trips, my favorite tiffany-style lamp, some of Gram's clothes, a couple mementos from my Spain trip, six framed photos, and my stuffed animals. My CD player was missing from the photo, but I took that too. 

Here's what I left.

My husband was mortified about the things I said in front of my family. I should've been, but wasn't. I finally got to tell my mother that it was time she stopped blaming something that happened 40 years ago her for problems today, because she often does the "woe was me, doctors have all the money and all the attention and everyone loves them and I'm miserable because I'm not a doctor." Well, mom, you chose not to try the MCATs a second time. I have a friend who took the MCAT 17 times before she finally got into medical school. You chose not to go back and to do a post-bac pre-med program after college.  In other words, YOU CHOSE NOT TO BE A DOCTOR! This choice was no one's fault but your own! Live with the consequences and choose to be happy in another field! You wouldn't need a $200,000 income if you'd get help for your hoarding and stop spending money on crap! 

My mother can't take ownership for the problems in her life, and therefore sees no reason to work to fix them. And that's a bit of a problem while I'm working so hard to fix the problems in my life.

Case in point: When I was in college she blamed the condition of the hoard on me because I had a nasty habit of bringing the contents of my hoarded 10x10 dorm room home every summer and dumping it in the dining room (which wasn't used as a dining room anyways. It was my mother's dumping ground for half a dozen musical instruments that never got played anymore.) Who did I learn the hoarding habits from? Her! My father! My sister! 

But even with me gone, and me having found a way to substantially reduce the clutter in my own home, she still finds ways to blame the condition of the house on me. When I ask about donating all of the outdated books in the basement to a library, she says, "oh, but your books are still down there." No they're not. The books I got rid of and threw out that she and Dad "rescued" and are now down in the basement hoard. 

More aggrivating still, my mother continues to blame me for my father's violent episodes during my childhood by saying, "well, you could've tried not to egg him on." Violence is a choice a man makes.

One morning I was reading the Children of Hoarders listserv and saw a banner someone had put at the end of their message. It said simply:
"None of this is, has ever, or will ever be your fault." 

But my parents and sister will always believe that our family situation is my fault. I can't change them. (Funny, though. I left the house years ago and yet it's gotten worse. And yet somehow it's my fault. Hm.) 

So I have left. Permanently. There is still plenty of stuff that belonged (past tense!) to me in my childhood bedroom, but I suddenly realized that I wasn't going to be able to retrieve it all because I was never coming back to that room again. Maybe I'll return to the house some day, but I'll never return to that room. I told my mother that everything I care about of mine is gone. My stuff is gone and she can do with the rest as she wishes. 

Like she'll believe it. I'll still get blamed. And you know what? 

I don't care. And it feels AWESOME. 

And now I'm off to go put together the last carload of items to take to the thrift store before our 2012 tax deduction is up. Have a happy un-hoarded new year, everyone! 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The $43,000 storage unit

A while back I read on the Children of Hoarders website that one individual's hoarder parent had rented three storage units over something like 15 years. They did the math on this one: 
3 storage units @$80 each per month each for 15 years. For those of us who are mathematically dis-inclined, google calculator says that this is 
80 (dollars) x 3 (units) x 12 (months each year) x 15 years =

$43,200. For the privilege of keeping piles of useless stuff. It sure makes me wonder, what would I do with $43,000? Certainly not put it into junk! 

But I realize I am doing that. Many of us are. Anyone here have renter's or homeowner's insurance? Did you remember the number you gave them when they asked you how much your personal possessions were worth? It's pretty scary. I've seen friends and family have numbers anywhere from $15,000 to $90,000. In graduate school I fed, clothed, housed, and entertained myself for the entire year on $15,000. That's no small chunk of change. 

The reckoning I do every time I give something away has made me more aware of the money that I lose when I buy possessions. But I'm realizing that I also need to be careful when getting rid of the items I don't need anymore. I've finally taken the time to learn about the charitable donations tax deduction. I now make sure to get the deduction slips from our thrift shop and homeless charity whenever I donate items. In the end it gives me more money to turn around and give back to the charities I support.

Before the year's out I'm in a hurry to maximize my tax deduction! (I sound like an ad. Sigh.) So let's see what tax deduction is behind closet door number one!

One barstool (bought for $12)
One sling, never used ($29)
Corningware dishes (3 @ $4 each = $12)
More tupperware (2 at $4 each = $8)
Grad school mug ($7)
Maryland mug ($10)
Magnifying mirror ($35)
Pill case ($4)
Total: $117 on stuff I never should've bought. 

And then there was the stuff that I purchased but did get use out of but don't need now:
dumbbells for physical therapy ($10)
DVDs  and CDs ($100)

And then the free stuff: 
one shoebox (value $0)
mirrored antique tray (value $5)
glass jar (value $0.25)
tote bag (value $0.99)
purple tin (value $0.25)
renoir print (value $2)

Counting wear and tear, it's about $100 I can deduct from my taxes. It's not much, but if I can turn $15, $20, or $25 back around to a charity, that's pretty awesome to me. 

Do you deduct the value of what you donate? Is it worth the hassle? I've never done it before. We'll see how much of a paperwork mess it makes. And that's 19 items down. Items 153-172 are gone! And I am also now $1916.00 poorer than I would've been if I'd paid attention to what I was buying. Ugh. And I'm not even half way through my goal of getting rid of 365 things. Screw it, I'll get myself thoroughly depressed and shoot for 500 before we have kids. We'll need the space. 

See you tomorrow for Friday's Fashion Fallout!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I'm not afraid of my father anymore

This post was a long time coming. And if you've watched the news in the last 24 hours, you'll understand why I finally picked today to write it. Back to your regularly scheduled un-hoarding tomorrow.

This post is about violence and the importance of mental health care. There is not much about hoarding here and nothing about decluttering. I would say that if this upsets you, don't continue reading. But in fact, if you feel that way, I want you to continue reading. Actor Patrick Stewart has seen violence first-hand and made the point better than I ever could:

"People will not talk about it. Victims will not talk about it. Those who are perpetrators of the violence will not seek help...but the only reason that I am striking my match is that hopefully by illustrating what it has been like to be in an environment of such violence, that it can pass, and that one can survive it...and lead a life with out violence...Darkness is the friend of repression and cruelty...Only by talking about these experiences can one help to expose them."


For a while I've mulled over the question of "What happens when my mother finds my blog?" because I'd be a fool to think that she'll never find it. It won't destroy her, but she'll be extremely upset by it. And I don't think that's a bad thing.

When I struggled most with my eating disorder, I wish someone had exposed me, instead of 10 years passing before I finally was too miserable to keep going. I wish someone had upset me, I wish someone had taken me by the shoulders and screamed "you don't have to live like this!!" I wish someone had told me that there was help, and that I could get it. The worst moments of my eating disorder made me feel like there was a demon in my head, controlling me. It is scary to live in your own head when you have mental health problems. And that makes it scary for the people around you. Mental health interventions can save life and limb. I've seen it first hand.

Growing up, my parents fought a lot. My father was prone to rages, particularly road rage. When I was six someone cut him off in traffic. He lost it. Tailgated the guy until we passed the police station and he tore into the building in an absolute rage with me in tow, screaming and flailing at the police officers to do something. One of the police officers took him away into another room while a lady police officer picked me up and carried me around to try to calm me down. Because by that point I was bawling from fear of my father. My father didn't give damn about me. A police officer I'd never met cared more about me in that moment than he did. When we finally got home, my mother told me to brush it off.

Fast forward ten years and my father's rages had worsened. I woke up many Saturdays and Sundays of my teenage years because my parents were screaming at each other in the kitchen downstairs. But by 16 I'd gotten pretty sick of it. One Sunday I walked into the kitchen, went about my business, and in the process of avoiding my father I knocked a coffee cup off the counter. He lost it. I tried to keep going about my business, turning to get something from the freezer. But as I reached in, my father slammed the door on my hand. Now, remember that my parents are hoarders and that the freezer was overly full. Something sharp cut my hand open. I stood in the kitchen watching blood drip onto the floor. My father at this point had now grabbed the keys to the car and was running out of the house, blaming everything on my mother and swearing he was going to divorce her, as was his MO. My mother chased after him, determined to get him back. I needed stitches but I never got them because she was too busy chasing after him and was too afraid to admit what happened. I had to go to school the next morning with my hand bandaged up in an ace bandage, and the truth bandaged up in a lie about slipping with a knife while cooking. When my mother finally came back (my father re-appeared later), her only response was, "he didn't mean it." I still have the scar on the palm of my right hand.

Not the one my father wielded though it looked the same.
Ironic how it was supposed to prevent crime instead
of being the instrument of it.
But left unchecked my father's rages became dangerous to people outside of our family. Two weeks after I graduated from college my family was going to the movies. My father was driving because my mother was too afraid to drive with him in the car. Someone cut my father off in traffic and as expected he broke into a rage. At the next stoplight he stopped the car, grabbed the "club" that he kept in it because he was paranoid that someone was going to steal the car, and ran over to the door of the guy who cut him off. He brandished this piece of 1/2" thick steel  as though he were going to break this other guy's window and then attack him. In the middle of four lanes of traffic I bolted out of the car. And I ran. Because I was now absolutely certain that my father was capable of murder. He had put a potentially lethal weapon in his hands and had lost control to the point that he was willing to use it against another human being. And in that moment I realized that one day, if I wasn't careful, the one who would end up dead would be me. So I ran.

I ran two miles to the house of a friend whose mom was a lawyer. I wanted a restraining order against my father.  She did an excellent job of concealing any shock she felt, saying only, "I knew your dad had problems. But I never knew it was this bad." It was a very telling statement.

She told me that unfortunately the particulars of the law meant that I couldn't get one, since I wasn't the one he tried to get at. However, I could try to get him prosecuted on assault charges. Even though he didn't make contact with anyone, "assault" is apparently considered just the intent to injure.

By this point my mother had found me. I told her that my intention was to prosecute. She burst into tears and begged me not to. I gave her another choice: divorce him, or get him evaluated and treated by a psychiatrist. Or I was never coming back to that house again. She couldn't decide. She went home and brought me a duffle bag of clothes.

I lived out of that bag for the entire rest of the summer, sleeping on friends' floors until I finally was able to get a job and housing at the college I'd just graduated from. My boss later described me as "begging" for a job, my desperation obvious.

By the end of the summer my mother was begging me to return home. My father now had a diagnosis and was being treated with psychiatric medication. Unfortunately it was prescribed by our general practitioner, because he refused to see a psychiatrist. He also wasn't doing any type of talk therapy, which concerned me because there's strong research evidence people with serious mental health issues do better when they have medication and talk therapy together than with either treatment alone. But my housing at the college was ending and I had spent away all of my college earnings on crap. I had no money and I had to return to my parents' home.

It was strange the next time I saw him nearly fly into a rage. Something trivial happened that was a typical trigger for him. I started to see him stiffen up as usual. But then I saw something very strange in his eyes. It was like he knew something was supposed to happen next, like he was supposed to do something next. But he didn't know what it was. There was no rage at the end of this.  I was safe.

This is NOT to say that medication fixes everything. I did see rages again from my father, including one bad enough during a visit to my place in DC that I kicked him out and sent him and my mother packing back to Philadelphia on the next train. I issued another ultimatum at that point: they both needed to start seeing a psychologist in addition to the medication. I wasn't putting up with this anymore now that I was on my own.

Three years later, my father is a completely different person. He's obviously committed himself to therapy at this point and even admitted that it probably saved his life. And I believe that. And I thoroughly believe that it may have saved mine. I'm not afraid of him anymore. I'm also not stupid enough to believe that that part of him isn't still deep inside somewhere, and that for my own safety I still need to be mindful of my father's behavior.

My father never laid a hand on my mother. And perhaps that's why my mother still sticks her head into the sand. "It's not abuse because he didn't mean it."

No, mom, it is.

Many times we are afraid to speak out when we know someone is violent or has violent tendencies. We cannot afford to do this. Because when these people are left to continue their behavior their behavior only gets worse. If someone had forced my father into treatment, I probably wouldn't be showing you this.
Amazing how a cut so small could bleed so much.
So much of the violence in our society could be stopped or prevented with adequate mental health care. And with a culture that encouraged people to get help for their mental health problems. Because it is a nightmare living in a mind with a mental health problem. My father must have been miserable for those 60 years of his life. My mother I'm sure is still miserable. 

So speak out. Get help for those you know suffer with mental illnesses. For the people who have intensely erratic and dangerous behavior. Because more people than you know depend on it. 

Thank you, Dad, for getting help. I'm so very proud of you. 

Mom, I know you hoard because of what we endured together.  I know how miserable this feels. Please get help. Please. 

As for me, I'm a lot better than I was. I've even come to realize that being forced out of the house right after college opened an opportunity for me. You see, the job that I begged for was at my college library. I had never wanted to be a librarian but my boss very quickly saw that I enjoyed the work I was doing and that I was good at it. For the entire second half of the summer, every day she would say, "are you sure you don't want to be a librarian?" And what do you know, by the end of the summer I had applied to library school. Which led to an internship at a medical library, which then led to a fellowship at a bigger medical library, which led me to my permanent job in DC and the wonderful life I have here. You may not be faithful, and that's fine. But for me this was definitely a time when God may have closed a door, but he opened up a window for me. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday's Fashion Fallout: Look! I'm holey!

I couldn't resist the Harry Potter joke :o) sorry!

Today is another case of things of mine to wear that have holes in them. In this case, shoes. 
These beauties were one of many shoe purchases I made while I was single and found myself bored and at Macy's on a Friday night. Friday Fashion Fallout indeed. I used to do a lot of shopping on Fridays when I lived alone. When that stopped I started having eating disorder behaviors on Friday nights. I need a new coping mechanism for Fridays!

My shoes get a lot of holes in them because I have kind of a funny gait. My right leg strikes the ground on the far right corner of my heel and I roll to the left to the tip of my big toe. As a result, I get holes in my right shoes on my big toes. 

And because it will cost me a shocking $18 to get this fixed, they're going to get donated. Someone else will hopefully be willing to invest a little money in them to make them new. I feel guilty that I'm not wearing them all the way through. But they're just not comfortable shoes. 
Kitten heels +  pointy toe shoes + foot problems = bad idea. 

*the reckoning*
item 152: a pair of shoes that need an expensive repair, and I don't like them anyways.
cost: $65.
fate: the thrift shop
total money wasted on stuff I shouldn't have bought: $1799.00!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Shopping with my mother

Sometimes the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Sometimes it never falls off at all. 

The Saturday after Thanksgiving I went shopping with my mom. My parents live in a town with one of America's top 5 largest shopping malls. It's not the kind of place you can easily hop into and out of quickly. 

The reason for going to the mall was simple: I needed a jar of one of the very few moisturizers I'm not allergic to. My eczema had flared up badly from the stress of being at my parents' house and I was quite uncomfortable. Buy one thing, get in, get out, right? Wrong. 

So I picked up my cream and was looking at some makeup while the clerk rang up my purchase. I tried on an eyeliner, tried on a lipstick...didn't like either of them and I'd already spent enough on the cream. 

My mother just tagged along so that we could get in some mother/daughter time. And yet when I got back to the register I noticed that my mother was having a purchase rung up as well. She showed me her haul. Two lipsticks. And one more thing. And then it was what she said to the clerk that got me. 

"I'll get the same cream my daughter bought, too." 

Wait, what?

My mom's total three-item purchase was a $75 impulse buy. Okay, fine, it's her money (though I know now where I learned that it was 'okay' to impulse purchase anything under $350). Maybe she'd even been thinking about the lipsticks for a while and finally was in the place to get them. What really confuses me is that she bought something because I bought it. This is definitely not the first time that's happened. 

I can't begin to guess whether or not she'll actually use the cream. Maybe since it's an eczema cream and she also has eczema, it was just a simple case of wanting to try something that someone else had given a high rating. After all, I'm not sure there's an eczema cream on the market that actually works well and some days I'll try anything if it'll just make me stop itching. I understand that motivation and that desperation. But she seems to do a lot of things just because I do them or my sister does them. Particularly with purchases, those items end up not getting used and rarely thrown away. 

I find that I am less likely to flip out at my mother when I at least know what her (illogial) reasoning is. I have a vague idea of what's going on here, but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday's Fashion Fallout: have your feet shrunk too?

I must be weird or something. Because in high school I wore a size 8 shoe. By grad school I wore a 7.5. Now, I fit into size 7 shoes!  Has anyone else had this problem? I thought feet didn't get smaller, only larger. Unfortunately this means that I don't fit into my older shoes. So much for the $99 I spent on these cute things ages ago. I fall right out of them now. Then again, how cute can I really think they are? I only wore them four times!
*the reckoning*

Item 151: a pair of heels that don't fit. 
Cost: $99
Fate: the thrift shop
Total money wasted so far: $1743.00

Thursday, December 6, 2012

My ovaries are screaming

You know you want a baby when some royal gets knocked up and you suddenly become insanely jealous.

I turn 30 in April. Yes, I know, I'm not old! I know! But the biological clock is ticking.  My parents spent years trying to have me and apparently I was finally coneceived in a petri dish. This could take a while. But before any of that happens, there are a few things that I want very much to do, because these things will be very difficult or impossible with small children.

When did my uterus decide
that this was a good idea?!

1.) Travel to Australia and snorkel in the great barrier reef. That unfortunately means we have to go during the one time of the year when it's warm enough to do that.

2.) Renovate part of kitchen (wall and new cabinet) so that the Chief Engineer and I can both fit in it!

The kitchen seems optional at first. But Fairy has seen first-hand that there's a bit of a problem with the kitchen. When she and her husband took their Great American Tour earlier this year, the three of us plus the Chief Engineer tried to stand in my kitchen. We managed it for about two minutes before we all got claustrophobic! There's definitely no safe space to put a baby where I could see him/her and still cook, so that needs to come before a kid.

About Australia. My mother suggested that we just leave the kid with her and my dad for three weeks while we travel (and leave my kid in the hoard?! I could come back and find my child buried under a pile of diaper boxes full of photos from when I was an infant!) I almost considered it though. But apparently I know nothing about mommying because I had to look up on a baby blog that no mom would want to leave her kid while she's still nursing! So no Australia post-baby, either.

Point being, those two things are going to be insanely expensive. But we've done the math, and getting it all done and paid for within the next 13 months means one scary thing: we need to trim $1000 per month off our expenditures, or we have to wait an extra year to have kids.

I need to get over my eating disorder so I can stop spending upwards of $300 a month on treatment. I've wanted to go to Australia badly for years, and the kitchen currently isn't conducive to family life. So I have to stop buying crap so I can buy the work on the kitchen. I have to stop shopping to soothe myself. I am not bringing my kid into a home where two serious mental health problems aren't under control.

And it's my choice, so I don't get to complain!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Hoarder's Basement Video Tour

Before I dive into this, I want to make a quick shout-out to the ever-awesome Robert Wall of Untitled Minimalism. Robert interviewed me for his podcast a while back and just posted the interview here. Check it out.

If you can't get enough anti-hoarding inspiration, here's more. This is a tour of the room that has been completely devoured by the hoard. My parents' basement is a story of the tragedy that is hoarding. I used to be angry. But now it's just sad.

I'm not doing this to make fun of my parents. I'm showing this to make a point that hoarding hurts. It destroys relationships and lives by preventing those involved from living normal lives. It's a mental health condition that can be managed. If the hoarders are willing to get help.

This video is dark. It may be easier to see if you expand it to full screen size.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday's Fashion Fallout: Shoes will not heal grief

Back to the "Grief and Clutter" series, which, I swear I will return to in earnest.

Today's Friday's Fashion Fallout item is a pair of road cycling shoes. I love cycling and unfortunately have more or less stopped since I got married. But these shoes need to go for a different reason.

Right after Gram died I decided it was time to put some serious energy (read: money) into cycling as a way of trying to move forward with my life. So two weeks after she died I dropped an insane amount of money on a road bike and the gear to go with it. These $100 shoes were part of that purchase.

Cycling shoes are funny. You can't really walk in them because they don't have a flat sole. Instead, they have holes for you to screw a clip. The other half of the clip is attached to the pedal. When you get on your bike, you clip yourself in and quite literally are attached to your bike. If you fall, the bike goes with you if you can't unclip yourself fast enough. But when you're riding and not falling it's awesome. This kind of pedal makes you much faster because you're able to pedal through the entire 360 degrees of your stroke, instead of just on the downstroke.

I'm a skittish person. I also break easily, as evidence by the long list of physical therapists and orthopedic surgeons I've acquired over the years. I tried the pedals -- they were fine so long as I didn't have to suddenly put my feet on the ground. I fell a couple times, and got back up. And then I fell right in front of an SUV, with my feet still attached to my bike. I was done. Back to toe cages for me.

It took two years before I finally was willing to get rid of the shoes. I really loved what they did to my ability to ride. I've always dreamed of riding fast even though I'm short and slow no matter how much I ride. Giving up these shoes meant giving up that dream. I guess I just have to learn that I may be athletic, but an athelete I won't be. But I'l take not being an athlete over getting killed by the insane drivers in this town!

The Reckoning

What: Item 150! A pair of cycling shoes
Cost: $100 and some skin
Fate: sold on eBay for $30
Total money wasted on stuff: $1644.00
This purchase wasn't a complete waste though. I found out that this kind of shoe and pedal just isn't right for me. I still can't decide if that was worth the $70 I lost on this pair of shoes. I'm still going to count it though.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Inversely proportional messiness

My level of messiness is inversely proportional to the presence of my husband.

The hubs (who I'm just going to give up and finally call the Chief Engineer, because we love Star Trek and he's an engineer, and otherwise I'm just stealing Megyn's moniker for the guy she married)...has gone away on business. And what semblance of organization we had in our home is now well and truly gone.

Oh yes. Those are skis on the couch. New skis. *facepalm* 

Well, skis that I ordered long before I blocked ebay and amazon on my computer and paid for with some extra contract work so it didn't affect our bottom line. But still. I will have lots of decluttering to do this week. Argh. The whole point of decluttering was so I could stop spending time decluttering!

Does anyone else's house suddenly turn into a mess when someone leaves?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Five easy steps to curing an online shopping addiction

Thanksgiving at the home of three -- three! -- hoarders was eventful. Eventful enough in fact that it deserves several posts and a video tour of the infamous basement in my banner. I promise I'll get to those later this week, once I get the photos and videos in something resembling order.

Today of course was "Cyber Monday," so I hopped around on the interwebs pricing TVs that I have no business buying (The green spot on my 25 y/o CRT TV is only the size of an index card. It's not worth replacing yet.) I couldn't help but laugh when I saw this on Ryther Camera's website.
Cylon Monday!! The Battlestar Galactica reference is nothing short of awesome. Because I am nothing less than an automoton who will do anything by your command when it comes to online shopping. It's one of my worst vices and it contributes to the influx of stuff into my home.

I need to end my addiction to online shopping. And I think there may be an easy solution. 


If you use the Firefox or Chrome web browsers you can download something called a "site blocker" to add to your browser. These are features you add to your browser. You specify which sites you want to block on your machine. You can always go back and give yourself permission to view the sites again. Okay, so you won't be cured, but at least it makes you stop for a minute and thing about what you're doing ;o)  Here's how:

1. in Chrome, google "siteblocker add-on."
2. Download it. 
3. Restart your browser.
4. Set the sites you want to keep yourself from using by going to the "window" menu and clicking "extensions." You'll see SiteBlock listed. Click "options" and add the sites. 
5. Now go do this on all your web browsers. 

You can also do this in FireFox and the procedure is much the same. It's harder in IE, but possible. 

I've added eBay,, Amazon, Macy's, and several other online stores that I patronize far too frequently. Now when I type in "" all I get is this:

I'll let you know how it goes for me...let me know how it goes for you!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I'm thankful for not getting trampled

Thought you all might enjoy this. Stay thankful...and out of the malls.
Feel free to share. Happy Thanksgiving!

Stuff helps the homeless

This post has been a long time coming, thank heavens. We've finally started to tackle some of the larger objects in the apartment because we now have a good place to donate large household items! A Wider Circle is a Washington D.C.-area charity that collects homegoods to donate to homeless and shelter-dwelling families who are getting their first real apartment. They even take mattresses. Now I just have to convince my husband that we don't need three beds in a two person household.

If you remember my post about organizing the front hallway, we knew something had to go. I own another, smaller cabinet with a door that closes so we decided to replace this old bookcase with the small cabinet. I'm sorry to see this go, as it was a gift from a friend freshman year of college. But it was a magnet for clutter, and someone else can use it more than me.
Our kitchen has a lot of twins in it because the husband and I lived apart for many years, and because our food allergies make cross-contamination via shared utensils a serious danger. However, knives are easily cleaned, and a family could use these more than us. Really, do we need the 20 knives that we own? Definitely not.

One of the coolest things about decluttering in my mind is this: when you declutter and get organized, you don't need home storage items anymore. You get to declutter the stuff that people sell you to manage your clutter! How's that for progress? Gone: one set of rolling drawers and one under-bed storage box.  WE DON'T HAVE ANYTHING UNDER OUR BED ANYMORE!!! I'm so thrilled, can't you tell?
I've found furniture and large home items to be the hardest pieces of clutter to find new homes for. Where do you donate things? Has anyone donated a mattress before?

The Reckoning

Items 146, 147, 148, and 149: A bookcase, a set of knives with the knife block, a set of storage drawers and an under-bed storage container.
Cost: Ironically all of these things were gifted to me, except for the knives. But those I used every day for years so the weren't a waste.
Fate: Making a homeless family happy and giving them a comfortable living space.

Happy un-hoarding!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mental HELLth problems

This post is a vent. It's pent-up stress released in words. 
If you don't like reading about other people's emotions, you may want to skip this post. 
I'll return to my regularly scheduled un-hoarding tomorrow!

I learned the hard way that there is no shame in having a mental health problem. There is no shame in getting help for it. There is shame in avoiding treatment, and making your friends and relatives' lives miserable. There's a reason that Alcoholics Anonymous's 8th step is make a list of all persons we have harmed and make amends. Mental health problems hurt. Hoarding hurts. Eating disorders hurt.

But does it work the other way? What about the people who hurt us? The people who hoard? The people who got violent and slammed our hands in freezer doors when we spilled coffee? The people who told us we were fat and made oinking noises when we would eat at dinner?

This weekend, the husband and I found out that we each have family members with cancer who likely only have a very few months to live. In my case, it's my paternal grandmother.

I've always had a tenuous relationship with her. She blatantly ignored my father's mental health issues and never did anything more for him than suggest that he "control his temper." At holiday dinners growing up she would make oinking noises in my direction while I ate but in the same breath would tell my sister to eat more. She constantly openly insulted my mother for having a messy house, for not being a better wife (to a guy who constantly threatened to leave her after he'd throw objects around the house?!), for marrying my father in the first place. She was the one who taught my father that overweight women were disgusting, worthless creatures. Given that my mom was overweight and I was getting there by the end of high school, my therapists and I acknowledge that she played a role in my eating disorder.

Yes, my mom has problems. But she needs help, not insults. And I didn't need to hear those insults either. I didn't need oinking noises to tell me how fat I was, I needed someone to show me how to eat normally. I've always desperately wanted a good relationship with my grandmother, but every time I tried, I got hurt.

But right before the husband and I got married,we had some serious problems because of how involved his mother was in our wedding. I'll skip the details, but what she did bordered on sabotage on more than one occasion. She wanted her son to marry an nice Jewish girl, and this little German Lutheran girl just wasn't going to work for her boy.

Grandmom was the one who convinced me to stay.

Grandmom had gone through the same thing when she married my grandfather. They ended up eloping and it worked out well in the end, but for many years she was deeply despised by her in-laws and shunned by her own parents. In a way I owe my wonderful marriage to her.  She taught me to cook; she taught me about style and interior design...about having a household budget and working hard to move out of the socio-economic class you grew up in. I love that. Those things are important to me.

*That* relationship is the one I wanted to have with her all the time. But I last spoke to her over a year ago, and I had to hang up the phone crying because I couldn't take the hurtful words she kept dishing out about my mother. I'd begun therapy at that point and I realized that she was a "toxic" person in my life, someone who was not helping in my recovery. I haven't talked to her since.

Grandmom's not going to change. She's 91. She's mellowed substantially to my mother because my mom is her primary caregiver. I realize that time is running out and I just have to swallow my pain on this one. She's not going to change and I'm strong enough and sensible enough to ask her to change topics when she gets insulting, and to realize that her opinions are not the truth.

Maybe that's part of recovery. Maybe that's what I have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. She can spout her insults, and those are her truths. But they don't have to be mine. I've learned more about letting people's insults go because I've been forced to deal with her insults along with her ... dare I say it?... love. I am so afraid of getting hurt emotionally when I see her this week. But it's time for me to move on from the hurt in the past, and take advantage of what time is left.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fruit...on little sticks.

Life is like a mixed drink. It can be clear, sparkly, and beautiful

And sometimes you don't even have to pick the fruit for your drink. Sometimes it just comes on little sticks.

It's often best enjoyed by a setting sun. 
Our Caribbean trip had many sweet, beautiful flavors. But a good drink is sweet with a bit of sour tang.  

Like realizing that even in paradise life may not seem so idyllic. On a drive back from the lunch with the drinks with fruit on little sticks, I was reminded to be thankful for what I have and to realize what my money could do for others if I would spend less on stuff, and more on people who truly need it. It's hard to see, but this family didn't have money for a child gate for the kid in the doorway. That's a piece of plywood being used as a play gate. Do I need crap to make myself comfortable? Or does a small child need the money my crap could buy?
We need the sour to appreciate the sweet. The morning after we got home from the Caribbean, I ran a 5k. As I started running, I was bemoaning the weight that I was sure I had gained from overeating (but fortunately not bingeing) on vacation. I whined about how my physical condition was holding me back...until I saw this man.
I know him. He works at the same place I do and he regularly finishes in the top tier in races on campus in spite of only having one leg. And I complain about a few extra pounds and use that as an excuse for not running.

So yes -- I spent too much money on vacation. Yes, I bought something I didn't need. Yes, I gave into my eating disorder and substantially overate too many times.  Yes, I've gained 15 pounds since I got married and ED is having a field day making me miserable. But you know what? Everyone falls out of the saddle once in a while. I can dust myself off and get back up. Because I have so many fewer obstacles to fight in life than so many people. I know I can do it.

How do you get yourself back on track after a vacation?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Off to a simpler life for a while

No phone, no internet for a while. See you all in a week. Keep un-hoarding and let me know how it goes!

Friday's Fashion Fallout: I'm seeing double

My obsession with espadrilles is over!
Anyone else have a nasty habit of finding something you like in a store and then buying the same thing in a bunch of colors? Or finding something you like and being afraid it will go out of style, so you buy a bunch of them?

I'm trying to break myself of that shopping habit. But first -- let me get rid of my last pair of unloved espadrilles. I have one pair left that I love to death and will be keeping. But I don't need three pairs of esparilles! Another $20 down the drain, and one more item (#145!) for the Reckoning. That's $1574.00 wasted so far on junk.

It's Friday...what fashions fails have you decluttered today?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A different kind of disaster zone

That would be my finances. Click the image to enlarge.

Just a warning, this post is filled with a ton of angst. I am a spoiled, wealthy brat who realizes how much she has but is foolish with it. And I feel very ashamed, and really don't know how to change my ways. 

I let go this month. Our take-home pay decreased substantially because I contributed twice my usual to my pension thingy at work this month. In total, we only added $216 to our checking account and $415 to our emergency fund. Still -- only adding $600 in liquid savings feels really bad. 

1. ED treatment got more expensive this month. My therapist just moved to California so I've been going to a bunch of trial appointments with what feels like every therapist in town. Eventually I'll find someone I like who takes my insurance but until then I have to pay for the full cost of the visits.
2.We ate out at a pricey place. First mistake: going to the hottest restaurant in the DC area for our wedding anniversary. Second mistake: trusting that they wouldn't try to kill us at dinner. If you have food allergies, Volt in Frederick is not a great place to go!
3. I didn't restrain myself when it came to entertainment. It's that simple.
4. I bought more Christmas presents. I felt it was better to split the present purchasing over three months. I only have about $60 worth of planned gifts to get yet, for a total of approximately $400 for the whole family, for $50 apiece. The remaining gifts complete the "baskets of local goodies" I've been planning to make. But next year I need to focus on more homemade gifts and also to set a budget.

Really, #2 and #3 are the biggest problems. I just have to restrain myself. I've got no choice if I don't want to find myself having to pay bills out of our savings.

It really gets worse.

The spoiled brat continues her spending, because this week she's taking another vacation to another ritzy destination. My MIL goes to the Caribbean and begged us to go with her. She offered to pay for food and for the hotel. We thought, 'what a deal!' Yeah, right. Airfare alone was $750/pp.

What's really going on here is that my FIL died a number of years ago and my inlaws used to go there every year. So there will be lots of things that will be done just for the endorphins. She already has plans to take me jewelry shopping (real jewelry shopping..."it's half what it is in the states!" she exclaimed). If I say I'd rather not spend money she will then offer to buy me something or will bring me back something I can't stand. And that is very dangerous. She tried to buy her say in our wedding, and I HATE it when she pays for things, because I feel like she's using money to gain some kind of invisible control over me. I feel like I'm in her debt. I feel that way about the whole vacation.

My husband is talking about snorkeling and renting boats and eating out...I just paid the pet parents are coming over when I get back and they'll want to eat out a lot...and I'm overwhelmed.

My husband doesn't have a spending problem, I do. I'm not sure how I'm going to handle any of this. I used to never eat out and that was how I afforded all of the stupid things I would buy. But now I don't want to cut into his fun because he prefers to eat out and enjoy vacations and I can't control my spending on the little stuff.

Like the eating disorder, angsting over it makes it worse. Perhaps it's best to just talk with the guy I married and set a reasonable limit on how much to spend at the jewelry store, and to be okay with it. I have $250 in contract work coming to me this month. Perhaps that's a reasonable amount to spend.

And on top of it all, I know so many people who make so much less than I do, and yet I'm so careless with it.

The great handkerchief debate

The Frankenstorm came and went. DC has returned to normal. The sun is shining...aaaaaannd I'm at home with a runny nose and a fever.

I don't know about you all, but between November and April I average about one cold a month. The rest of the year I do a good impression of Snow White's dwarf Sneezy. I'm just allergic to everything.
I go through a LOT of tissues in a year.

Or at least, I used to. I made the great handkerchief switch about a year ago right after I bought a 12-pack of kleenex boxes at our Costco warehouse club. There were three problems with this in my mind. I think the 12 boxes cost about $25. I could easily spend over $50 on Kleenex in a year. Not to mention the waste! Oh, and tissues take up a huge amount of space. I have, er, fond memories of going into the linen closet as a kid and having my father's stash of 24 kleenex boxes topple onto me. No thank you. I desperately want to stop stockpiling.

But alas, I'm also a medical librarian. I understand the germ theory of disease, though obviously not well enough to keep from getting sick six times a year! I've worked in hospitals. Handkerchiefs seemed like a really, really bad idea when it came to hygiene.

I looked at when I tend to use the most tissues. Easy -- when I'm home sick I can go through a box in a day.  I now use handkerchiefs when I am sick and quarantined at home. The husband doesn't mind because he never seems to get sick! When I go out in public I use tissues instead.

And what do you know? That stack of 12 tissue boxes has lasted a long time.  Now I use six boxes a year instead of 24 and I figure I save around $35.

I keep my handkerchiefs in a pencil case I got at Harrod's which you can see in the picture. It's one of my few souvenirs of a college trip to London. I'm glad it now serves a purpose and I don't have to declutter it. The pouch takes up less space in the cabinet than a single box. In the future I hope to only keep a couple spare tissue boxes on hand.

Now that I've grossed you all out...what do you think about handkerchiefs? Do you use them? What works for you? Or was there a product that you used to stockpile but now you have something reusable instead? What is it?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

safe and sound

We got very lucky and survived the storm intact -- and with power! I suppose we can be thankful for the derecho (land hurricane) we had over the summer that wiped out our power for almost four days. The derecho took down most of the trees and branches that were going to fall. As a result, this time there wasn't much blowing around to knock down power lines. Newspaper boxes,on the other hand....
And those pictures of the retaining pond near us that I posted yesterday? We walked by it and it's less full than it was yesterday! We really got lucky. My friends in New York are looking at weeks of clean-up and days without power. You're all in my thoughts. 
The plants are still indoors because we're not quite sure that the wind has calmed down completely. But at least I won't have to dress up like this again to go outside tomorrow! 
Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers over the last few days!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Weather report

So far, so good. Still safe and sound, but given that I took these pics at only 11 this morning, I'm afraid we'll have to see what the overnight brings. At least we're off tomorrow so I won't have to swim into work! More time for decluttering, squee!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pre-Frankenstorm hoarding or preparing?

courtesy of The Washington Post
If you live within about 1000 miles of Manhattan then you've heard about the Frankenstorm (I did not make this up!) that's about to clobber those of us who live on the east coast of the US. It's actually a hurricane that combined with two other large land-based storms. Where we live now we are virtually guaranteed to lose power to and lose it for a number of days as this happens following even small thunderstorms. So how do we prepare? Well, we could go overboard, as so many people are right now:
Keeping too much stuff is a danger in and of itself in a disaster. I can't image what my mom would do if the basement (in my blog's banner!) got flooded!

We try to be rational about it. We like a 72-hour disaster kit as and the Red Cross recommend. It looks like this. Not unreasonable in size. If we need more than 72 hours worth of stuff then we need to leave the area. That's what the full tank of gas and/or the hiking boots and camping gear in the basement are for. Either that, or we head a few blocks over to where I work, which quite literally was built to withstand an attack by a small nuclear missile. It also has a generator and ample bottled water.
An intelligently-sized example of a disaster kit, from
Our kit is in an old toolbox that my mom gave me as my medicine chest in college. No, I am not sick enough to need a chest that's the size of a 20 gallon fish tank thought she seemed to think so. I almost decluttered it but it works great as a box to store our foul weather supplies. The kit includes stuff I cobbled together from around the house, many things that I originally wanted to declutter like candles leftover from our wedding and a little tube of small first-aid items that I got at work.
Water, candles, a tarp, batteries, a hand-crank radio and flashlight, glow stick, dust mask, sanitary wipes, swiss army knife, whistle. We keep canned food in our kitchen, a manual can opener, first aid supplies in our bedroom, and sanitation supplies in the bathroom.
But the most awesome thing we found for these long power outages?
 $5 home depot LED head lamps!
These were affordable, they last a long time, run on standard AAA batteries, and most importantly, they keep your hands free while you're trying to do things in a blackout. They're an essential part of our Frankenstorm preparedness kit.

Even the gerbils are getting ready. Raisin spent all day building this elaborate paper-bag-and-boxed-meal house with help from Rye. Raisin knows there's something coming. I've never seen a gerbil haul something three times his size all the way across the cage before! Smart little guys.
A loaf of bread is baking in our breadmaker, the fridge is full of ice and our 96-hour cooler is ready to take over for the fridge and freezer. The cellphones are charged, the kindle is loaded up with books, and the radio batteries are fresh. And we're both off work tomorrow!  Stay safe and un-hoarded this Frankenstorm!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The agony of de-feet

Remember in an earlier post how I said that I would love to go to nursing school for the fun of it if I ever had the spare time, energy, and cash? Well, today I have to wonder how much I really want to learn about nursing.

I gave away the anatomy and physiology textbook I bought for a class I audited after grad school. I was too pressed for time to finish the class. I told myself that I would learn the anatomy myself by reviewing a bit every day.

Four years later, that's never happened. I've cracked the book maybe twice. It was time to get rid of it.

*Gasp*! I'm letting go of my dream!  said my subconscious.

No, I'm not.

Just because we let go of objects doesn't mean we let go of memories, of the people who owned the objects, of the goals and dreams we associate with those objects. Practically anything can be replaced.

And for heavens sake, my office sits on top of one of the largest collection of medical books in the world! No, seriously--the largest collection. Somehow I think I won't have too much trouble finding another anatomy book if I want one. And probably one that's a bit newer, too. Remember, folks, you don't need to keep books. This is what your local library is for!

The Reckoning!

What: Item 145, my A & P textbook
Cost: $100. I should have borrowed it from a library in the first place instead of buying it. Or I should've sold it on as soon as I was done with it.
Fate: Freecycle. The guy who picked it up seemed to really enjoy it.
Total $ spent on stupid stuff: $1654.00

Thursday, October 25, 2012

urge to splurge

Have you figured out why you shop? I shop when I'm feeling great, to heighten the awesomeness I'm feeling. I shop when I'm feeling sad, to cheer myself up. Today, I felt fat. Fat apparently isn't a feeling, or so my therapist says. Translation? I felt incompetent. I felt ugly. I wasn't willing to let myself binge to make myself feel better (go me!) but all day I had a building desire to go to Ann Taylor. I needed to go. I was going to go crazy if I didn't.

On Thursday nights I take a class downtown. (In)conveniently, Union Station happens to be a fine place for me to hop off the train and walk to class. But this is America, so it's not just a train station...
It's also a mall. 

 With laser-beam focus I hustle my way up to the Ann Taylor on the second floor, with visions of 4" heels floating in my head....
Wait, WHAT?!? Closed?
 *Gasp.* Panic. How can Ann Taylor <3 DC if it's under renovation? How dare they!

My plan was foiled. But the desire to acquire is still strong with this one. So I turned around and sulked my way down the hallway. Until I found this.

No, it's not a dentist's office in a mall, though I've heard they do that. It was eyebrow threading. I have big, dark eyebrows that would make Sesame Street's Bert jealous. I hadn't had mine done in ages and these were only $12. I had been trying to save money by not getting my eyebrows done but I think I was just making myself feel worse about my personal care. But this was half the price of what I usually pay. *This* was something that would make me feel better!

Ten minutes later I felt much better, much more put-together and presentable. And my desperate need to go buy something? Well, the desire was still there. But it wasn't screaming at me anymore. I headed outside and enjoyed a relaxing walk across the National Mall to class.

Just another walk to night school. I love this town.
I feel like I won in every way possible. I gave ED a kick in the rear end, I don't have a $100 charge for shoes on my credit card, and I don't have yet another pair of shoes I don't need cluttering up my closet. Hoarding habits AND ED beaten with just a $12 eyebrow job. Taking care of myself has so many rewards.

My mom always put my sister and me first. Always. And while that sounds like a good thing, I realize now how bad it was because it meant that she never took care of herself. You can fight hoarding with meds. You can fight hoarding with therapy. Or you can fight hoarding by taking care of yourself.

Please take care of yourself, mom.