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.