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! 


  1. Wow- sounds like a dramatic Christmas! It sounds like the big blow up and loss of temper was needed- otherwise you might have been slowly trying to clear your childhood bedroom for years to come.
    Congratulations on your de-attachment to the stuff!

    1. Thank you, and thanks for your support all though this. As it turns out, my therapist says that my 'explosion' was actually another step closer to recovery because it means that I'm seeing the past for what it really was. Now I can work on building a future of my own.

  2. Congratulations!!! You made it, it's wonderful! Happy New Year Joanna, this will be a great year :)

    1. minimalitaly, thank you so much for your support! I'm sure it will be a fantastic year. I feel incredibly free! I hope you have a wonderful new years as well.

  3. Congratulations! I agree with NicolaB. I am slowly letting go of childhood items myself -- taking pictures of items, then either "ebaying" or donating them. I admire your courage.

    1. Sounds like you're being pretty courageous too! Best of luck with unloading your stuff :o)

  4. This IS what minimalism prepares you for - freedom, whatever freedom looks like to you.

    And, about nuking the line...sometimes, there aren't good options. So you take the least bad one you can find. And that's OK, even if you don't want to repeat it or let it turn into a pattern.

    1. thanks for validating my choice. It was so easy to keep going back and wondering if I'd done the right thing. Thank you. Thank you.

  5. Good for you. You are right. How someone reacts to their situation is ALWAYS a choice. When my dad was diagnosed with a terminal illness when I was 16, I knew I had a choice, I could be a "victim" (oh woa is me, a soon-to-be-orphan), or I could be a "realist" (pretty soon I will have to fend for myself, it is sooner than expected so I better be prepared). I CHOSE to be a realist and got my ducks in a row for college and housing and employment so that my sick dad wouldn't have to worry about leaving me behind (no insurance was set up). I had a friend the same year in a similar situation. She decided to be the victim and reacted completely differently. She said "screw it, life isn't fair" and blew off all her obligations. When her mom passed away she went wild, quit school and self-medicated through dangerous relationships and alcohol. I met up with her 10 years later and she felt she had been dealt a bad hand, that her unlucky life wasn't her fault. I was dealt the same hand, at the same time, and my ownership of my future was the only real difference. It's been hard, but it's ALWAYS a choice!
    Long story short, I think you did your family a favour by showing them a perspective they have maybe not considered, perhaps it could have been done differently, but perhaps this is best. Honest and raw.

    1. And it's the women like you who I look up to, because I couldn't and can't look up to my mom for this sort of thing. Thank you for being strong, and for being someone who gives me hope :o)

  6. I agree with the rest that sometimes a blow up IS needed! I too grew up in a family where I was to blame for practically everything (in fact they "joked" that today, everything is Megyn's fault, etc.) Basically, you were emotionally abused...and sometimes you need to face those M-F-ing abusers head on. I've done that to my family, and I've found that as of late, it's actually made my parents stop and think. I've even received apologies from my parents, which is HUGE! Hang in there, and I'm glad you finally got to leave that damn place :) HUGS!

    1. You know, there are days when I feel like we've lived almost the same life. Thank you so much for *your* strength! It reminds me that I can be strong. And we can survive, and do better than our parents!

  7. Good for you, Joanna. Losing control is never fun, but it sounds like you said some things you needed to say and then you took action. Like you said, we can't control what others do, we can only control our reactions and ourselves. Kudos for doing what you needed to do for you!

    1. thanks for your support :o) I don't think I could've done it and grown into my own person without all of you. Happy new year!

  8. Joanna, that is AWESOME. Good for you. I am so proud.

    1. Kerry, thank you for your support! Now that I have much of this family/hoarding bull*** out of the way I'm going to be working on undoing the financial bad habits I've developed. Reading your most recent post, I'm a lot like you--I don't want to live on rice and beans every day for the sake of building up a bank account, but i do want to stop wasting money on things I don't care about and things that don't help me. I'm really looking forward to your blog this year. Thanks again for being one of my wonderful readers and have a great new year!

  9. Joanna, I popped in here to grab the blog address to add to my blogroll (I don't know how it slipped through the net when I was doing the updating yesterday) when I found your new post.

    What can I say except WOW?? You are absolutely amazing - Go, Girl!!

    That is not your bedroom - it is a room full of stuff in your parents' home and I can well understand you not wanting to go there again.

    This post sounds like you have made some really huge strides towards moving forward with some of the issues in your life. Well done.

    May 2013 be a fantastic, uplifting and decluttered time for you.

    As an aside, here is a link to a book I am reading at the moment. I am about 2/3 way through it and there are some thought-provoking points in it.

    Hugs to you, my friend.

  10. Good for you! I'm glad you got that out of your system and moved on with your life. I'm proud of you for making a stand, even if it did take dropping a nuke on the holidays. I'm also glad you got your personal belongings out of the house. I think that you were holding on by keeping it there. Move it out and move on!

    That said, I've had quite a bit of parental (mother) issues lately too, with my mom saying things that I could just drop my own nuke on, but instead I chose to keep quiet because I don't feel like having that fight. I'm on the fence on if this is healthy or not. It could be that it is all just building up inside for a really big mushroom cloud.

  11. You couldn't have been more right. I feel so free I don't have to go back!

    There is something to be said, I'm realizing, for "not feeling like having that fight," as you say. In my own life I've viewed it as the building mushroom cloud like you say. But then my therapist suggested that those feelings indicate a good time to draw boundaries. Yeah, I'm pissed at my parents and want to scream at them. But instead of doing that now I'm finally realizing it's better to just not even talk to them.

    Sad, but boy am I a lot happier this way! How is it working for you?


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