Saturday, December 8, 2018

Combating Hoarding Disorder, Part XXXVI

Throwing away things is the hardest thing to do, but you have to do it.

We took a bunch of stuff to the curb today and put a sign on it, saying "FREE STUFF."  Some other things, we put in boxes to take to charity.  We thought about having a garage sale, but nothing in the pile was garage-sale worthy, or at least not worthy of my time and efforts to set up tables, organize and sort everything, and put prices on it all.

A lot of people stopped and took things.  A lot more will go in the trash.

Hoarding disorder is a growing problem in the US.  Not only are we all going a little crazy these days, but stuff is so cheap today that it is all-too-easy to accumulate "things" and darn hard to get rid of them.  To legitimately get rid of a tube television or computer monitor, for example, is hard.   Most folks slip them in the garbage and hope the garbage man doesn't notice.   Even flat screen displays are hard to unload.  Unless they are state-of-the-art, no one wants them.

There are a lot of things that are hard to get rid of, and you have to watch yourself in accumulating junk.  The age-old cry of the hoarder, "It's worth something!" affects us all to some extent.  After all, we paid good money for that flip-phone, and if we hang on to it for another 30 years, maybe the Smithsonian will call, wanting it.

Or not.

Electronics are a tough one, which is why it is a good idea not to accumulate them in the first place.  Today, so much of the electronic clutter in our lives is being replaced by one device - the smart phone.   The landline, the television, the computer, the answering machine, the radio, the stereo, and so forth are all being replaced by apps on this ubiquitous device.   But that may mean you have an old boom box cluttering up your garage, or an old landline phone (or several) cluttering up your desk.  Or maybe, as I did, a large box of computer cables, woefully obsolete.   Or that box of wall-pack transformers.

Throw it all away.  It is hard to do, but if you let these things accumulate "in a drawer somewhere" you may wake up horrified to find you still have a collection of cell phones and electronic trash dating back to 1990.

Cleaning Supplies are another toughie.  We tend to use four or five products from Dollar Tree - their orange cleanser, their lime-away (in spray and gel), their oven cleaner, and their furniture polish.  We also use Chlorox cleaning spray for the bathroom tile. These few cleaning agents are the "go to" products for us. Yet, our cleaning supply cabinet is full of other bottles and containers of half-filled potions and lotions and notions that were bought with good intentions, but found lacking.  But you can't throw those away, right?  You paid good money for them.

A neighbor recently moved and movers won't pack liquids for obvious reasons - they can spill and damage furniture and clothing and other items - including items belonging to other customers.  So use them up or give them away.  And we ended up taking quite a lot of these things, and have been trying to use them up.

By the way, car cleaning agents fall into this category.  I once had a three-foot-long plastic storage box filled with various cleaning agents and waxes accumulated over a decade.   I use two things, basically - Dollar Tree wash-n-wax car wash soap, and NuFinish "once a year" car wax.   Everything else is just stuff I tried and never used again - but the dried-up bottles remained in my collection.

Toss 'em!

Broken Tools and Old Fasteners are another problem for men. You may have a drawer in your toolbox for screwdrivers. How many of them are dulled, bent, chipped, rounded off, or otherwise broken?  Ditto for that hammer whose handle broke - you're going to get a new handle, someday, right?  Except that no one sells just the handles anymore and it is cheaper and easier to just buy a new hammer.  And why exactly do you have seven of them?  Oh, right, cleaning out dead relative's toolboxes, and then there is that one you found on the street or in the attic of your old house.

Shit just accumulates.

And nowhere is this worse than with nails and screws.  Buckets of 'em, right?  Or maybe little glass Mason jars of nails that have rusted into one solid mass - as was the case in Mark's Dad's "shop" - which I cleaned out twice over two decades, only to come back months later to see it back to proto-hoarder mode.  We had to pay someone to haul away all the rusty tools and junk.  If you live in Florida, near the water, simply don't bother with keeping old tools or nails around.  They will just rust together into one solid lump.

Scrap Lumber is another man-hoarding material.  My Dad had a stack of such nonsense in the garage.  We should have burned most of it in the fireplace (you are always making more of it, if you have projects going on, anyway).  But he kept these small scraps of 2x4 or pieces of plywood, convinced that someday, that birdhouse project would need them - along with the collection of rusty nails.   Keep a few pieces if you must, but during fireplace season, toss 'em all in the fireplace, or pick one day a year to toss 'em all and start over.  Otherwise, you'll end up with a pile of lumber chunks in your garage or shop.

Clothing is another source of trouble.  We keep an old shirt or pants around because it is "too nice to throw away" but then again, it really doesn't fit.  OK, we'll keep it for the time when we "lose weight" and then it will fit, right?   But that never really happens, particularly if the problem is the shirt is too short - which happens a lot with me.   Shirts that ride up and show people my hairy belly are just plain wrong.

Torn underwear and stretched-out socks - why do people keep this stuff?  Or that sweater you never wear for one reason or another - it is too nice or not nice enough.   Shoes that don't fit, or have molded and mildewed from lack of use.   Suits that you never wear and won't even be buried in.  Winter clothing - when you live in the South.  And so on, and so forth.

Toss 'em - or put them in a box and take it to goodwill.  In fact, we keep a box permanently in the closet for this purpose and take it to goodwill two or three times a year.  I swear to God, the clothes in the closet multiply in there when we go away on vacation.

Cooking Supplies and Kitchen Hardware is another problem area.  That "must have" kitchen gadget has only one use, and that is for de-seeding pomegranates.  You use it once and it goes "in a drawer, somewhere" which is the same as not owning it.  If your kitchen is so flooded with utensils and pots and pans, you can't find anything, it is like not having anything at all.  Having multiples of the same utensil or pot or pan can also be frustrating.  Do we really need six frying pans?  The old one is shot - all the teflon is gone - but why throw it away just yet?  Maybe it might be useful for the day when you have to fry eggs for 20 people at the same time.

Or "put it in the camper" or the guest house, or the boat, or the vacation home.  That is the problem with such things - they end up being repositories for stuff "too good to throw away" but yet should be.  Or maybe someone would want it, right?  And old rusty frying pan with mysterious brown stains on it.  Yes, people might want that instead of buying a new one at Wal-Mart for $12.

And therein lies the rub - new stuff is (or was, before tariffs) so cheap that why would anyone want your old grubby and broken crap? For the older generation, raised during the depression, or the stagflation era of the late 1970's, the idea of throwing things away is an anathema.  But today, if you don't throw away, you'll drown in a sea of crap.

Small Appliances are another problem area.  Why get rid of that old toaster oven, just because you bought a new one?   I mean, you paid nearly $50 for that, several years ago, and now it has a nice burnt orange patina (see Dollar Tree oven cleaner, above).  Someone might want that!  Or they might just buy one new for $38 at Wally World.  The same is true for blenders, juicers, margarita machines, specialty coffee machines (which are not professional grade, but are such counter hogs, they end up on a cabinet somewhere).  This goes double or triple for bread machines, which get gross, and over time, lose their heat so that the loaves get smaller and smaller - and stick to the innards more and more.   You can't give those away - not in today's gluten-free world, anyway.

The best thing, of course, again, is to simply not buy these things in the first place.  Odds are, your perceived need for a veggie juicer or whatever, will evaporate rather quickly, regardless of whether you buy one or not.  And if you buy one, the amount of money spent will prevent you from ever getting rid of it.

Throw Rugs and Mats are also problematic. You buy a door mat for the front door.  It gets worn and dirty.  You scrub it and clean it and let it dry in the sun and then put it by the back door.  Slowly, it works its way down the food chain, to the garage side door, to the basement door, to the kid's tree fort, or wherever.  And if you are not careful, it may end up in an attic or basement, where it will multiply with other rugs and mats to have a litter of baby rugs that will pile high in your attic, causing a fire hazard.

Again, the cry of "it's worth something" or "it's still good!" is heard - and should be ignored.  The dog only peed on it a dozen times or so, right?  Throw rugs are fine and all, but if you are rolling them up and putting them in your attic, ask yourself why.  You aren't using them, you don't want them, you have no intention of using them.  And this goes double, triple, and quadruple, for carpet remnants, scraps, and padding.

The previous owner of our house left such scraps in the attic - small rolls of lime-green deep shag carpet (it was the 1970's) and padding that were a pain-in-the-ass to haul out and throw out, but throw out I did.  Why bother saving it?  It sat in the attic for at least four decades, unused.

Christmas Decorations are a topical one. In days gone by, ornaments and decorations were so expensive and rare that they were carefully packed away every year - often in tissue, or in special boxes - and the carried in a heavy trunk into the attic or basement. Today, all this stuff is made in China, cheaply, and you can buy a staggering amount of Christmas bling for not a lot of money.  No one chases down the dead bulb in Christmas light strings.  You throw the string away, or maybe your tree was pre-wired with LEDs that never wear out.

Faded and dirty inflatables are just an eyesore. Throw them away, or better yet, don't bother buying them in the first place. In the old days, we, as a nation, were pretty restrained in our Christmas decorations, largely because they were so expensive to buy and maintain.  Today, this stuff is so cheap, you can light up your house like Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation.   This does not mean, however, that it is a swell idea.  The best Christmas decorations are in the poorest neighborhoods, and that is telling.

The list goes on and on. Cardboard Boxes, for example, can multiply in your garage.  As Erma Bombeck once noted, "Youth assumes a cardboard box will be available when they need one, old age doesn't want to take that chance!"  Mark's grandmother used to disassemble cardboard boxes of all sizes, fold them flat and then wedge them behind the refrigerator.  She always had a cardboard box, if needed!  We have a recycling bin - where cardboard boxes are supposed to go.

Old Financial Records are another source of trouble.  Boxes and boxes of receipts and tax returns and financial reports can pile up in no time.  The IRS will only audit back seven years or so.  And most online brokerages keep records of your adjusted basis in investments - if indeed you even need such data, for traditional IRAs and 401(k)'s (where you pay tax on the distribution, not the gain).  No, you don't need to save your old phone bills from 1998.  Trust me on this.

Art might seem like an unusual category for hoarding.   But bad art can accumulate quickly.   You buy a nice piece of art - a poster, print, or painting, and put it on the wall.  You take down another piece that, in retrospect, was just junk.  But it is "too good to throw away" and no one will buy it at your garage sale, so you jam it in a closet.   Pretty soon, the closet is full.

Pottery, sculpture, and other knick-knacks can also accumulate.   The cat knocks over a vase and you glue it back together.  But it isn't nice enough for the coffee table anymore, and into the closet it goes - when it should go in the dumpster.   Art is hard to throw away, because, well, it is Art.  The only thing harder to throw away is..

Books.   It seems almost a crime, or at least a sacrilege, to throw away a book.  After all, this is literature - this is knowledge - the very stuff of civilization!   You might decide to re-read that latest airport paperback mystery someday!  So on a shelf it goes, until your shelves are jammed full.   You can, however, donate these to the library, or dump them in one of those "little library" deals that people are setting up all over.   Leave a book - take a book!

But in the era of e-books, physical books are slowly fading away.  A camper downloaded almost 7,000 tomes onto my laptop, and I finally uploaded these to my cell phone.   An entire library on a chip no bigger than my fingernail.  It is the stuff of science fiction!  (Sadly, this collection includes little actual science fiction).

Keep the best, discard the rest.  Someone else might want to read them.

CDs and DVDs fall along similar lines.   You can burn a CD to your computer and load it to your phone or pad or a memory stick.   I have memory sticks like this in both cars - the stereo will read the data and play whatever you select - or make a random choice.  It even displays the album art on the monitor screen.   Burn the CD and then give it to a friend. 

DVDs?  If you've watched them once, and have no intention of watching again, time to sell it at a garage sale, donate it to the library, or just toss it.   Everybody is streaming today anyway, so the format may be obsolete in any event.

It is hard to throw away.  But if you don't, you will end up depressed, as your life gets cluttered with old, broken, outdated, and obsolete things.  Possessions can entrap you, to the point where you are bogged down by the material in life.   Possessions end up causing unhappiness.

This is not to say you should live like a monk, only that sometimes, you have to let go, in order to let new things into your life.

I have learned that I can't have it all - nor do I want it.   Oftentimes, I buy things and later on regret buying them.  They don't provide the happiness or joy or entertainment I thought they would provide.  And getting rid of them is difficult, as you resist throwing things away (and admitting defeat) and no one else wants to buy them - or even take them for free.

Less is more.  Wanting is better than having.  Experiences are better than owning things.   Or put another way, owning things should be for the purpose of having experiences.

For example, owning a boat isn't fun - going out on a boat is.   The owning part is the worst part of the deal - the constant worry, maintenance, cleaning, and so forth.   As I noted in an early posting, we sold our boat when we found we weren't using it, and it was costing us several thousand dollars a year in storage, maintenance, and insurance.

I met an older gentleman at the marina who had an older boat that had sat in storage since we had moved here.  He was having an outdrive replaced, and I asked him if he used the boat much.  "Not in years!" he replied.  I asked him why he kept it - what joy was there in owning a boat that sat in a storage rack in a barn for years?  "Pride of ownership!" he replied.

I think the dementia was kicking in, on that one.   Owning something is not an end in and of itself.   Doing things is far more important.  If possessions help you do that, so much the better.  But when they prevent you from living life to its fullest, they are detriment.

Getting rid of "stuff" is always a liberating experience for me.  It feels good to be free of the material, even if it is just a small portion of the junk we own.   It is liberating!