i am a hoarder

I recently made a list of the activities that are most important to me. I didn’t add things like “spend time with my husband” and “cuddle my dogs” because those are so integral to my life that I don’t need to organize them. They happen every day and are the constants that keep me going. I’m talking about things like writing regularly with a goal of publication, drawing my webcomic, and getting my cheese channel off the ground. Perhaps not so coincidentally, they are all creative pursuits in one way or another.

Until I had to buckle down in college and actually finish a degree, I was always creative. I feel stifled without a creative outlet. I feel like I’m not making progress toward what I want my life to be. But of course I have creative outlets! I can write; I can draw. So why don’t I? Why do I feel guilty when I do? Because I’ve created obstacles in my life that I know need to be addressed, but instead I’m ignoring them while feeling guilty for doing so.

I have a lot of mental stress. I feel like I live in a constant state of tension. Some of my stressors, like being surrounded by people every work day which causes constant low-grade social anxiety, I can’t control. At least, not with my life as it is right now. My major stressors, however, are all of my own design. They are the state of my home, my overspending and debt, and knowing I could do more for my health. I put patches on them. I do just enough to get by. I don’t actually tackle them and get them to the point where they are no longer “problems.” But I don’t want to live that way anymore. I don’t want these things hanging over my head, feeling so overwhelmed that I can’t keep up the momentum to finish anything. And I mean anything. The stress that these things cause, the clutter in my mind and the sense of being pulled in so many directions, it keeps me from being able to focus in so many areas of my life. They say cluttered home, cluttered mind. That’s me. It’s time to declutter.

Sounds dramatic, right? Sounds good. How do I actually do it? How do I change the habit of cleaning up one room in my house, but then feeling so tired that I can’t keep up the momentum to clean any other rooms. And by the time I can, the original room needs to be cleaned again! Don’t underestimate the immensity of this task. When I say “cleaned,” I don’t mean dusting and putting away some things that are sitting out but have a home. This is not one of those “clean with me” videos on YouTube where the person says their house is “so messy” but they’re able to put away everything within 15 minutes. That’s not dirty. That’s at most a little untidy. No, this is a whole other beast.

I am a hoarder. There, I’ve said it. Written it. I used to say I had “hoarder tendencies,” but let’s be honest here… I’m a low-grade hoarder. I used to have a little sound studio in an alcove next to my bedroom. It’s essentially a small hallway that goes nowhere because it was once intended as a walk-in closet. I can no longer walk into the alcove. I’m not saying I can’t sit in my chair anymore. I’m not saying I can’t even reach my chair anymore. I cannot see the chair. I can barely see the bookshelf that lines one wall. I sure as hell can’t get anything off of it. When I’m standing in my hallway, I can’t walk to the edge of the wall where the alcove starts, because the hoarded items stuffing it to almost head height are now being stacked in the hallway in front of it. And there are boxes stacked on the other side of the walkway, too, so there’s really not that much room for actual walking anymore. Remind you of a picture from a hoarder’s house? Deep breath. Had to get that out there.

While that is the most hoarderish area in my house, most rooms have some kind of problem. My bedroom, which suffers from not having a closet in it and me being too lazy to use the closet upstairs, constantly has clothes strewn all over it. “Strewn” doesn’t mean ten or twenty items. If I piled the clothes on my bed, they would make a hillock almost as tall as I am. I have more clothes than I need. I can identify some of the items I don’t wear, but I just can’t get rid of them. Because maybe I’ll wear them soon. Or it was given to me by my mother. Or I might lose some weight and then I’d wish I’d kept them, right? These are all hoarder rationalizations. Non-hoarders make them, too, but not to the grand scale that hoarders do.

So what am I leading to? We’ve established that I recognize there are large, important parts of my life with which I’m dissatisfied and that they are affecting other areas of my life. And I want to change this. But how do I successfully tackle things that I have tried to get under control multiple times yet always end up almost back where I started? I suppose I’m not sure. I have some ideas, but obviously I’ve had ideas and plans before and they turned out to be temporary.

I am considering accountability. Now, accountability and I don’t have a good track record. No one I see regularly in person will or can hold me accountable, either because I will simply ignore them or I will make life so difficult that they give up. Online accountability doesn’t work because I will either make excuses, disappear, or fake it, possibly outright lying. I don’t like to lie, to the point where I can’t bluff salespeople, but some kind of defense mechanism kicks in when I’m facing change, even change I initiated. Change, for me, is hard. Not all change, but those deep-seated habits that developed in childhood as a way to protect the deep me. I felt powerless in so many ways, so I desperately controlled the things I could. I held on so tightly to what was mine because having things made me feel secure and entertained and wealthy. This ties into both my overspending and my hoarding. I want to be able to buy whatever I want, which I could never do when young. I want to buy them and I want to have them. No one can take anything away from me. But it wasn’t just buying things I could hang onto. Eating sweets made me feel delight and comfort and satisfaction. Eating what tasted good gave me joy that I lacked elsewhere, so it took on a whole new meaning, one of happiness and feeling alive. Books were the same. I was actually grounded from reading books for a while because I would do it to the exclusion of all else.

I make my childhood sound deprived. In some ways, it was. In many more ways, it wasn’t. I had many happy moments, and I had the privilege of living in lovely houses and traveling during long summer vacations. But reading a lot and being intelligent meant I was hyper-aware of how things could be, of what I “should” have. What others had and I didn’t. So as an adult I gave myself many of the things I thought I should have. After a decade and a half, I am now stuck in that pile of things. I’m not going to say “it turns out things weren’t what was important to me and didn’t make me happy.” Oh, my things make me happy. I love having things. I love furniture. I love gadgets. I love smiling at my stuffed animals. I love being able to decide which sheet and comforter set to use or which tablecloth and placemats to put together. What I don’t love is so many things. I am not on a quest to become a minimalist. I’m starting at hoarder. I just want to reach normal.

Back to accountability strategies. I am considering one, but it’s pretty huge for me. I also know that my husband, who is a very private person, will not be a fan of it. Then again, he’s not a fan of living in rooms filled with my stuff. Or of my overspending. That I have such a fear of failure and embarrassment with it, though, are what might make it work. Doing research for my cheese channel made me consider how I feel about putting myself out there for anyone to see and comment on. It’s pretty daunting as I’m a very shy and sensitive person. But I realized that it also makes me feel empowered. That I’ve accepted who I am: fat, witty, ditsy, cute, sarcastic, naive, cruel, and so much more. Sure, I get embarrassed when I see myself on video and panicked when I consider making it public, but doing it anyway helps me to face those feelings and move past them. I don’t have to be in a little private box. I don’t have to be one of those people who puts up a pretty facade while everything behind-the-scenes is a mess. I’m not very good at the pretty facade anyway. At most I can manage a frazzled facade. So I’ve been considering a “getting my life on track” vlog series. See my mess! Watch me get my shit together! Because maybe letting every person in the world see my resolutions and progress or failure is the level of accountability I need. The people I work with every day could see just how much of a mess I am. I wonder if that would be enough to get me from procrastination to progress. I don’t know. I don’t know if I have the guts to try. And even if I did, I don’t know if it’s a good idea. What I do know is that recording the videos doesn’t in any way obligate me to publish them, so I can at least try it and see how it feels. No one has to know. 🙂

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