My Hoarding Habits Were (Sort Of) Fixed By Paxil And Television

I am emotionally attached to perfume bottles. I swear that I’ll use those last two blobs of conditioner. I can’t get rid of a shirt I’ve never worn that my mother gave me for Christmas in 2004.

Jul 9, 2013 at 10:30am | Leave a comment

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Like most hoarders, I suffer from depression. 
 
As a kid, I held onto all kinds of crap. I stored receipts for stuffed animals I bought at the mall with my best friend, Cheryl Isenhour, in the fifth grade. I kept empty Cheetos bags in paper files and filled boxes with little erasers that were too cute to use. 
 
My mother did not share my propensity to keep things and made sure that I cleaned out my room, regularly. While these sweeps did not quash my pack-ratty tendencies, they did force me to discard what was flat-out garbage.
 
Hoarding is now recognized by the DSM-V (the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. People hoard for a wide variety of reasons, with depression, more often than not, at the root. Many have suffered traumatizing loss. Others see potential monetary value in worthless junk. 
 
I’m lucky. I’m not an acquirer. My depression was treated successfully, on the first go, eleven years ago, and my current “hoard” (at this time, it deserves quotes -- GO ME!) is purely residual.  But, holy crap, did I have a hard time getting here.
 
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I am emotionally attached to perfume bottles. I swear that I’ll use those last two blobs of conditioner. I can’t get rid of a shirt I’ve never worn that my mother gave me for Christmas in 2004. I might need a plastic bag exactly this size one day. It never ends.
 
My go-to is not to throw away a seemingly useful item for which I have no use. I still, automatically, set aside random garbage that could be used again solely because it could be used again. Yes, my very expensive bottled water came in a glass bottle which is now empty and could be used to make an adorably shabby chic vase for, ya know, whatever -- but, well, I already have four. I could set it by my front door and wait for a friend to come over who might want it, but, now you can see, I’ve kind of gone over to the crazy place.
 
My apartment building has recycling and these days, that’s where the bottle ends up. Sometimes, I don’t even have the whole “should we keep this?” conversation with myself. Sometimes I do. I figure either way, as long as the bottle’s ultimate destination is outside of my apartment, I’m the Big Winner.
 
During the four years between high school graduation and mental health, I pursued a transient, PHISH-oriented lifestyle. One would think that not having an address would curtail the influx of random crap. Undeterred by logistics, I was able to fill storage units in two states and whatever portion of my parents’ garage they were willing to lend me.
 
My mother’s determination whittled my “stuff” down to one storage unit and part of their garage. I moved out and she managed to eliminate the storage unit. For almost two years, I was able to maintain a reasonable semblance of normal with this level of stuff, but just barely. Then, my parents moved out of state.
 
Before my parents moved, a few boxes piled by my dresser were the only evidence of my disorder. It looked like I was lazy about unpacking. When they left, I acquired all the crap I had stored in my parents’ garage and a bigger problem.
 
Intuitive effort had resulted in an admirable ability to dispose of items that, five years earlier, I would have held onto. As an emotional hoarder, my biggest obstacles were things that reminded me of any totally useless and forgettable childhood experience and had been saved for more than two decades. I’m not talking small plaster Christmas ornaments of children’s hands. I had to work through throwing away an old bingo set where more than one third of the little button things had been replaced by multicolored pieces of construction paper. 
 
I was an emotional hoarder who had inherited a walking tour version of the 1970s show This is Your Life. And I had to get rid of most of it. 
 
I was basically sleeping in a storage unit. My living room etc. were completely presentable; my bedroom was less so. I would pull it together and decide that today, I would go through just one box. With half the box emptied on the remaining floor space of my bedroom, I would realize that this was just too much to deal with right now and push the crap from the box back into corners and close my bedroom door.
 
Salvation came in the (very) unlikely form of television. An early TLC special on hoarding showed me, for the first time, that my problem with all the boxes was actually a thing. A less shocking predecessor to today’s hoarding programs, this show was more focused on realistic, gradual recovery (versus three dump trucks, two deputies and the stunned family next-door who “can’t believe that all of this was just 10 feet from our apartment”). 
 
The special suggested taking a box from where it was stored and going through it in an outside location. I decided to try it. I took a box from my crowded bedroom and went through it on my spotless living room table. It was empty in a matter of minutes.
 
Within a few weeks, my bedroom lost its storage space appearance. Several months later, I was able to fit the remaining boxes in closets. 
 
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It’s an ongoing process. This stuff wasn’t accumulated over night. As I type this, all of my closets are usable and I’m down to just three boxes. I even went through the box I’d moved to destinations in four different states labeled “Shit I Probably Don’t Need”. (It turned out to contain a giant ashtray, a congealed, unopened bottle of Freesia Bath & Body Works shower gel, two decaying Koosh balls and a set of Sanrio stationery from seventh grade.) 
 
It’s not always easy to get rid of the box and tissue paper in which a birthday gift came wrapped. But I do. Recovery is realizing that it’s worth spending 79 cents at Walgreens if it means I don’t have to wade through boxes of trash on the regular.
 
So, fellow xoJaners, what random crap do you have stashed somewhere? Even if this isn’t your particular brand of crazy, we all hold onto something. You’re among friends. What are you hiding?