Babci regularly pulls things out of people’s trash. As I try to make room for a chicken coop at the back of her garage, I regularly curse her hoarding tendencies. Where did all this stuff come from? How do I keep all her empty spaces from filling up with junk? It’s been a struggle for years. For a while I just stopped all non-essential spending. I declared, “We have everything we need….there is no reason to go to tag sales and just accumulate more stuff.” That move however, doesn’t stop her from going shopping on trash day, so I did end up adding tag sales back into the mix because she enjoys it so much.
But then I learned something incredible when Babci moved to town with our family. She had lived in the same place for over 30 years. I thought that it would be hell on earth trying to move her. I expected to fight her over moving every stick and rusty garden tool. Although we did end up moving over 20 garbage bags of fabric to her new home, she was surprisingly unattached to most of her other belongings.
The home we bought for her was an estate, so it came almost fully furnished and most of the furnishings in her new home were nicer than the ones she had in her apartment. So, when it came to deciding what to do with her pea green couch with the broken leg, Babci decided it was time to do a “Russian Job” of the moving process. (Russian Job, is Babci’s way of saying, half assed. I guess the Russian Tractors would always break down in Poland, so anything shoddy in nature was proclaimed to be a “Russian Job.” Now those tractors were probably 50 years old and long obsolete by the time they made their way to rural Poland, but the moniker has stuck and it’s been part of her vocabulary for as long as I can remember.) Okay, so back to the couch.
Moving day at Babci’s was one of the funnest and most memorable days ever. Unfortunately for me, I was 40 weeks pregnant with my first child and we literally moved her on my due date, but for all my other friends, they had an absolute blast because of the fun that ensued. My mom lived on the second story of a 3 story apartment building. What she meant by “Russian Jobbing” the move was that anything that wasn’t fit to be moved to her new home was to be tossed off the back porch and smashed into smithereens.
For the next 4 hours, every bit of falling apart particle board furniture and every rusty bit of junk we could find got heaved off the porch into a big heap in the driveway. Everyone had a grand time taking turns smashing my mom’s junk Gallagher style off the porch. To this day, the only thing she regrets tossing is some old glass mayonnaise jars that she used for canning. I moved all her regular masons, but she kept the jars in a plastic garbage bag and a few got broken because of it. When I tried moving the 3rd bag of jars, I cut my already swollen water retaining shin with the jars. In a fit of rage, I tossed them in the pile. She didn’t protest at the time because I was very hugely pregnant, mad and bleeding but she made it known later on that she still missed those useful jars (even though I moved at least 50 other masons just like them).
Babci is not a hoarder. I know hoarders and the behavior is much much different. When Babci no longer has a use for something or someone else needs an item of hers, she freely parts with it. A hoarder has a deep rooted connection to their stuff. No matter how useless the stuff is, even if it’s just garbage or papers, it pains them to get rid of things. It’s as if this stuff is an extension of themselves and by rejecting their stuff you are also rejecting them somehow. This psychological connection to their belongings is what cripples them. Every possession has special meaning and by holding onto the possession, they are keeping themselves whole and intact. They don’t want to be buried in stuff, but they also don’t know how to let go without extreme discomfort and stress.
I have a friend in the psych field who helps hoarders and here are some tips that I’ve learned from her in my efforts to help someone I know in need:
- Start Slow – the worst thing you an do is come into someone’s house with a BJ’s sized bag of trash bags and start tossing stuff (This would totally be my approach btw). Instead you need to let the person know you care and that they will not be forced to do anything that they don’t want to do.
- Understand their stuff has meaning to them and acknowledge that – this may mean picking up every slip of paper and asking..does this have special meaning to you? Is it okay to toss it? If the answer is no and you really think it should be tossed, keep asking why they need to keep it and offer alternative solutions.
- Make Small Goals – start with something easy, a small space, like an end table or a bathroom, and make that space livable again.
- Provide moral support – most people in these extreme situations can’t go it alone. They need someone there them get through this painful process.
- Don’t be Demeaning or Disgusted – hoarders are embarrassed by their situation and don’t want to live the way they do. If you are close enough to a person that they allow you to see the state that they live in, be empathetic and try not to be shocked.
- Seek Professional Help – Even if someone has achieved a goal of living in a space that is not packed to the gills with stuff, it won’t stay that way until that person gets to the root of the issues that are causing that behavior.
Growing up poor, it was pretty hard to purge stuff after I no longer had a use for it, but happily I think I’ve outgrown that phase. Now, I try to get rid of something as soon as possible before an item becomes unusable or obsolete. If I get rid of something soon enough, I can even recoup some of the costs by reselling the item. I swear Craigslist is the best thing ever. I don’t ever have to feel bad about selling something because if I really need it again, I can just re-buy it at close to the same price as I sold it for the first time around. To date I haven’t had the need to re-purchase an item that I sold.
Do you know any hoarders, pack rats or both? Can you tell the difference between the two?