Friends Don’t Help Friends De-Clutter

Before I hired Good Riddance to run my office excavation project, I tried staying in my comfort zone and asked a friend of mine if I could pay him to help me dig myself out. Thankfully he was less than excited about the prospect; saying he’d come, but thought I’d probably get frustrated with his general lack of energy.

Now, this friend and I have a long history together, and we definitely tend to scrap a lot. I hadn’t really taken that into consideration when I first asked him. I asked because I was desperate, and I didn’t want to push myself too hard. When he said no, I was surprisingly relieved, and once I thought about it a little, I realized what a mistake it would have been if he had said yes, and we’d gone ahead with the project together.

It wouldn’t just have been a mistake because we would inevitably have fought, making it a negative experience; it would have been a mistake because he is emotionally connected to me – and to my stuff – and wouldn’t have been capable of giving me what I needed: someone who was in no way emotionally connected to me or my stuff who would not only help me make the hard decisions, but who would encourage me to do so.

Adorable Microbe Victim of Ruthless Purge

Adorable Microbe Victim of Ruthless Purge

That flash of relief was validated when I talked to him after Day 1 with Heather. He agreed it was better we hadn’t done it together, but when I started telling him (proudly) about how ruthless I’d been, he immediately started interrogating me about what I’d gotten rid of. I told him I didn’t want to rehash what I’d gotten rid of (because I believe in an uber-purge you shouldn’t allow yourself any room for takebacks) and he kept at me: “You got rid of X, didn’t you. I know you did. Just admit it. Did you get rid of Y that I gave you?” [pause] “Yes.” [loud sigh] “Well that’s disappointing. Why didn’t you just give it back to me then?” Who are we kidding. If I had tried to “give it back,” we would have had an argument about why, and how ungrateful I am, and I would have wound up keeping it out of (misplaced) guilt!

Then later, I told my Dad about my ruthless purge (who used to be one of my closest acquisition cronies during Spring Cleaning and thrift store runs), and his first comment was: “I hope you don’t need any of it later.”

Not only did these two conversations puncture my happy bubble just a little, they are perfect examples of why friends shouldn’t help friends de-clutter. Friends (and relatives) are too close to you and your stuff to be objective about how ruthless you should be. In fact, friends and family are often the worst offenders when it comes to enabling your hoarding. No, they don’t do it maliciously, but how many birthdays, christmases, easters, valentines days, bc days did they carefully package up knick-kacks, books, baubles and crap to line those already full to overflowing shelves, cabinets and storage lockers. How many of these gifts do you still have, but never ever use because you’re too guilty to do with them what you know perfectly well should be done.

I have kept gifts and cards friends and family have given me for years and years (I still had some from 20+ years ago in this last purge). Hell, I even keep their envelopes and wrapping paper. And the ironic thing is, many of these gifts are panic gifts – gifts that these people gave you because they thought: “Oh crap! It’s [insert stupid manufactured holiday here] and I have to get [insert obligatory gift recipient here] something! I only have an hour to get them a present!!!”

Inevitably, the gift they give you (the one you feel so damned guilty about ever parting with) is chosen too quickly, and with little (if any) thought about who you really are, and what might actually make you happy. Now I realize this is a gross over-generalization. I’m sure there are many people in your life who get you perfect gifts, envelopes, cards and wrapping paper that you really truly never want to be parted from – that really do represent you and all the things that make you happy; but I am willing to bet these sorts of gifts are few and far between, and that the hurried “Oh, crap!” gifts are by far and away the more common. I’m also willing to wager that keeping the “Oh, crap!” gifts isn’t making you happy; keeping them is enabling the hoarding, which is enabling the depression and lack of energy/motivation that often seems to accompany a critical mass hoarding event.

And remember that comment I made in my last post about Heather being exactly the right kind of coach? She accomplished an enormous amount with positive feedback and jokes – not scary bootcamp-type intimidation tactics. Unfortunately, no matter how well meaning they might be, friends and family can sometimes be a little overzealous, and insensitive, about the things that might really be important to you. If you have a reformed hoarder help you, they might get angry or aggressive if they feel like you aren’t getting rid of enough – or enough of what they consider to be the right things to get rid of. My husband falls into this category – and I can guarantee you if we had done this project together it would have cost massive relationship points, we would have had several nasty fights, and might even have had a night or two of someone sleeping on the couch. If I compare the $341 I’ve paid Good Riddance so far, it seems awfully cheap compared to the potential cost to my relationship.

This time I did it right (accidentally). Hiring an independent emotionally uninvolved third-party accomplished my goal of getting rid of enough stuff so I could maneuver around my office and create an organized sanctuary in which to work.

I avoided endless circular guilt-laden discussions and the crapload of negative energy an emotionally involved person would have almost certainly brought to the day. My husband and I are even more happy and in love (he’s so proud of me for getting rid of so much crap he treated me to a PS3 for Valentine’s Day). And I accomplished nearly 50% of my end goal – I might only have managed 10% (with a completly discharged emotional battery at the end of the day) had I taken the friends and family route.

I realize this isn’t a politically correct perspective; but I think it’s important to recognize the limitations and fragility of our personal relationships. We ask an awful lot of them sometimes – unrealistically so – and are often surprised when the strain of an ill-thought-out chore together wreaks some serious havoc.

Next time you want to dig yourself out from under the pile, call a professional to help you out. Not only will you be much closer to your goal at the end, you’ll be able to take your spouse, friend, mom, dad, sister or brother out to dinner after and talk about something else – because you’ll still be talking.


More Praise for Good Riddance Professional Organizers

“Everything in life has an expiration date.”
“As you change, so should your possessions.”

-Heather Knittel, (2010)
Good Riddance Professional Organizing Solutions Inc.

I’ve just finished a well-deserved slice of gluten-free chocolate cake with lots of icing – and it was well deserved.

Heather from Good Riddance came over today and spent over five hours with me – and it was an unmitigated success.

Heather Knittel from Good Riddance Saves the Day

Heather Saves the Day

There’s something about Heather. She’s patient and funny, just tough enough, honest, inspirational and compassionate. Nothing about her is remotely antagonistic or scary – she’s like a really great teacher or coach, managing to inspire with positive feedback and smiles, not scary yelling or intimidation. It felt perfectly natural having her in my house, showing her all my remaining stuff – showing her me. She made this last great cull truly delightful. I actually had fun getting rid of 90%+ of my remaining possessions, and have been bouncing around excitedly like a wee mexican jumping bean since she left for the day, ideas for posts and more culling spilling out of me a mile a minute.

I have to say, paying someone to come and help me through this really focused me – a process that might well have taken weeks or months alone or with a close friend took five short hours with Heather. Paying changed the game. $341 for five hours of talking, joking, culling, removing and results is cheap at the price – and more than worth everything Heather did for me today.

Good Riddance not only helps you go through all your stuff and make all those hard decisions, they take it all away for you at the end! They give to worthy causes the things that can be used again, and they help you throw away what can’t.

This was the sale point for me. I have tried to cull before, with less success, when I didn’t have a plan for disposal. For some reason I felt I was the guardian for some of the things I had, that if I wasn’t protecting them by keeping them in my house, safe from the dastardly garbage men, something terrible would happen to them – please don’t ask me what, because this is hardly a rational fear; but a fear it was, and one not easily overcome.

Until Good Riddance. Their policy of taking everything away with them and distributing it all afterwards lifts this burden entirely, and allowed me to cull with great ruthlessness and efficiency. “Oh, I can’t let this go,” I’d think, and hard on the heels of that thought was another: “Oh, but some little boy or girl, or some person with so much less than me (a position I spent most of my life in) might get some joy from this thing – they might be able to take care of it and love it the way I did. And into a box it went- sometimes with a photo right before so I could keep a precious memory with me.

I’ve changed enormously over the past twenty years. I believe all these changes have made me a much better and stronger person. Heather and Good Riddance now take a place on the long list of people who have helped effect this change.

And as Heather said today (quoted right at the top of this post): “Everything in life has an expiration date. As you change, so should your possessions.”

It’s the end of a long day. There were some stings and a little sadness, but with Heather’s calm and patient assistance I made it through lighter and more at peace; accepting the expiration date of several parts of my past, and accepting all the changes that led me to this point – the doorway to more growth and more change – and more happiness.

Good Riddance Professional Organizers Worth Investment

My hoarding roots go way back. My mother kept everything, as did my step father. I grew  up with crap stuffed in every nook and cranny imaginable; and started hoarding in earnest when I was about 6 years old.

When I lived with my mother and stepfather there were two regular family outings – outings we all looked forward to with great anticipation: going to the dump (to dig through other people’s garbage), and going to the local thrift store for $5/bag day.

$5 a bag day literally meant you went to the thrift store and stuffed as much shit as you could into a brown paper bag and gave them $5 for the privilege. We used to get very excited about $5 a bag day. The excitement of bringing home and playing with our new treasures would often help dissipate some of the ugly tensions in our lives. Of course, we were very poor so $5 a bag day at the thrift store was like a day at the mall.

Going to the dump together reaped similarly positive results.

I grew up on a backwoods farm without running water or indoor plumbing, so my concept of what was clean and organized differed from that of most people, and I was very used to living with many animals and all the mess that entailed.

When moved out on my own at the ripe old age of 17, I didn’t understand the implications of “stuff,” and neither did I know anything at all about the disorder now known as “hoarding.”

For ten years I kept everything I ever came in contact with, went out “Spring Cleaning” every year and brought back all the “treasures” other people stuck at the end of their driveways and slowly filled several houses with more shit that I could ever hope to use or deal with.

I also took on eleven animals, hoarding them too in a sense.

Eventually things reached critical mass. My 1,000 square foot basement suite was filled with an unimaginable amount of crap, eleven animals, and two hopelessly depressed people (one of whom was a bonified hoarder – the other was just an enabler).

My boyfriend at the time brought his Dad down from 100-mile, and for the first time (at age 27 or 28), I started to really cull. That weekend I got rid of 17 truck AND 17 trailerloads of stuff. It was crazy. Unimaginable.

But for the first time I started to feel a weight lift.

In the next ten years, I met the man who is now my husband who also came from hoarder roots. Fortunately, he was very aware of the danger he faced and went the opposite direction I did – he threw everything away with abandon – no Sally Anne donations, no Big Brothers… Nope: garbage can.

Needless to say we’ve had to work very hard over the six years we’ve been together to meet in the middle.

Alex started it (my former boyfriend’s Dad who shall ever be immortalized here and in my memory), I kept moving, though with halting steps, my husband helped more than I can articulate, and my trauma therapist pretty much nailed the coffin shut. One day at a time I don’t hoard.

This involves a conscious daily discipline.

  • no thrift stores
  • no garage sales
  • no going-out-of-business-sales
  • no saving other people’s things at my house
  • no bringing home useless pamphlets

…and much less of a million other tiny things that result in a house (and heart) filled with chaos.

So. How did I arrive here at this blog today?

Well, when I moved in with my husband nearly two years ago I had to integrate our two households. I got rid of an amazing amount of crap then too (I still hadn’t fully healed and had way too much stuff in a very small basement suite). I got rid of as much as I could tolerate, but there was still stuff left over. Over the past couple of years I’ve managed to get rid of more, leaving me with a fairly manageable stuff count.

But, I moved in with him – first time I ever did this… thanks, Karma – and most of my things had to go into my office (converted from a small bedroom). He was wonderful enough to spoil me for my birthday last year and refurnish said office with a  new desk and couch. Over the past year I’ve taken more projects on business-wise – more varied than before, so my space use changed. For over a year I had clothing and a couch and some bookshelves working well in the cramped space, but somewhere over the past year things went nuts and I woke up to an office I could no longer inhabit, letalone work in.

I tried moving stuff around to no avail. I just made it worse. I asked a friend if he would come help me reorganize, but he was tired and busy and didn’t think he’d be much help. My husband was a bad choice because it would add significantly to the relationship stress load. So alone and frustrated I tried a few more times to DIM.

No go.

Then I remembered a flyer I’d seen years ago in a consignment store (heh) for a de-cluttering service called Good Riddance. All I remembered was filing it away in my failing memory, and their logo – a red shoe. So I googled away and rediscovered them. I had them in for their free consult today to see what it would take to transform my poor cramped office into an ordered and tranquil working space.

“Wow” is all I can say.

After Heather left with plans to come back and start tomorrow at 9AM I felt that fire under my butt. I pulled out all the stuff on my shelf in the garage, and dragged everything easily liftable from my upstairs office into the living room downstairs in preparation for our ruthless reorg and yet more culling.

And then I was suddenly flooded with inspiration – something that’s been eluding me for years.

It started with a “pledge” to take pictures of everything I wanted to keep but didn’t really need so I could let them go, which led to the idea of a post per possession, which led to this. Me, here. With something to say again!

So that’s what this is about.

A post per possession – a record of my hoarding and how it began and what it took to break its hold.

I hope you enjoy the journey with me. I’d love to hear your stories too.