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.

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