Compulsive hoarding is a mental disorder that is just beginning to be understood. As a hoarder, I have acquired things over the years with a specific purpose in mind at the time of the acquisition, used some of those items for their intended purposes, forgotten the goal for different objects, but now that I find that they have outlived their purpose in my life I am struggling to rid myself of those same things.

You can read the start of my journey here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Where do I start to dehoard? pt 2 - Feeling responsible for everything.

The other day, when I wrote about feeling responsible for stuff, and how I felt mentally paralyzed by the decisions I had to make for items, Penny left the following comment:

"I completely identify with feeling responsible for stuff. I have a physical reaction when I recyclable is trashed. I can give away anything but I have huge problems throwing anything away. 
How did you manage to get your head in a place where this responsibility wasn't in control?"

I am still not at a place where the responsibility isn't in control sometimes. On things that have been particularly hard for me, like recycling newspapers and soda cans or not wasting the ketchup packets, I've worked really hard to desensitize myself to those particular objects. After I sorted out the condiment packets and sent the ones we wouldn't use to work with Hubster for their breakroom, new ones would occasionally make their way into the house. 

While I saved the kinds we would use, I would purposely throw the ones we wouldn't in the trash. I considered holding onto them until we had enough for Hubster to take to work, but I realized I needed the practice of throwing them away. To start, I was anxious about tossing them out, but I sensed I needed to process the uncomfortable emotions I was feeling rather than pushing them aside like I had for so much of my life.

The first time I tried it, I struggled with actually getting the packets into the trash and put them in the refrigerator instead. But I knew I needed to do this, so I walked away for an hour or so. When I came back in, I fought through the feelings and threw the packets in the trash. Once they were in the can, it was easier for me to leave them there. 

A month or two later, I took things to the next level and threw a ketchup packet away, even though there was nothing wrong with it and was something we'd have eventually used. I knew I needed to know for sure that I was capable of letting them go. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't as hard as throwing out the soy sauce that first day. Now I intentionally throw sauce packets away, including occasionally getting rid of those we would actually use, so I don't get back into the habit of hoarding them. But I really try not to bring them into the house in the first place.

Newspapers and other recyclables were easy enough to deal with, because the recycling center is over 20 miles away, and I can't justify spending $8 in gas to take them up there. So the newspapers go in the trash when we're done reading them, and the plastic milk jugs or glass spaghetti sauce jars do, too. I still struggled with feeling guilty about it, but because I had a legitimate reason not to save them, it was easier for me to handle.

Aluminum cans are a different story, though.

We have 4, almost 5, contractor trash bags full of flattened aluminum cans. I've haven't taken them in to the recycling center for several years, because it's way across town, and I just haven't gotten around to taking them up there. But I don't want to throw them away, because at this point, there's enough of them that they'll give us a little extra money to buy something for the house once it's cleared.

In my head, the cans are a different category than the regular recyclables, because they're actually worth money. They have an actual value. And while a can here or there isn't worth much, adding them all up makes a difference, so I really struggle when I see them in the trash. In the past, if someone has thrown them away at home, I've dug them out, flattened them, and put them with the rest of the cans to be recycled. I've even been known to bring them home from vacation, if we've gotten a can of soda on the road, instead of throwing them away when we get gas.

However, in the last couple of years, I've worked on letting go of my control over the cans. If there's in the top of the trash can, I'll go ahead and take it out and put it with the others, but if it's covered in garbage, I don't. My heart still skips a beat when I let one go, but I know I need to do it, if I'm going to beat this thing. 

I know one of the reasons I struggle so much with cans is that we recycled cans when I was little. We'd pick up trash on different trails when we'd go for a walk as a family, and we'd save the cans we found to recycle. We'd use the money from the cans to save up for a family treat of some sort. Sometimes, we'd use the money to go to the fair. Other times we used it for picnic lunches at the park. I've always associated them with family and fun. 

There are other things that I've worked on using this same method over the last couple of years, and I'm sure there will be other things I will work on with it in the future. I just know that it is getting so much easier to take my life back by doing it, and it's worth every sweaty palm and every skipped heartbeat. It's as much, if not more, about processing the emotions I'm feeling at the time, as it is about throwing the stuff away.

To be honest, I have to say that that the feeling of responsibility for finding stuff the best home possible still creeps into the driver's seat from time to time, but it doesn't happen nearly as often as it used to. I'm realizing that in order to be in control of my future, I have to take the reigns. 



  1. I can identify so much with you! Why is it that we feel bad to waste something small like a soy sauce packet. I've known lean times raising nine kids and now that the money is better, I still heap guilt on myself and try to find a home for perfectly good stuff that I no longer use or want. Some things are stacked against a wall and ready for a shed that is about bulging at the seams with the thought of "yard sale". It never happens.
    Maybe....this Spring. sigh

  2. those are huge accomplishments! And the awareness that you show is wonderful! I try to recycle and never get to the depot , so I have compromised,I hate having bags of bottles/cans lying around so I find a young person in my life , or a mom with kids , who (one is a coworker ) Give them the bottles so they have a few extra $$$ I still recycle , but I don't have to go to the depot or keep them here

  3. Wow, my heart jumped twice while reading this post. The first time when you actually mentioned me (!), and the second at the thought of throwing cans away.

    It's official, I don't just enjoy your blog, I need it!


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