When I was composing my last blog entry, I had an odd thought. As much as I've spoken against here about 12-step programs (including CLA, Clutterers' Anonymous), and they're whole "higher power" approach, I suddenly realized something. This blog, in some sense, has been a "higher power" for me.
After all, this blog is what has mainly motivated me in taking care of my clutter problem. In essence, I've been cleaning my place so that I can make more blog entries and thus keep it up-to-date. I've taken my meticulousness I have for my on-line presence, and used that to drive the meticulousness I otherwise wouldn't have for my own physical home. Maybe that sounds pathetic on some level, but it's worked.
Then again, I was the guy who created this blog in the first place. So I'm ultimately my higher power's higher power, which thus renders the term "higher power" pretty useless here. Besides, step #7 would be asking the blog to remove all of my shortcomings. That doesn't quite work.
Perhaps I was reading into this too deeply. Nevermind.
And now, back to our irregularly scheduled blog...
I just realized that I've been running A Place For My Stuff now for a little over a year. Yaaaay!
So now that I've been blogging about this for a year, what have I learned? Let's see:
Hoarding is indeed a real OCD that some people have. You can't get rid of it by telling people "Oh, just throw that stuff away". That's like telling an alcoholic to just stop at one beer. It doesn't work like that. But it is a problem that you CAN beat. And the solution isn't simply getting a bigger place either; you'll just fill it to capacity again. But it's been oddly reassuring to find pics and video of other hoarders who had it much worse than me. My place was certainly bad, but yikes, it could have been worse.
I've certainly made a lot of progress. I knew it wasn't going to happen overnight, but I also knew that I would be getting a lot done. If I hadn't started on this last year, then I have no idea how I could have moved out of my old place a few months ago.
Don Aslett's book "Clutter's Last Stand" (see link on left side), and to a lesser extent his book "For Packrats Only" have been a HUGE help. The first one has too much needless religious BS inserted for no reason (or least that was the case with the earlier edition I own). But the good advice outweighs the crappy advice, by far. HIGHLY recommended. And the Aslett crew even contacted me at some point.
You don't need a 12-step program to conquer a personal behavioral problem. And the 12-step groups they have out there are...kinda weird. Again, just don't expect a fix overnight.
I still have more progress to make. It's a continuous process.
Decluttering will ALWAYS be an on-going process in some ways, because it's something that always has to be done at home every now and then, much like getting your car's oil changed. So between this point and the previous point, I don't see my blog ending anytime soon. But at least I can see the floor again, and can make it from room to room without physically hurting myself.
I have literally hundreds of photos that I still haven't posted yet. I'll be making more blogs about the many, many other strange things I found when I moved out of my old apartment.
and finally, the most important thing I've learned:
If you want to make progress on a long-term job, start a blog about it.
Watching the clip in the last blog entry, reminded me of a specific clutter problem that seems common: cookbooks.
I'm happy to say that I've never had this problem. Most bachelors don't even OWN a cookbook. I own one or two, which worked fine for me. Since getting married, my home has picked up a few more. I'll be keeping an eye on that pile. Growing up, my mother, who was a housewife (or to use the new politically correct euphemism, a "stay-at-home mom") cooked all the time but still managed to keep her cookbook collection under a dozen. If she ever did read from a cookbook, 99% of the time it was the loose-leaf version she owned of "The New Cookbook" from Better Homes & Gardens.
But I have indeed seen other homes where the cookbook collection was out of control. I have one friend who must own at least over 50 cookbooks, taking up many shelves. And the kicker is that the books were on the upper floor, not even anywhere near the kitchen. Not surprisingly, used bookstores always have tons of cookbooks. If anything, it's usually their biggest section.
So while I can't say that I have this cluttering problem, I think I can take a guess as to how it happens. You see the book in the store. You say "Ooh, this looks really good!" You buy the book. Then it sits on your shelf indefinitely, unopened. Or at best, you end up using it for ONE recipe, then don't take it out again. Then you buy another cookbook, and the same thing happens. Another problem is that you typically don't even use 10% of the recipes in a given cookbook, so you're basically using up shelf space to store 2,000 pages worth of recipes just for the 20 pages you DO use.
Does this sound like you? Do you have so many cookbooks that they could fuel a fire stove for 8 straight months? If so, then I offer my humble suggestions:
Keep your cookbooks in or near the kitchen. If you store them far away, chances are you'll never end up using them.
Look through your cookbooks and find the ones that you haven't used in 2 years. Stop rationalizing with "Well I may want to use it for this recipe some day." If you've owned the book for 5 years and still haven't done it, chances are you'll simply never get around to doing it anyway. The threshold should probably be less than 2 years, but I'm being lenient in cases where you make some special dish on every other Xmas, or whatever.
Again, with most cookbooks, you probably won't even end up using 90% of the recipes they give. That's where most of the volume comes from. If you have a 300 page cookbook and you only use it for one recipe, just copy down the damn recipe and get rid of the book.
Store your "loose" recipes in an organized way. My mother used stick all of them, regardless of size or shape, in a huge stack in a big brown envelope. She managed, but I'm sure you could do better. You can use the good ol' 3x5" index cards and a box. Or store them on your computer and print out the ones you need into a binder. There are lots of free recipe websites out there that can give you a recipe you need anyway, and even store the ones you like to an on-line account. Look into this.
Again, this isn't a problem I personally have, so maybe my suggestions are off-base. But I'm sure there are readers out there who might have this problem.
Another clip ("A Collector's Collector") from Hoarding: Buried Alive.
One of the highest rated comments is from somebody who said (among other things), "Love people, not things; Use things, not people." Ironically, this sounds like a line that you'd find in a gift shop on a tacky knick-knack like a napkin holder or an ashtray, sold next to that ridiculous "Footprints" poem. But I digress.
The problem is NOT that hoarders are simply materialistic. First of all, there's absolutely nothing wrong with being a little materialistic. I am materialistic, and I take zero shame in that. We all have SOME possessions that we treasure, and put a smile on our face when we look at them or use them. (And people who say they don't are either in denial or are so completely boring as people that I probably wouldn't end up hanging out with them in the first place, much less "love" them.) In fact, if I was NOT materialistic,then I wouldn't have cared about how my rooms were filled, and thus wouldn't have been motivated to declutter in the first place.
The problem is this: you can't GET to those 10 items you treasure when they're buried under 10,000 things that you DON'T treasure. So the solution isn't "Love people, not things." The solution, if I wanted to oversimplify it with a poetic phrase, it would be "Keep the diamonds. Ditch the soot."
What's wrong with owning a collection of 800 hats? Nothing. I admire such an eclectic claim to fame. But unless you're a museum, you can't have an 800 hat collection, AND a 900 candle stick collection, AND a 1200 pieces jewelry collection, AND a 97 travel poster collection, AND a 492 piece silverware collection, AND a collection of 687 cookbooks, AND a set of 142 garden gnomes, AND own 14 cats, AND clear a path from the bedroom to the bathroom. Some of those things have got to go.
Yes, it sucks having to get rid of a collection that you just can't find anywhere, and I've mentioned here many times, it's not so simple for a hoarder to "just throw it away". But unfortunately the laws of physics prevail. Have a few collections of things; don't collect collections.
(Oh, and for those who couldn't tell, I was making up most of those numbers in the last paragraph just to prove a point. I don't know what the lady in this clip actually has. But if you need a machete to reach the kitchen, something is wrong.)
I don't have "guilty pleasures". The term is not in my vocabulary. I take absolutely no shame in the things I like.
Of course, I do certainly have things I like which the status quo has deemed bad. Most recently, I've been rediscovering the Police Academy movies. Sure, it was filled with a lot of 1-dimensional characters and recurring gags, but damnit, I loved it when I was a kid, and I love it even more now. Aside from expanding my x-rated vocabulary, I loved seeing the pranks too.
Although there was a DVD box set with all the movies, you can find a double-DVD set of the first four for ridiculously cheap. I bought the latter.
But to keep with the clutter theme, I offer this particular clip which shows the place of gluttonous Officer Vinnie. The clutter fun starts at around 1 minute.
1) I'm not above making fun of the hoarding problem. This was funny. It deserves it's own entry here for a day.
2) Sad to say, I think a lot of us ARE data hoarders. I've got files that are almost 20 years old, on some disc or another. But I think the same sort of de-cluttering principles that work on physical stuff can also be used on digital stuff. Though that's a topic for another day.
Yes, another thing I was accumulating over the years were busted sets of headphones. And busted sets of headphones always busted for the same reason. You know that that reason is. Yes, that's right. YOU CAN ONLY HEAR THE MUSIC FROM ONE DAMN SIDE!!!
I remember my uncle telling me a related story. My uncle was once in need of a pair of headphones, and my grandfather was a flea market maniac. So naturally my grandfather insisted that he had all of these pairs that he bought recently, and he could have one. He tried a pair, and sure enough, only heard music coming form one ear. Then he tried another pair, and another pair. Finally, he managed to find ONE pair out of the whole pile that fully worked.
I've had to deal with this problem for about as long as I've had headphones. So this goes back to grammar school for me, which was in the 1980s: the golden age of the Sony Walkman. Devices like this always come with a really crappy pair of headphones. They work fine for a while. But eventually they stop working in one ear. So you have to bend the base around a bit, and it comes back. You think you have the problem solved. But then it cuts out again. And again. And again. You keep trying to bend the cord in new places until the music can be heard in both ears.
Does this problem sound familiar? Do you still have broken headphones like this in your home? If so, please do the right thing and throw the damn things away. Don't try to rationalize it like I did with ideas like "Hey, maybe I could do a cool little creative project where I can disconnect one side and make a pair of mini speakers." It ain't gonna happen. You won't get around to doing it. Just throw away the ones that don't work, and keep the ones that do work. You won't miss them, and you'll save yourself a lot of frustration.
AOL installation discs. I'm proud to say that my introduction to the internet was not through AOL, let alone at the end of the 90s. But it seemed like EVERYBODY else was on AOL, and boy most of these people were clueless and annoying. "Hey, you're on the internet? Cool! So what's your screenname?!?" Then I had to explain to them that not everybody on the internet was on AOL, and that while I did have an email address and a number of personal websites, I did not have such a thing as a "screenname". There was more to the internet than AOL. Most of them didn't get it.
Of course, AOL didn't want you to think that there was a world outside of AOL. Let me put it this way. Instead of a search engine, they had an "AOL Keyword" look-up. Some companies back in those days had not only a URL for their website, but an "AOL Keyword". That way, AOL uses could just type the keyword and be delivered to the site. Funny things happened though if you tried to look up AOL's competitors. The AOL Keyword "yahoo" for example just took you to an AOL page explaining how you can use their own search engine to search the web.
Anyway, these free AOL installation discs, which always included "First [however many] hours FREE!" Yes, in those days some services charged by the hour of internet use time. But these damn discs were everywhere. I knew some old college classmates who seriously used them as coasters.
So why did I have these? Well some people got so fed up with getting these in the mail constantly, that they decided to start a campaign where they wanted people to send them the AOL discs they received, so that they could do a mass mailing of these BACK to AOL. It was a gesture to say "Enough with these damn CDs!" I guess I was keeping them for that purpose. Of course, I never sent them in. Time to toss these once and for all
Wolfenstein 3D map, hand-drawn. On graph paper. Aside from not having played this early 90s computer game in quite some time, I understand that maps for every level are available anyway. Yes it sucks to have to throw away hard work, but really, this isn't needed.
List of stuff on my old PC which I sold a couple of years back to a friend. Or maybe this was the PC I had even before THAT one. Regardless, the list served its purpose back then for transferring stuff. Don't need it now.
Extra photocopies of CD inserts from some set of Ozzy Osbourne bootlegs. Don't need them, and I could do better if I really wanted to. But I don't . Into the trash you go.
I've collected many odd things over the years. I still think collecting oddities is a good thing. Collecting things like baseball cards never interested me. They're made for the sole purpose of being collectible. So I've always gone for other sorts of things.
Are all collections, especially the eclectic ones, "clutter"? No, they're not. And I have a strange sort of admiration for truly eclectic people who particularly collect things that you never heard of people collecting before. But to paraphrase a line from Clutter's Last Stand, there's the mistake of using the term "collection" to mean "an accumulation". This is something to keep in mind.
I've collected soft drink bottles here and there over the years. At my last place, they ended up accumulating and collecting dust on one of my few available surfaces on my kitchen counter. And just at a point when I was trying to get rid of them, my brother came in with a new one. I said "Oh, I was trying to get rid of them." "But I carried this one with me over half the country for two months!" he protested. So it joined the ranks.
But when it came time to moving out of my last place, I just had to admit that this accumulation wasn't big enough to be a collection, and was taking up just enough space and collecting enough dust to be called clutter. So, screw it. It was time to get rid of them once and for all.
One particular line of sodas bottles I had came from a Californian company called "Eat Me Now". I found these around 1991 at Spencer Gifts. And yes, this was long before the actor Jack Black was known to the world. I haven't really seen them around since then, and I couldn't find a company website. But sure enough, somebody still sells them. They were certainly different, not only in the aesthetics, but the taste. I may just try them again. In the meantime, I figured that I didn't need to pack and move all these glass bottles, and I sure didn't have time to put them on eBay (where they probably wouldn't get bid on anyway).
In retrospect, I'm kinda kicking myself for getting rid of them. Maybe my anti-clutter crusade has been driving too far. Oh well. I got less and less hasty about things as my deadline for moving out got closer and closer. I'm glad I at least took some photos.
In closing, I shall now shamelessly end this blog entry with an extremely geeky joke that probably only mathematicians will understand:
Q: What is the world's longest song? A: "Aleph-Naught Bottles of Beer on the Wall"
(OK, OK, in over-simplified layman's terms, "Aleph-Naught" means infinity.)