Down with hoarding – in praise of my gorgeous new garbage bin

Am I truly a hoarder? My Significant Other would say so, but I’m not nearly as bad as those folks on A&E’s show Hoarders, which I watch almost as religiously as Project Runway. Hoarders defines hoarding as a mental disorder, but the official verdict’s still out. The boundary between run-of-the-mill cluttering and obsessive-compulsive hoarding isn’t glaringly obvious, either. I could easily imagine myself falling into the predicament of those folks on the show who haven’t been able to sleep in their beds for years because the clothing is piled too high and the beds now belong to the cats.

But perhaps there’s still hope for me. Last week when County Waste, my garbage collecting company, delivered a totally unexpected new black bin with a Kelly green cover, I was positively ecstatic. Were I a true hoarder, the idea of having two big garbage bins rather than one, and thus doubling the amount of trash I could toss each week, would have provoked an acute anxiety attack rather than enthusiastic ambition.

Evidently the garbage company was equally excited, because they glued not one but two lavishly illustrated, full-color promotional fliers atop the lid. One read in part:

Ride the wave to the future of recycling with County Waste!

It’s here! Weekly single stream recycling

AND with your brand new recycling cart!

Now, instead of the old newspaper recycling basket, I’ve got an enormous new bin that will hold the equivalent of four banker’s boxes of paper. They’ll pick it up weekly, along with its grubby old twin, which can now be devoted exclusively to Styrofoam, rotten food from the fridge, yard waste and other unrecyclable trash.

At last I can empty my files, throw out all those old manuscript drafts, all the sample chapters returned in those dreaded self-addressed manila envelopes. The list of acceptable items reads like a laundry list of all the stuff that’s been cluttering my house for years: Computer, FAX and copy paper, magazines and catalogs, newspaper, notebook paper, soft covered workbooks, paperback books, junk mail, and on and on. I can throw glass and plastic bottles in the same bin, along with frozen food containers – in short, practically everything I used to relegate to the regular garbage.

A week has gone by, and tonight is garbage night. I checked the pretty new bin today, and it was still two-thirds empty. What happened to all my fine new decluttering resolutions? As usual, I got sidetracked by any number of activities with higher priorities or greater potential for pleasure.

So am I a hoarder? That depends on how you define the term. I checked my trusty DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, and to my surprise, hoarding wasn’t even in the index. A little Google research led me to the Mayo Clinic’s site, which defines hoarding as “the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them.” That’s me, for sure. Compulsive hoarding syndrome can be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it’s not considered a distinct mental health problem in its own right.

Not yet, anyway. The fifth edition of the DSM, to be published in 2013, will include hoarding as an official psychiatric diagnosis. The rationale, according to The Wall Street Journal: “Hoarding can lead to significant distress, and including it in the DSM is expected to increase public awareness and stimulate diagnosis and research into the disorder.” Additionally, of course, the new diagnosis will have its very own code number, so insurance will pay for therapy sessions to cope with cluttering. I’m sure we’ll see a burgeoning population of decluttering specialists among mental health professionals. You can already watch some of them at work every Monday night at 10 p.m., coaching those hapless hoarders in their painful efforts to let go of the trash that’s smothering them.

I thought the subject of my gorgeous new trash bin would make a nice tidy little post, but clutter plays such a major – and villainous – role in my life that it deserves a three-part series. So stay tuned for the next installments. Part II will feature more general ruminations, and Part III will deal with the paper clutter that afflicts writers in particular.

How would you diagnose your own relationship to all that stuff in your life? Do you suffer from benign cluttering habits, or malignant hoarding? I’d love to hear from you.

Burning resolutions: lose weight, conquer clutter. So what else is new?

Why have I been procrastinating for over two days about this New Year’s blog post? Probably because one of my biggest resolutions, as always, is to quit procrastinating. This is the first year I’ve vowed to send my resolutions out into the world via my blog, and that makes committing to them in writing all the more difficult. It’s already January 3rd, and I’ve broken several already, but since they were only in my head, not on paper, that hardly counts, right?

Wrong. I’ve spent the first days of the New Year basically goofing off and feeling guilty about it. But the holiday weekend’s almost over and it’s time to get down to business. Last week I broke my self-imposed “no Facebook quizzes” rule and created a “How well do you know Julie Lomoe?”* questionnaire. Here was my first question:

1) What’s my most burning resolution for the coming year?

a) To conquer my cluttering habit once and for all

b) To lose 20 pounds

c) To start making significant money from my writing

d) To sell the paintings I showed at Woodstock 1969

e) All the above

The correct answer, as my granddaughter Kaya correctly guessed, was “All the above,” but some of the resolutions are more burning than others. I could easily fill a blog post with each one of them, but today I’ll tackle just two.

Weight loss: this is an annual pro forma goal, forever unattainable because I seem to be stuck at a comfortable set point and I enjoy wine, cheese and pizza too much to put myself on a deprivation diet. My husband and I are enrolled in a “Lose to Win” program at the local YMCA, and he lost 13 pounds in the last eight weeks, while I lost a big fat goose-egg zero, although our diets are very similar. Yes, I know men lose weight more easily than women, who are genetically programmed to build up more stores of fat, but it’s so unfair, it makes me feel even more like eating!

Of the four resolutions, weight loss is definitely the least burning. Now that I’m spending so much more time online with my butt firmly planted in my chair, it’s become even more difficult. I’ve cut back on career building via personal appearances and networking, so I have less motivation to get into my “dress for success” clothes. Bathrobes and sweat suits cover a multitude of sins!

Conquering clutter: here’s another resolution I make annually, but it takes on added urgency with time, because unlike my weight, which remains fairly constant, the volume and density of the clutter grow substantially every year. Most of it’s paper and books, but I have clothes dating back to the 1960s. For years I’ve mulled over the possibility of using the fabrics in quilts or collages, but I’ve come to the realization that’s probably never going to happen. Then there are all the supplies for various long abandoned craft projects. My husband threw out all the silk flowers, but I’ve still got half a room full of beading and jewelry supplies, and I know I’ll get back to them one of these days.

Has anyone here watched “Hoarders”? It’s a reality show that airs on A&E every Monday at 10pm. As the website describes it, “Each 60-minute episode of Hoarders is a fascinating look inside the lives of two different people whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis.” Many of these folks are mentally ill and at serious risk of having their houses condemned or losing custody of their children because of their cluttering habits. In each episode, a clinical psychologist, an organizing expert and a team of junk removers make home visits to help them mend their ways.

I’m not nearly at the level of the woman who was surprised to find two dead, squashed cats buried in all the garbage, but the show is enough to strike terror into my heart and inspire me to modify my hoarding behavior. Speaking of which, this post is long enough – I think I’ll go conquer some clutter!

How about you – do you have any resolutions you’d like to share? Do you believe New Year’s resolutions are a good thing, or would you rather forget about them and avoid the guilt trip? I’d love to hear from you.

*Kaya’s the one who inspired me to create this quiz, after I took hers and my daughter’s. Several writer friends have been sending them out as well. They take only a few minutes to create, and they’re an interesting way of exploring your own priorities and learning more about your Facebook friends. If you’d like to take mine and find a link for creating your own, visit my profile on Facebook and you’ll find the quiz on the lower left.

**I’m not acquainted with the cat in the photo, but he/she reminds me a lot of my beloved Lunesta. I recently bought her a soft, fuzzy pet bed and placed it on my desk near my computer. She loves to sleep in it, and it partially solves the problem of her lounging all over the desk and knocking papers down. Lunesta’s more of a tabby, and her hair’s shorter, but she’s the most marvellous cat in the world, of course.

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