Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My New Resolution to Declutter and Stop Hoarding

I got a gift of a small jar of caviar this Christmas and I’ve been savoring its briny, popping goodness little-by-little, until I came near the bottom of the jar the other night. There was probably less than a teaspoonful left when I said to myself, "Better save that for later." And then I paused and thought to myself, "Save it for later for what? Why not just finish it off now?"

You may find this odd, but something clicked inside my head at that very moment. It was indeed a strange, "lightbulb" moment where I vowed to declutter, stop hoarding and stop purchasing stuff I don’t intend to consume immediately.

Bear with me while I digress a bit. My thoughts aren’t necessarily organized since this self-realization is a cumulation of recent events.

This past Christmas, my family and I went to IKEA to look for some furniture for my sister’s new house. While we were wandering through the store, my father noticed a small box of pencils provided by IKEA for its customers to mark down merchandise numbers. I watched my father take a couple of pencils and stuff them in his pants. At the next pencil box, I watched my father take another couple pencils. I stepped in front of my father when he gleefully tried to make a beeline towards the next pencil box. I said, "You’ve had enough. Don’t take anymore." Taken aback, my father mumbled, "Oh, okay." My sister was more direct, "Put them back." My father refused.

My mother told my sister and me that my father’s been doing this for years. He brings home buckets of golf balls from the golf range, toilet paper/tissue boxes from hotel rooms, fist-full of mints from restaurants, blankets from airplanes, etc. When my mother told my father to stop, he became belligerent and obstinate so she’s since stopped trying. She sighed and said he probably committed thievery during the war, during his poverty-stricken youth. He stopped as he matured and dug himself out of poverty. But now, with his dementia clouding his common sense and judgment, he’s reverted back to his old habits.

This made me wonder whether some trauma in our life causes long-lasting behavioral problems. I wonder, since over the years, I’ve developed one particularly disgusting habit - - I hoard.

Note: Not my fridge.

I think my own personal "trauma" started several years ago, when I maxed out my credit card and got rejected for a new one. I was a week away from payday, had nothing in my savings or checking, had no money or credit to buy groceries. For a couple of days, I survived on stale bread and Top Ramen I bought from God-knows-when. Thank goodness I had a pre-paid business trip that week, where food and drinks would be provided by my employer. I guess you could say I had a Scarlett O’Hara moment where I vowed, "I’ll never go hungry again!"

Now, I realize that I’m being over-dramatic about what happened. I had other options besides going hungry. I could’ve easily called my friends or sister for some money. But I just couldn’t bring myself to admit to my friends and family how bad of a financial situation I was in. I guess you could say my false pride traumatized me.

Ever since then, I’ve been telling myself to, "Save that for later. I may need it." Over the years, my freezer’s been stuffed with items that I’ve "saved for later." If you look in my freezer today, you’ll find bag of chicken wings that has one drummette, a bag of pita with couple of pockets, a box of pyrogies with 2 dumplings, a 1/4 bag of hashbrowns, etc., etc. You get the idea. Many items are so freezer-burned that they’re now inedible. What I've saved for later, that "later" never came.

My closet is similar. I’ve got clothes dating back to when I was in college that I can't/won't wear anymore. Yet somewhere in my mind, "I may need it for later." I somehow can't bring myself to donate something I haven't worn in over a decade.

It made me sad to see my father as a petty thief. Since I’ve also inherited a lot of physical characteristics from my father - - my looks, dark complexion, my curly hair, my asthma, etc. - - I am petrified that I will one day become like him. There's nothing much I can do about genetics but I know I can change my habits and way of thinking. I am hoping that if I make an ongoing and concerted effort now to stop hoarding and completely consume what I buy, I may not end up like my dad or those sad people you see on A&E's show, "Hoarders."

I'm slowly cleaning out my freezer. I've been tossing out items that are completely overtaken by freezer-burn and finishing off what's still edible. I've also cleaned out two bagfuls of clothes and shoes out of my closet. And I still have more to go. This will be a work-in-progress that will take weeks, if not months, to accomplish.

Anyhow, going back to the caviar - - I scooped out the final teaspoon and ate it all. And it was the best tasting part.


444 said...

It's funny that you just posted this. I had a conversation with Mr. 444 yesterday (or maybe it was just a monologue) in which I told him that I am less into "stocking up" and more into "using up." I mean, I do like to keep the fridge and pantry stocked with items I actually use, because I hate going to the store because I ran out of one item.

But I am trying to streamline by buying what I will use very soon and getting rid of what has been in the pantry for a while by using it up. I've seen an "eat from the pantry" challenge and I guess I'm doing a modified version of that.

My sister has a pantry full of enough food that her family could eat for months, I guess, if they were suddenly cut off from access to any store. I am not particularly worried about disasters keeping me from the store, and my cash flow is such that I can't afford to have a big inventory. Like you, I have come to think, "Don't save it in the fridge. For one thing, it might go bad and end up being tossed. Just use it up now! The store is always there if more needs to be bought." My goal now is to make sure food opened is actually consumed and not thrown out while something new is made.

I also come from a family of clutter-hoarders and "chronically disorganized" people (referring to situations outside the kitchen now) and I am trying to fight that, too.

Rikki said...

As a hoarder in recovery, I've decided that each night I am going to get rid of one thing in my house. It could be clothing, old makeup, one of my 8 big cooking spoons; it doesn't really matter as long as it is one item.

By doing this I'm cutting down on my possessions without making it a big deal of "I'm cleaning out my whole closet tonight!" Plus it is a little fun each evening to hunt for the one thing that is leaving the house next.

Jin6655321 said...

Like you, I tended to hoard. I too had an epiphany one day and decided to purge, it was hard, until I resolved to wear/use/read/watch everything I owned. That sweater I held unto for years was hard to let go until I forced myself to wear it one day. Same with that cute pair of shoes I bought on clearance 4 years ago, the blue eyeshadow, that perfume I got as a gift... That movie etc.

As an added bonus, the more I purge, the less I want to buy. I used to buy things just because it's pretty or for planned future use. Now I see things as just one more thing that I will have to use and, all of sudden, it's not so attractive.

Revanche said...

I'm a natural hoarder (having just posted about that a couple weeks ago) but I also hate waste and clutter so the two tendencies manifest in such a way that I hoard consumables, but I absolutely must clear them out and use them up if I'm going to hoard them.

I do this weird thing where I'll use or eat half of something and save the rest for later. Too frequently, tomorrow meant that it was gross or inedible so I'm repairing that habit. I really hope that by the time I get old, this will be the habit deeply ingrained in my psyche.

Miss M said...

It's a difficult line to draw, on the one hand saving stuff for later could be a smart/frugal decision. No one likes to see things go to waste. Yet if you truly will never use it again, keeping it is also a waste. I was a pack rat as a child, I think I spent too much time with my depression era grandparents! But once I reached college I stopped, having to move every year made me evaluate the stuff in my life. Was it worth shlepping around to the next apartment and so on. We still hold on to things we may never use, as long as it isn't affecting our daily lives I think it is OK. When you can no longer find your way through the house cause it is packed with junk, then you've crossed the line.

Ms. MoneyChat said...

my mother is a hoarder and it used to (and still does) bug the heck out of me. i'm the complete opposite. i throw away everything. i got a good chuckle out of your post ... especially with this one, "you’ll find bag of chicken wings that has one drummette." shtinky, a bag of chicken wings with 1 drummette? LOL.