One TV program that I alternately love and hate is Hoarders. The producers send a team of psychologists, organizers and laborers into a person's home and they all work (and argue) about cleaning the place up. I often think that if I had all of that help, I'd get something done around here. But then I see those poor people going through their things one item at a time, trying to decide whether to trash it, donate it, or keep it. Their anxiety gets so high that they wig out, and I wonder what it would be like to have to decide on every bit of stuff I have all in one day. I wonder why anyone would let a camera crew into their house?
I felt sorry for thembecause I understood. I am a "selective" pack rat. I have no trouble throwing away junk mail unopened or fast-food containers, but I do have a problem with books and clothes. I've been working on it, but it is so hard. Plus, my wife often looks into the trash and pulls out holey underwear or an old T-shirt to use for cleaning rags, and then I have to throw things away twice, when it was hard enough the first time. This is how my old underpants end up hanging on the deck, for God and everyone to see, drying off after washing her truck.
As I write this, I'm sitting in a valley between two mountains of papermostly unread emails. When a long email comes, I rarely read it, but print it out and put it next to my keyboardfor later. On top of one stack is a Lands End catalogue opened to pea coats. I'm thinking of buying one, but I have to wait until I get my new glasses, so I'll know how much money I have left for a coat. I do have other coatsbut I think that a peacoat is the perfect attire for a lesbian. So, like the hoarder on TV, I have my reasons. I tell myself that at least I'm not that bad. At least I don't have bugs all over or dead cats in my garage.
I've studied the topic of hoarding. But the thing about books to help you get organized that the people who write them don't seem to understand, is most of us who need to get organized don't have time to read them, or if we do, we can't find them.
One thing that has worked for me is to be careful what I bring in to the house. Again, this isn't easy. I have some magazines I can pitch as soon as I've read them, but many more that I think I'll get back to and read one or two more articles. I've found that just getting rid of obsolete or out-of-date magazines helped. I don't really need the phonebook from 1993 anymorebut I didn't realize this until I read it somewhere. For years I subscribed to The New Yorker. I never had time to read them. I liked to read book reviews and stories about lives of other writers. But they stacked up. So, I got some boxes and put old magazines in order, by date, determined to read them or at least read the cartoons. When we moved the boxes stayed in the garage. One day the wife tells me she sat the boxes out by the curb, with a sign that read "New Yorkers Free." The boxes were gone within an hour. I might have felt bad about losing the New Yorkers, but I felt relief. The pressure was off.
A while back I read a book titled Homer and Langley, by E. L. Doctorow. It's a good book if you like literary fiction. It's based on a true story of the Collyer brothers who were found dead in their 5th Avenue brownstone amid tons of stuff. In the book, the story is told by the brother who is blind. So even though he knows they have accumulated a lot of stuff, including a car in the dining room, he can't see any of it. The brothers eventually descend into madness, as over the years the walkways become narrower and one by one the rooms become uninhabitable.
In 1975, the documentary Gray Gardens won several awards. It's about two women, mother (big Edith) and daughter (little Edith), who live in a mansion in East Hampton, New York, that is full of trash, fleas, cats and raccoons. They were about to be evicted when their plight got some publicity. Jackie Onassis and her sister Lee Razwell (two cousins of the Ediths) arranged for the place to be cleaned and repaired, but it eventually filled up again. In a 2007 film, based on the documentary, one of the best lines comes when the guy from the Health Department shows up and Drew Barrymore (Little Edith) hangs out the upstairs window, and says, "Well, things just seem to pile up after Labor Day."
I have read that all clothes that don't fit should go. But I have the problem of being one size (not always the same size) in the summer and another in the winter, or two weeks later. When I see closets on TV or in magazines (except on Hoarders), I am always shocked that there is reasonable space between the hangers. Joan Crawford would have a stroke over my closet. Every week when I hang up my clean clothes, I have to shove with all my might to get the stuff back in there.
There must be a line you cross somewhere and it all just gets away from you. I ask myself what's the difference between Homer and Langley, Big Edith and Little Edith, or those people on TV and me. Is it just a matter of degrees? I heard somewhere that there's always someone better off and someone worse off than you are. Maybe I look at hoarders so I can tell myself I'm not that bad. Yet.
Martha Miller is a retired English teacher. She has eight books published by various publishers. The latest Me Inside by Sapphire, her favorites are Tales from the Levee, Herrington Park Press and Retirement Plan, Bold Strokes Books. She's come to love the prairie and has lived in Central Illinois all her life. You may recognize her name from old columns in the Prairie Flame. Her website is: www.marthamiller.net