WHAT to do with the rest of your life?
Clutter: No Place Like Home
Clutter is a big problem for us, retirees, as we’ve had so much time to collect…and collect…and COLLECT.
At first, collecting those vases, books, dolls, teddy bears, shoes, shells, saws, tools, etc. was fun and our grandkids got a kick out of them and we liked to show them off. But now the stuff’s taken over. It’s gotten control.
And let me reassure you, if you’ve gone too far and you’re got the reputation for being a hoarder, you’re not alone, as two out of every four elderly person’s house I’ve been in, including mine, is loaded with a collection of stuff: sports gadgets, piles of magazines, toy trains, clothes, etc. And that’s not including those stacks of miscellaneous papers that look like bills and irate letters.
My collection has been gifts from my kids, like little wooden boxes, clothes that don’t fit (flatteringly, they think I’m thinner than I am) dishes, and paintings. I can’t throw or give any of the stuff away so it sits around taking up space. The only problem with collecting is that we may let it multiply and multiply and have junk jammed in everywhere.
I’m no neatnik. At one time I was so far from being a fuss-budget I could have earned awards for untidiness. I though a messy house looked comfortable, friendly, showed that I wasn’t a persnickety uptight so and so, but a real down to earth person that no one had to feel nervous around.
I went through several periods like that where I thrived on messes and clutter, thinking it gave my home a nice, lived-in look.
But at the same time, I was doing my chaos scenario, it also wasn’t fun to roll out of bed and step into a pile of dog poop—to have the sink plugged up or to be unable to find a clean glass for a drink of water.
When we become collectors, we seldom can never find anything, or it’s dirty, or broken, etc. So out of psychological necessity I’ve changed. I find deprivation is more satisfying, believe it or not. That spic and span look is carefree and fun. Anybody in the market for some wooden boxes or clothes size 4?
Back to junk. When it comes to collecting junk I think men are worse junkies then women. Men don’t see their castoffs multiplying in the garage or basement until some friend visits, looks at the litter and says, “Wish I had a tenth of the saws you have.” Talk about tact. That person could give lessons. As for collecting litter, I never went in for dumpster diving myself, although I thought it might be a good idea when you had time on your hands.
I have one friend who is so obsessed with her stuff, it’s stacked to the ceiling, she falls into a profound depression over giving any of it up. (1) she gets depressed because she can’t get rid of anything, saying, “I might need it someday.” Her upstairs ispiled so high with cardboard boxes she can’t use any of the rooms, even the bathroom.
And besides being depressed about her conglomeration (2) she can’t move freely in her house or find anything. I suggested she put the stuff in a storage place, but she can’t do that either, says it would be too expensive—instead she visits the shrink with her problem and lives on anti-depressants and spend more on shrinks than the storage would have been.
But we all have our own excuses for not throwing this or that out.
“Throw that out—are you out of your mind. It’s a gift from my kids or that belonged to Grandpa. It’s almost an antique.”
When we’re discouraged or depressed the best temporary depressor we can find, more often than not, is to go out and buy. A temporary depressor, that is, until the bills comes due.
Men on the other hand when they get depressed or weary of it all, either blow up and tell someone off or smack someone around. Although now and then they too, go out and buy a tool or gadget.
And although it’s a problem for men to live in a pandemonium of stuff, rather than more buying, their messes are mostly the result of never throwing anything out, while women collect by buying more and more and may or may not keep it.
And when kids are around—forget about getting rid of clutter. Life is more often than not one muddled series of days.
But we retirees don’t have that excuse of kids anymore unless we’re in our sixties and had our last kid at fifty. Old age does have some uses. One, is for making excuses.
For instance, if I pamper my idleness, it leads to more idleness, so I have to force my reluctant body to get up and do some work. My excuse, old age.
So although working to clean the house in order to get rid of clutter, when we had kids, was an exercise in futility those cluttering mobsters are no longer an excuse. Now we have come up with different excuses. We’ve mostly wore that old age excuse out.
As children of the Depression, every time we go to throw something out the following ideas pop up.
“I’ll never find it this cheap again. It costs twice as much now.” Or “All I have to do is change it a little and it will be as good as new.” Or “This new stuff doesn’t last or work as well as my old stuff.” Or, “Mama would be shocked if I threw this out.”
And then as the disorder grows wives fight with their husbands over the untidiness.
“This place is a pigpen,” she’ll scold.
“So clean it up.” he replies
“I didn’t make this shamble of crap.”
“And you’re saying I did?” will be his likely response.
Actually, I’ve never heard a man complain about the mess he’s made. So he likes to renovate, has to strew things around, and when he can’t find that special screwdriver blames it on everyone and everything except himself.
One solution is to get the grandkids involved. “Put that thing away, Davie. No not there. Atta a boy.”
A handy excuse, “Well, you know the grandkids were playing.”
Husbands and wives fight over the basement stacked to the ceiling with stuff. The walkway through the stuff gets narrower and narrower.
“I wash my hands of it. This basement is male terrain,” the wife says.
“Three fourth of the stuff is yours.” from the husband.
So after each argument they’d try to get rid of some stuff, but they don’t know where to start. So they hire a professional organizer. That doesn’t work.
The wife complains, “I wish our problem were something simple-- like another woman.”
The husband suggests, “Maybe we should move.” They call a realtor. And then a realtor tells them they can’t sell the place with all that stuff around.
The wife goes to a therapist to get her brain de-cluttered. That doesn’t work either. She watches all the shows on TV where the house is perfect, hoping to give herself some motivation. Nada on that one too. They take a vacation, their irrational unconscious telling them, maybe the mess won’t be so bad when we return.
One elderly friend of mine couldn’t part with any of her thousands of knick knacks, when she moved into her boyfriend’s house, so now pays $2,000 a month for storage.
Do I have any suggestions for a solution. No.
Garage sales don’t usually work. As we value our stuff too much and charge more than the traffic will fork over, so we end up the next day with most of it still sitting on the front lawn.
Sometimes the Health Department gets after us. That’s pretty drastic, although it DOES work.
And if worse comes to worse, we can tell people we’re collectors. Okay, so we collect cardboard boxes filled with McDonald’s wrappers. So what.
And as a last word, think of all the clutter as a blessing. If only we’d had this problem of too many possessions during the Depression.
After all, there’s a silver lining in everything.
A friend's website:Terra Firma Designs: Fine Furniture, Stained Glass and woodworking workshops.
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