In my last post I reflected upon reinvention and how sometimes you get
the urge to clear out and start afresh. What with it now clearly being
autumn, we can all take a leaf out of natures book and
let go of old stuff that no longer serves us.
My first reminder of this came while reading the 'Declutter your life
feature in the current issue of Top Sante (October, on sale now @topsanteuk). More than just your usual 'how to throw things away' type of de-cluttering
article, this one tells you what your possessions reveal about your
personality, whether you're a hider
, assurance seeker
, nostalgia lover,
or a house prou
d person. Unfortunately I fell into
four of the categories: the hider, who has a tendency to create walls
around them of books and magazines; the assurance seeker, who likes to
display trophies and certificates of their achievements – not that I have
many; a few journalist awards collecting dust, but I do have loads of
certificates, not on display but squirreled away, covering
everything from vocational qualifications to decades old
ballet certificates and school achievements. I was also a firm nostalgia lover, who
has 'cases full of old knick-knacks, and dolls and teddies on the sofa'
(thought in my case on the bed in the spare room) to remind me of 'happy
and carefree times'; and lastly the ponderer,
who has shelves full of diaries, old calendars, and photos galore, plus
snippets of scrap paper with scribbled dreams and thoughts.
one is me to a tee; I have dream diaries dating back about five years,
private diaries from when I was 13 and up, which years later
became digital documents when we all moved into the computer age, and
about four identical green books containing the notes I took from all
the talks at consecutive Hay House 'You Can Do It' conferences. I
literally document every aspect of my life. The current diary is more of
a health journal detailing my menstrual cycle, what I eat, and what my skin
is doing ie the state of my eczema. But yet I can't bring myself to throw any of it
away! I'm inspired by the likes of Danielle LaPorte, author of The Firestarter Sessions
, who decided to burn all her old diaries, photos to
start afresh, but I find it so hard.
Inheriting the hoarding gene... from Jean!
In this respect I take after my gran, Jean. She has always been a hoarder,
keeping things 'just in case'. I suppose for her generation it made
sense; the wartime years meant people had to make do and mend,
and everything got recycled in some way. It was never really a problem,
as my grandparents live in a pretty big house with plenty of space to store
boxes of shoes, unused crockery, and 50 years' with of mementos and
photos. But now this accumulation of stuff has come into focus as my
gran may have to move. Sadly, my granddad has serious dementia and is in
hospital, soon to go into a nursing home. This leaves my beloved gran
rattling around alone in a huge house with a lifetime of memories, which
she has begun whittling down because she may need to downsize.
So last weekend I went to help her. She'd mentioned her boxes of old
photos that needed going through, and I love looking back at family
gatherings, especially Christmases at my grandparents as they were so
special (a true nostalgia-lover trait).
Culling the scenic shots of Welsh mountains, waterfalls and wildlife was
the easy part, as they had no people in, but as soon as it got to
pictures of the family, which was at least 70 percent of them, gran found it
incredibly hard to let go. She kept apologising repeatedly for wanting
to keep so many of them, and I saw her tear up on a few occasions when
seeing pictures of granddad in his prime, though in a typically stoic,
English fashion she held the emotions inside, kept calm and carried on.
She really couldn't find it in her to throw away photos of people she
loved; it was as if she felt that throwing away a photo was akin to
throwing the person out of her life.
By the time we'd finished, the mass of photos had only diminished a little bit, but it was a start.
Parting with the past
So, as I was re-reading the de-clutter feature, after having helped my gran, I was particularly struck by this section: "The loss of a possession is
processed in the same area of the brain as pain. In other words, we are
as reluctant to lose items as we are to experience hurt."
Suddenly I had one of those light bulb moment. It occurred to me that perhaps
hoarders, whatever they collect, are ultimately all motivated by a need
to avoid pain, whether physical or emotional. Perhaps they feel afraid
of being out of their comfort zone, making hard choices, or moving into
new phases of life. My gran hasn't even got a passport so she readily
admits she's not led an exciting life. Although I do have a passport and
have traveled to many places, deep down I'm still a lot like my gran
and feel a need for security, certainty and comfort. Most of my big life
decisions have been made based on these subconscious needs, whether my
fun-seeking ego liked it or not.
I'd like to hypothesise that most, perhaps all, people with hoarding
tendencies are of a similar ilk: fearful of change, needing security and
with a strong tendency to look at the past with rose-tinted glasses, as I
do most of the time – a bad habit that stops me living fully in the
So, maybe the 'stuff' we accumulate is just an outer manifestation of
our inner beliefs. Perhaps the more we attribute meaning and personal
associations to our possessions, the more we suffer as a result if/when
we lose or have to part with them.
I have a friend who
always throws an item out if she buys a new one, so her possessions
don't get on top of her. I admire that control, as I'm more of a
'stuff it all in the wardrobe/drawers/boxes' kinda gal who always thinks
items will 'come in handy/come back into fashion' one day. I even have a
collection, just like my gran, of assorted ribbons, remnants of
wrapping paper and sturdy paper store bags for
I also have a folder bursting at the seems with ticket stubs from almost
every concert, theatre show, festival, art exhibition and film I attended from my early 20s and up. And don't get me started on old
magazines: Zest from 1997 anyone? Every issue of Vogue from
1999, including the special silver millennial issue? Might keep hold of
that though, could be worth a bob. But why the need to keep these
things? Because one day I want to look back and remember what I did, I
The only problem is, doing so, as both my gran and I are discovering,
can bring with it as much sadness/lamenting as it does happy memories. I
used to love riffling through my mum's meticulously annotated, plastic
laminated photo documenting my childhood. But these days it just seems to conjure up feelings of regret that a) I no
longer look the way I used to, and b) that I didn't seize that youthfulness
and make the most of all the possibilities and opportunities open to me.
Editing as we go?
So what's the solution? Perhaps editing our possessions each season so
we keep only the functional things and just a few select photos and
special mementos would not only make our lives more streamlined and
portable, should we need to move, but also less heart-wrenching and
instead more present focused.
Seeing my gran struggling emotionally to wade through not only photos
but ornaments, old clothes and enough kitchen stuff to fill an entire car boot sale, makes me think we'd
all be better off if we accumulated much less stuff. 'Traveling light', as they say, gives us more physical space but also mental and emotional freedom, too.
But, for a die-hard hoarder like me, this can be a painful exercise. I'm tempted
to hire a professional to help me out. Holding on to the past only keeps us stuck there. Physical
possessions can make us feel safe and secure for a while but ultimately, nothing
lasts forever and everything changes.
Perhaps it's time to get ruthless and edit down my stuff. After all, proponents of the Law of Attraction say nature abhors a vaccum, so if you create space in your life, new things will arrive to replace them.
Nature doens't hold onto its dead leaves, does it?