READY: On the obsessive, but liberating, behavior of unhoarding

Mary Ready

That’s right. The title contains the made-up word, “UNhoarding.” It’s what I call the opposite of hoarding, which by clinical definition means, “the acquisition of, and failure to discard, possessions that appear to be of useless or limited value.” That situation, borne of an obsessive compulsive disorder, can lead to living spaces so cluttered that using a room as intended becomes impossible.

Defining “unhoarding” is a bit trickier. The opposite of hoarding is also an obsessive-compulsive disorder known as “Spartanism.” It’s a disorder in which people throw things away out of a compulsion to rid themselves of belongings. Having less stuff makes them feel more in control of their life and surroundings. In the extreme, it can leave sufferers with no furniture in their homes or clothes in their closet.

Currently, neither disorder appears in The Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V.

I think I’ve recently developed a mild case of Spartanism.

Since Frank’s death, I’ve felt compelled to get rid of stuff. Telling myself I’m saving my children the burden of sorting through my belongings after I’m gone, I’ve been making frequent trips to Good Will, Harvest House, and Waterfront Mission. That way, I won’t be hearing them from heaven complaining, “What was Mom thinking when she bought this thing?” or “Why did Mom think she needed four Christmas tree stands and three ice cream churns?”

So, this month the tree stands and ice cream churns are gone. Along with five shawls I’ve never worn, duplicate pots and pans, two George Forman grills, clothes I’ll never fit into again, and more knick-knacks than any sane person should have to dust.

My enhanced inspiration to Spartanize came partly during the undecking of the Christmas decorations, when I decided to box up and donate ornaments and trimmings I had not used for several seasons. With no sentimental value, I had no problem letting them go. But I was surprised at the big box size necessary to collect them for the trip to Good Will.

The other part of my inspiration came from reading a website entitled, “embracing” with an article advising “200 things to throw away.” I read the list with embarrassment as I recognized the weird, useless stuff I had been keeping and not using.

I can’t share all 200 here, but I’ve chosen those that spoke to me, labeling me “guilty” of collecting things I don’t need, don’t use, and don’t want my children to have to haul off when they’re clearing the house and figuring out what to do with “all Mom’s stuff.”

Old product boxes, hangers from the dry cleaners, taxes and paperwork over 7 years old, extra cups and mugs, books you’ve never read or will never read again, tea light candles (use them or lose them), plastic cutlery from take out, raggedy old towels, plastic containers with no lids, zillions of pens and pencils, cords that don’t belong to anything you currently own, watering cans ( I have four), empty flower pots (I’ve got a bunch in every size), scissors (I keep buying them because I can’t find any of the dozen I own), hotel shampoo/lotion samples, purses, candles, staple remover, unused key chains, mystery keys (I have a box of them), hats you don’t wear or that make you look silly, chip clips, old textbooks, instruction manuals (they’re online now), one orphan earring (stop looking for its mate), and unused picture frames.

The 26 items I’ve listed here are the ones that have my name written all over them. They need discarding before I become a hoarder instead of my current bent towards unhoarding. But I had such hope for filling those many flower pots with lovely flowers, and I harbor the belief that someday I’ll find the missing earring, and if I throw it out, I’ll find the other one afterwards. And how can I part with my outdated 1960’s psychology and sociology college textbooks? Well, since they don’t make me smile when I see them like my Shakespeare books do, maybe it won’t be that hard.

I’ll just remind myself that my discards can be donated, recycled, or just tossed if not useful to anyone. Knowing that I’m allowing someone else to enjoy my things makes it easier and even joyful for me to let them go. I’m only going to keep things that make me feel good. If it doesn’t make me happy when I look at it, it’s got to go.

Thoreau said it best, “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.