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Confessions of a Hopeful Hoarder

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For TueNight.com by Rachel Kramer Bussel

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I love my stuff -- my books, my clothes, my jewelry, my art, my notebooks, my giant Hello Kitty pillow that I snuggle up to at night (even though I'm 38). I don't mean "love" as in the woman who married the Eiffel Tower -- my belongings and I are on a strictly platonic basis. But it's still a love that runs deep and strong, and I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing.

I should tell you right off the bat that I'm a hoarder. My impulse is to add. I'd say "not like those people you see on TV," but that would only be half true. My former apartment was right up there in terms of clutter horror stories. I had to shove the main door hard against all the papers, books and assorted items on the floor in order to eke out enough room to squeeze through. I walked over piles of stuff in every room. I lived in fear that my landlord would need to come in and would evict me upon seeing my mess. I couldn't even think about the possibility of a fire.

Now, I'm not quite as bad, but most of the credit for that goes to my boyfriend, who keeps me in line with some tough-love de-cluttering tactics. When my stuff starts to once again spill out, he sets up boxes for my various types of clothing, pointing out cracks in CDs and praising me for the progress I've made.

His methods don't always mesh with my stubbornness, though. We haggled recently over my old cell phones; I insisted on keeping the pretty red one because I'm sure there are valuable old messages on it...if I were able to turn it on.

We moved in together last year, and are about to move again, to an even smaller space than the one we are in now. There's nothing like moving to make you ask yourself the hard questions about what you need and what you don't. But for me, I imagine the process is a little different than it is for most people. Because my answer, 99 percent of the time, will be yes when I ask myself if I really need something, and there's a thin line between want and need. I admit that I err on the side of saving, however I see this is a resourceful way of thinking.

Every item I pick up holds promise. For whatever reason, my brain isn't the type that can be cold and analytical when making these decisions. Instead, I don't just ask myself, "Am I using this?" but also "Might I use this one day?" If there's any chance it could come in handy, it doesn't make sense to me to get rid of it, whether it's a skirt that was once too small, a book I've wanted to read for years but just never got around to, or a lone earring whose match might be around here...somewhere.

There's a difference though, between hoarding and materialism. Sure, I love shopping, and have a fantasy wardrobe picked out if I ever win the lottery. But I don't think of myself as materialistic -- someone who craves things simply for the sake of owning them. Aside from art, I don't buy things just to look at them. I love the items I own because they, even if only in a small way, brighten my day, or give me something to strive for or look forward to. I easily own over a thousand books, yet I'm constantly browsing Amazon and reading book review blogs. This is not because I simply want to amass a giant library, but because I wish I had the time to read every book that catches my eye. I rarely reread books, but I quite often pick up old favorites and flip through the pages, immersing myself in their glory for a few minutes. Though the "someday" might seem like "never" to an outsider, I fully believe that I will get around to reading the books I've clung to at some unknown future date.

When I get rid of something, it feels like I'm giving up on not just on that item's potential, but my own. Right now I'm struggling with whether to chuck a very pretty box filled with stationery. I can't remember how I acquired it, but I'm pretty sure it was a gift. Logically, I know I haven't used the stationery since I first received it years ago. But every time I see the box, I think how pretty it is, how it would be a shame to get rid of just because I haven't yet gotten around to using it. Whenever I open it, tears spring to my eyes because it's the kind of paper I would have used to write to my grandmother, who was my most frequent pen pal. I loved seeing her notes in my mailbox, my name scrawled in handwriting that even after decades of deciphering it. I still sometimes have to hold up to the light, tilt my head and use my intuition to unscramble.

Hoarders get a bad rap, but outsiders see can't see our good intentions; the way we, in our fantasy lives, have a place for everything, even if our everything is a lot more than other people.

I learned that there's a huge gap between that fantasy life and the reality of being overrun by stuff when my hoarding hit rock bottom during my move and I had to hire a trash removal service. They spent hours hauling away all my remaining debris, which included personal letters, magazines, books and clothes into garbage cans, which filled up a small truck. That was painful on many levels. The irony of paying someone because I couldn't take care of the things I supposedly love haunts me every time I start to backslide. It's one of the few things that motivates me to put something in the giveaway clothing box or finally admit that I'm just not using the exercise ball collecting dust in the corner of my room.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I can tell you that in my ideal world, I wouldn't live amidst sprawling clutter, but would have room for everything I wanted to keep, displayed in a way that I could easily look at, touch and use, I don't want to be ruled by or overrun by my stuff. I don't want to lose countless hours looking for a beloved item, only to become so frustrated during the search that I start to hate the thing I was looking for. Most of all, I don't want to be someone who puts possessions over people.

My boyfriend is a minimalist -- give him a TV, a couch and a tablet, and he's happy. I would go absolutely bonkers living in one of those ultra minimalist homes where everything looks pristine and precise and, in my opinion, soulless. Even if I'm not using everything I own every day, the fact that I have the potential to do so satisfies something deep inside me. Just because I wear sneakers probably 350 days of the year, I still smile when I see my Fluevog Body Parts pumps. Would I be the same person if I didn't own those shoes? Yes. Would my daily life be significantly changed if I never wore them again? No. Yet in my own way, I love them. I won't go so far as to say they love me back, but they are a part of me. The hopeful part of me, the part of me that, even when I'm lounging around wearing sweats, is dressed up in my mind. Like comfort food, they're comfort shoes. All the things I truly love, the ones it would pain me to part with, offer their own form of comfort, which helps buoy me through the times when the rest of my life is highly uncomfortable. They're a collective security blanket, one I'm not ashamed to admit I need.

Read more by Rachel Kramer Bussel on TueNight. You can find her on Twitter @raquelita.

About TueNight:
TueNight is a weekly online publication for women to share where they've been and explore where they want to go next. We are you, part two. www.tuenight.com