Chicago, IL

Decluttering During a Quarantine, Or Trying To

Sherry McGuinn

It's not easy to sift through a life

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As I look around my house, I feel my anxiety rising like global sea levels.

My husband and I have lived in our three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath home for roughly twenty-five years. And we’ve managed to fill up nearly every nook and cranny.

Before your mind flashes to an episode of Hoarders, let me back peddle and say that I am a very tidy person. Neatness and order are very important to me, especially as I’ve battled OCD my entire life.

As anyone who suffers from this disorder knows, clutter is not your friend. In fact, it exacerbates every facet of what is already very shaky ground.

I can’t work amid a mess. I can’t think amid a mess. I can’t live amid a mess. Yet, somehow, I messed up. Or, hubby and I did.

We are awash in “stuff.” Some of it good stuff, and much that we could easily toss.

If only we could.

Why is it so hard for us to rid ourselves of the detritus that accumulates over years and years? What are we afraid of?

I ask myself every time I look into our crowded wall space in the laundry room, where we’ve stashed holiday decorations, clock radios, lamps, geegaws, candle holders, and a whole lot of other items. Some of which I’m sure would surprise the hell out of us.

This area extends so far back in the wall, that we would literally have to climb in to see what’s stashed in the back.

Now here's where it really gets aggravating. We regularly donate clothes and household items to Amvets, Goodwill, and other charitable organizations.

You’d think doing this would make a serious dent in our stuff surplus, but, no, it doesn’t!

Every now and then, when I can handle it without feeling like my head is going to explode, I’ll walk around our home and assess.

You would not believe our vast collection of books, DVDs, music — both CDs and vinyl — and even, VHS tapes! Now, what the hell are we going to do with those?

My husband and I used to joke that we’d keep it all for our dotage when we could no longer afford cable. But VHS tapes? Really? As I write this, they’re lined up like soldiers on the shelves in our finished basement. Tapes we’ve purchased, as well as recorded tapes.

And the books! Hundreds, probably. When I go through I am amazed as we have so much incredible shit here. Marie Kondo aside, it’s hard to toss out great literature.

But, my husband and I both have Kindles which means we rarely crack a real book.

When we moved into our home, the movers made non-stop cracks about our music and literary collection. The endless boxes of books, especially. They kept referring to us as professors.

But then again, they were high. I caught them in the bathroom of the apartment we moved out of, “sparking one up.”

Furniture movers are definitely their own breed. At least they didn’t rip us off.

I mentioned holiday decorations. We have boxes and boxes of Christmas ornaments, tapestries, placemats, garlands, and so many “tchotchkes” that most of them will never ever see the light of day, again.

We used to decorate with a diligence that only the truly dedicated among us can appreciate. Or, my husband did. I’d “help.”

I have to admit, we had fun, and my husband’s ministrations were beautiful, but we’ve run out of gas for those types of holiday doings. Unpacking, repacking…in the last couple of years, we haven’t even put up a tree! When we did, they were always fresh off the lots.

Although we talk about it — a lot — We haven’t been able to bring ourselves to sift through our holiday stuff. Oh, I want to, but my hubby is more sentimental about these things than I am. So much of what we’ve acquired harkens back to happier times. Times when we weren’t consumed with worry about the future.

And therein lies the rub. If we toss that musical snow globe, do we trash a memory? Tear a rent in our marriage? Lose what we can never reclaim?

But the alternative…being mired down by possessions we no longer use scares the shit out of me. I’m not hard-hearted but I just can’t see the need or the practicality of holding onto every damn thing.

I often stress the point that, if we wanted, or had to move, we’d be screwed with a capital F! Who’s going to pack up all this stuff? Us?

Sure. Maybe if we’re both ready for “the big one,” but we have our cats to think of.

One of the things that stands out for me on Hoarders is the fact that so many of these people acquire “things” that they never use.

Why? Because they can’t find them in the stacks of shit they already own! Or, because they already have so much, let’s say apparel for example, that they have no need to buy anything new.

It seems that for many hoarders, the rush lies in the purchasing. For those of us who have Amazon-Primed our way through many a night, we get this.

I have no excuse for addiction to beauty products other than my abiding love for anything sparkly. Anything that promises to give me glowing skin, voluminous hair, and a ludicrously luscious pout.

My jones is way out of hand and, even though I’ve dumped a lot of highlighters, bronzers, lipsticks, and shampoos onto my sister and niece, my hoard still overfloweth.

I’ve promised myself that by the time spring is fully in gear, that I would divest myself of this mess.

The good news is I realize that I’m not alone. So many people have issues with their inability to declutter their environment. That’s why Marie Kondo is so popular. She makes the decluttering process look so damned easy.

Just toss your books, roll your clothes into impossibly tiny rolls and you’re done!

Here’s an interesting statistic from Psychology Today:

Americans spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches ($100 billion) than on higher education!

And chew on this one from the LA Times:

There are 300,000 items in the average American home!

And Americans aren’t alone in their love for their stuff. Check this out from The Telegraph:

British research found that the average 10-year-old owns 238 toys but plays with just 12 daily.

WTF has happened to us? And WTF we do about it?

For me, I am committed to making our home as clutter-free as possible. I realize that when I look at everything as a whole, I become overwhelmed. So, I’m going to take it one room, one drawer, one closet at a time.

I will discuss everything with my husband but that said, I will also not be above throwing shit out behind his back if that’s what it takes. Not the “important” stuff, of course. But at some point in our brains, the stuff that is truly meaningful becomes jumbled-up with the crap. So it will take some time.

But I’m going to do it as I refuse to drown in my own home. “Breathing” is paramount to survival, after all, and if it takes renting a few dumpsters, or calling 1–800-JUNK, so be it.

What's your solution? Did you spend "quality" time ridding your home of clutter over the past year? If you have any tips, please share!

© Sherry McGuinn, 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Sherry McGuinn is a slightly-twisted, longtime Chicago-area writer and award-winning screenwriter. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and numerous other publications. Sherry’s soon-to-be-ex-manager is currently NOT pitching her newest screenplay, a drama with dark, comedic overtones and inspired by a true story.

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Chicago, IL
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