It’s hard to overcome your childhood. I have a lot of baggage, which is appropriate considering the house I was raised in. I grew up with two hoarders for parents, in extremely filthy conditions. Now, I go through periods of panic where I attack clutter like an enemy.

My wife doesn’t like it, but she understands. She’s been to my mom and dad’s house. Not much has changed in the last 30 odd years. It’s a hard environment for me to go back to.

It was like the TV show “Hoarders”

We didn’t see the top of the kitchen table for months at a time. It was covered with newspapers, bills and dirty plates. Opening the fridge was a horror show. You couldn’t sit down in the living room, let alone live there. Every empty paper bag, container and box was kept for eternity. They just dropped things wherever they were standing. Much like a pigeon poops at random locations.

No one cleaned our house except when they needed to use something that was still dirty. You didn’t open a cupboard and find cups or plates, just empty space. You looked in the pile on the counter and got one out that wasn’t too disgusting, then cleaned it. They never got around to installing running water, so washing dishes was complicated.

There was a laundromat in town. Once a month we would be there, shoveling our dirty laundry into a coin operated washer.

Our small farm was a mess. Plenty of room to collect piles of trash and leftover junk. Nothing ever got thrown away. If we were done with it, it might make it a few dozen feet from the front door before it got set on the ground.

Grass grew over everything. Lawncare was for rich folk. Several years worth of dead vegetation covered pockets of lost trash treasures.

The Boneyard

Farm equipment and vehicles went here to die, just like an elephant graveyard. Old rusting metal lay everywhere. It doubled as a playground for my brother and I.

Dad went to The Boneyard and rummaged around whenever he needed a part. If he could, he would jury rig some old elephant ivory together and get some machine running again. He created farm equipment Frankensteins by cannibalizing everything he could and piecing it together. The old husks were left where they lay, trees growing right through them. New equipment elephant carcasses got dumped at the end of the ever growing lineup.

We had broken appliances from other people’s houses, because dad “might be able to use them.” We never owned our own washing machine or clothes dryer, but I knew what they were because we had so many cast-offs.

When he changed oil in the truck or tractor, he put it back in the oil jugs and left that out there too. If he changed brake pads, we kept the duds. Old worn out tires with no tread? Better keep them. Might need them someday. A broken shovel with no handle went right beside those two broken hammers. In a few weeks the grass would grow over it and it would be like we never had it.

Trapped and bullied

I was depressed by our lifestyle. I knew we were the only people for miles who didn’t have running water. I was ashamed and felt like a total loser. Other kids never came over. It was the hardest period of my life.

I washed my school clothes in a basin and dried them on the back of a chair. I did anything I could to try to feel normal, but it never worked. I felt powerless, and poor, and worthless.

Our personal hygiene was terrible, and everyone else noticed. I bet we didn’t smell very good. I got bullied because I only had a couple sets of clothes. I stuck out like a stain.

Cleaning became my coping method

Every few weeks, I started going on a cleaning binge. I cleaned around the sofa so I could use it. I heated water in the kettle and washed dishes in a large pan on the stove. I threw out rotting food and tried to get an area of the kitchen table cleared.

There was no way to change my parents. Mom and Dad just undid my work faster than I could keep up. Within days, it was messy again. A kid can’t clean as fast as two adults can ruin it.

Even poor people can collect amazing amounts of garbage in a week. The mailbox was always full of fliers and junk mail to add to the stash. Sometimes tools and equipment repair projects joined us inside too.

When I was cleaning, I wasn’t allowed to throw “good stuff” away. Screwing up would result in some serious pain. Beatings were the discipline method most often used.

I didn’t dare make anything go missing if I knew my dad would be looking for it. Things like cardboard, newspapers, magazine and flyers were on the “must keep” list. It didn’t matter how many of these things we had, or how old they were. If one of my parents liked something, it was a keeper.

I was a master at organizing things. I put all of the cardboard in one box. I stacked all of the magazines and tied them. I shoved all of the bags into one bag that I could hang up somewhere. Books got piled against the wall. Dirty clothes all went into a pile in one corner.

Entire rooms filled up with bundles, piles and stacks.

I moved out the moment I graduated high school. My parents are still at it, in their 80’s and surrounded by even more things. Their house is a tragedy. They never changed their ways.

Possessions are about feelings

These feelings then get in the way when that object no longer serves your needs. This is why my dad can never just toss an old magazine after he reads it. He is involved with it, it’s a part of him. He carefully stores it and never looks at it again.

I have a built in fear that this will happen to me. Sometimes I feel like I have to prove it by getting rid of things I would rather save. I don’t want long term possession relationships. I’m more into one night stands, use them and lose them. I’m anti collection, pro disposable.

I do bond with clothes, though. This is probably because I hardly had any good duds when I was a kid. I will wear a favorite shirt every day, until it self destructs. If I find some good pants there will be holes in them before they go. I’m sad when these beloved friends wear out and I need to find new ones.

How I’m tackling my issues with belongings

I’m mindfully working on my relationship with things.

I’m concentrating on only bringing stuff into my house if I’m going to keep it and love it. I’m moving on from temporary obsessions with objects. Every purchase has to have thought behind it.

I find myself switching to digital books. I still get paper copies from my favorite authors. I don’t need the giant hoard of books I had in the past.

I’m also working to be more respectful of my wife’s things. She deserves respect and input in anything we share. Her stuff is hers to deal with, not mine to worry about. If it’s in her kingdom, then I will leave it be.

Forgetting about perfection

I can relax a little and stop stressing my wife out over clutter. It’s okay to not have everything perfect. We aren’t losers if we have a tiny stack of clutter on the table. I don’t want her to think she’ll leave the house for a few hours, only to return and see I threw everything out. That’s not fair to her.

I need to work on gratitude. Having too much stuff is such a first world problem. I want to remember that there are those in this world who wish they were so lucky.

What is your relationship with possessions? Do you dream of living in a tiny house, or do you wish you lived in a Hollywood estate with scads of fancy new things?

I vote for tiny house.

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