Do you remember the way your bedroom looked when you were twelve? When you were old enough that your parents weren’t cleaning your room anymore, but still young enough to toss things around with reckless abandon?
That is my bedroom, right now, as a 31-year-old woman.
Floor strewn with dirty clothes. Half-finished books and half-hearted craft projects. Dirty cups. Toys (not even kidding. I’m partial to unusual stuffed animals and nerdy action figures). One strategic demilitarised zone from the door to the unmade and inevitably rumpled bed.
And I try. Oh my god do I try.
Part of the problem is that I grew up semi-poor. Not dirt-poor, just a single-income household without any particular abundance of disposable income but no great disadvantages either. And yes, oh god, this was privilege in the small towns where I went to school. But it was the perfect soil for growing a hoarding habit: that in-between where there is always food and medicine and a roof overhead but where every frivolous extra is treated like gold.
The thing about gold is, you don’t really use it for anything, but it cost you a lot of money so you hang onto it ‘for a rainy day’ when it might be valuable but until then it’s just a big frivolous rock.
You will note that most of my mess falls into that ‘frivolous extras’ category. I still have trouble resisting the little things that speak to me in the heat of the shopping moment, because it is only as an adult that I’ve been able to indulge in such things and it has become, like liquor or the lottery, an unhealthy compulsion based on my freedom of (consumer) choice. I’m also fairly into the heightened emotions that come from a good purge, and so will periodically get rid of a pile of things and then somehow convert that into justification for buying more. This pattern of disordered consumption, binge and purge, reward and punish…
There is no guarantee that I’m not just in this same cycle again.
I will try a capsule wardrobe. Not because of KonMari or mindfulness or because everyone did it in 2014 and I’m only just catching up, but because it’s a good place to start, even though I love clothes. But I’m realising that I can love clothes in theory and from afar without having to have them on my actual real body. It’s also the area where I feel like I have the most useless chaff: I can find justification for almost all of my hundreds of books but there are plenty of niche items in my closet that I freely admit are only ‘suitable’ for one particular circumstance that will almost certainly never arise.
Because I’ll tell you the difference between me as a twelve-year-old and me now. Back then I didn’t give a shit about clothes, really. I had a rich imagination, I devoured books, I made up conversations in my head. I mean, I still do. But I did not spend my time worrying about ‘outfitting’ or ‘the four body types for women’ or ‘wideset breasts’ or ‘warm vs cool complexion’. This is no longer a fun thing for me or a sign of my joy de vivre or eclectic creativity or yada yada yada. It’s bundled up with a bunch of toxicity about how I relate to myself, my place in the world, how I’m perceived, my economic position, and what (physically and spiritually) I need in order to be satisfied. In the words of Eleanor Büsing at Apartment Therapy:
Despite loving (in theory) most of the items I owned, I never seemed to wear most of them, and getting dressed in the morning was becoming the most stressful part of my day–and as an adult with a job, that’s saying a lot.
I’ve fought this battle time and again. I’ve lived in seven different places in my adult life and the necessity of decluttering before a move always eases the burden slightly. I’ve had No-Buy July, I’ve Unfucked My Habitat, I’ve had monster closet clear outs, I’ve tried to Go Digital with my books and movies (which are a whole other category of hoarding, jeeze Louise). But the vicious cycle always begins again. And now I work in retail. My actual job involves actually convincing other people to actually accumulate physical possessions. As an ideology, I loathe consumerism–I loathe what it does to people at every level, the customer and the server and the sweatshopworker alike, I loathe what it does to the environment and the patterns of selfishness it wears into the human psyche.
But in reality, I’m a fucking hypocrite. And I don’t want to be.