Letting Go: Confessions of a Hoarder is the real thing. Corinne Grant is an Australian stand-up comic who has had a successful television career. You’d never know that from her book, though. She scarcely mentions her work, which may be due to tall-poppy modesty, or maybe because she’s just that well known to the Australian audience. Either way, it’s a testament to the power of her story. Hoarding makes life difficult no matter how well everything else might be going. What could have been a depressing story turns into a laugh riot, as Grant examines her emotional relationship with her stuff with humor and self-compassion.
Anyone who is ambivalent about keepsakes, memorabilia, souvenirs, and other emotional minefields will relate to this book. Grant has powerful emotional ties to almost every last thing she owns. She’s unable to get rid of a single item without agonizing over it, including the dried-out stems of an old bouquet, which she photographs for posterity. There are scenes of her weeping, arguing with friends who try to help her move, hiding stuff she wants to keep, and rescuing things she had planned to donate. Like I said, this book is the real thing.
It’s Grant’s ability to laugh at herself that saves her. While it doesn’t make the process any easier, she’s able to recognize when she is being irrational. She enlists the support of a friend who also hoards, and the progress really gets going when they start telling each other the truth about their fraught ties to their possessions. This is where the title comes in. These really are Lessons in Letting Go. How exactly do I convince myself to let go of a sentimental old t-shirt or a broken appliance? She shares her emotional homework, explaining the back story of specific objects, such as an unsent childhood love letter to Bruce Springsteen, and how she talked herself through the decision to let each one go.
The work proceeds gradually, in fits and starts. She’s able to make breakthroughs after some major life events, including a trip to Bali and a visit to a refugee camp in Jordan. At one point, she asks a group of refugees what it was hardest to lose, thinking they’ll say something like their photo albums or baby shoes. They all say “stability” - and she suddenly sees her personal memorabilia in a new context. Each time she comes home, she’s able to process another layer of her stuff.
Lessons in Letting Go is full of happy endings. One of the biggest surprises for me was that Grant is able to tally up all her stuff at the end of the book. She’s kept 24 boxes and gotten rid of enough to fill 20. I feel the need to say that an American hoarder with this level of emotional entanglement would have had far, far more stuff than this! I’ve talked to professional movers who have pulled 100 boxes out of a single bedroom. My husband and I moved six months ago, into a one-bedroom, 680-square-foot apartment with a single closet, and we had 64 boxes between us. That includes one box of my husband’s memorabilia that I made him keep (trophies, medals, Scouting stuff) while Grant claims she’s saved a few boxes of her own school memories. I suspect we just have more housewares, because at least a third of our boxes consist of kitchen hardware and appliances. I only had two boxes of books. You know what? I’d pay to see a catalog of those remaining 24 boxes and what was in them!
I laughed out loud at several places in this book. Lessons in Letting Go felt true to me. Grant is hysterical, ribald, and honest about her struggles in a way that’s entirely relatable. I kept laughing as I put the book down, culled a sack of clothes and a bag of books, and carried them out the door to donate.
“Nothing meant anything if I kept it all.”
“I was a hoarder, I dreamed of living unhaunted.”
“It struck me that the difference between a hoarder and a non-hoarder was not how much of their lives they had failed at, but how many reminders they kept of those failures.”
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.