One of the reasons we hang on to clutter is that we feel responsible for it. We want to make sure it Goes to the Right Person. What does this actually mean? Who are the role models here? The Good Witch of the North, handing out sparkly red shoes? The Sphinx, devouring anyone who can’t solve her riddle? Simon Cowell? How much of our attention do we want to put toward vetting people who might want our used old things?
The first thing I would like to point out is that if most people don’t seem like they would truly appreciate this particular object… it might be because nobody but you digs it. That’s fine. If you like it so much, use it or display it in a way that you can enjoy it every day. If that’s not happening, you probably have too much stuff right now.
Second, how is this super-awesome thingamajig getting advertised? Have you contacted the person you think will want it so much? See, most of the time, when people are cluttering up their homes with things they are saving for someone else, they have a specific person in mind. That individual just hasn’t been informed yet. This happens when we’re blocked about reaching out to others for some reason. We transfer the feelings we have for the person toward the object instead. There is no technological reason for this. Almost everyone in the world can be found and contacted within about a minute, or certainly within a few days. If you’re not talking to each other on a regular basis, maybe you aren’t as close as you wish you were. If that’s on your end, fix it. If it’s on the other person’s end, you might still need to fix it, but sometimes we just have to accept that we can’t control other people’s feelings. A relationship, whether with family or friends, is not like a physical object. We can’t pick it up and put it down and pick it up again. We have to put in the effort of caring and reaching out and listening and working toward connection and empathy and forgiveness.
Third, is this object that needs to Go to the Right Person something you bought specifically as a gift? Or is it something you acquired and later decided that person might appreciate? This tends to go in one of two directions. It’s extremely common for compulsive accumulators to use others as an excuse for shopping. Gifts will be piled up for various people and then never delivered. Sometimes, they are even wrapped and labeled. Accumulating wrapping paper and accessories can be another offshoot of the overall clutter. These gifts may in no way resemble the taste of the intended recipient; they may not even be remotely age-appropriate. They represent a fantasy the purchaser has about a perfect moment in the relationship, such as when the recipient was a particular age or when he or she might hopefully have a special life event one day.
The other case is when we start thinking about unloading some excess stuff, but we are conflicted about letting go of it. We set it aside in a pretense that we are going to give it away. But we don’t follow through because we still want it, and we’re not really in regular contact with that person. A small portion of this category consists of things that truly belong to that person, such as a forgotten sweater or borrowed book. (In my experience, people only return borrowed books about 10% of the time, if that, even after having a conversation about how nobody returns borrowed books!) The majority of the time, though, it’s just a bunch of random stuff, and the person we have in mind is really not going to want anything to do with it. We put them on the spot and force them to try to be tactful. Sometimes we make it worse by repeatedly inquiring whether they are using and enjoying it, or looking for it when we visit them at home. A gift is only a gift if it’s given with no strings attached.
Another problem that comes up with clutter is when we are holding off even from donating it, because we think The Wrong Person will get it. I have heard many people express frustration that thrift stores sell their donations, when they want the items to go to actual needy people. This is part of a centuries-old delusion about “the deserving poor.” Is there some kind of official character assessment people need to be given before they can buy an old jacket? I mean, I still buy things at thrift stores, and I’m neither poor nor deserving. The point is not who will wind up using an item after I’m done with it; the point is that I’M DONE WITH IT. It goes back to “the stuff place.” If some person with business savvy and entrepreneurial drive buys my used items and resells them, that’s one less poor person in the world. It’s none of my business, but if it were, I would probably be pleased. Good for them. I worked in social services for several years, so I know there are various places that will get material objects directly to the people who need them, free of charge. If this is the deciding factor of whether an object is locked away in someone’s home instead of going to someone who will use it, there are ways of making it happen.
My perspective is that there are centralized clearinghouses for certain types of stuff. These include thrift stores, flea markets, vintage and antique shops, consignment shops, eBay, and used bookstores, among many others. When all our discarded things find their way to these places, there is a significantly higher chance that they can then go to someone who will appreciate them. That’s because many more people have a chance to stumble across them. It could be in someone else’s hands tomorrow, or it could still be sitting in my garage 18 years from now, getting ruined. When an object is no longer useful in my life, I release it as soon as possible. This creates opportunities for others. It creates physical and mental and emotional space in my life. It means that I surround myself only with objects I need, use, and like. That means I can find everything when I need it, keep it clean, and still have plenty of room for my friends to come and visit (and walk off with all my books).
(And if that’s the case, perhaps the book is imbued with a message that my friend needs to hear more than I do right now).
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.
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