Hoarder disorder. A tale of spring cleaning.

Folks, this is a rather long post about hoarder disorder and spring cleaning. Grab a cuppa.

I had a little brain snap over the weekend. I’ve been angstified about my stepson using as his bedroom the verandah space RIGHT NEXT to our bedroom, which is accessible from our bedroom via a set of ill-closing French doors, the only thing between us and computer games when he visits. It has been like this for 4 years, which is long enough in my opinion for a regime change. He’s now 17 years old, needing some privacy. He has also had to share his space with the Oh Jesus* room, a euphemism for the office space DH uses, which also serves as a storage area.

Sunday morning I woke up with the niggling feeling that THINGS NEEDED TO CHANGE. After I nagged gently suggested DH mow the lawn because forest, I started thinking. What if, instead of Waiting for Godot** we created our own dressing room and study right here, right now, in the West Wing? And that’s what we did. On the very weekend anniversary of our move to our house 4 years ago, DH and I changed some rooms around. It took more and less time than I expected. More time because OMG the crap, but less time because the crap could have been worse. Stepson has been moved into my old teaching space, rattly louvre windows and all. DH and I now share a study – WITH A VIEW – and we finally have a private dressing room/wardrobe in the west wing. Huzzah!

Our house is partially made up of uninsulated but enclosed verandahs (with linings and all, fully electrified – they’re not THAT crappy), and it’s there where the stepkids sleep and where our stuff goes. The verandahs are each 2.6 metres wide by 8/9 metres long, so they’re a useful space, if somewhat long and thin, with cracks between the floorboards. There’s an East Wing and a West Wing. Originally, stepson lived in the west wing while stepdaughter lived in the other bedroom. Then my youngest child moved north to live with us and we had to move everything around. We’ve been living in the house rather uncomfortably for 18 months now, and it’s awkward with three permanent adults and 2 visiting stepkids trying to squeeze into a small 3 bedroom house containing a teaching studio.

I taught singing in the east wing for three years, and it’s the detritus from this phase which is the saddest turning of the tide moment. There is no longer anywhere to put the music gear. I’ve been teaching at the local conservatoire for the year, and the study wasn’t being used. If I am still teaching singing in 2016 I will be hiring an external space. Anyway, the keyboard is now skulking in the space next to the bathroom, an entirely unsuitable spot for electronic equipment. But there’s nowhere else to put it. Also, as with all good music teachers, I have a raft of gifts from ex-students and my old pre-school teaching days. There’s certainly nowhere to put all THAT stuff. I’m talking about picture frames and fun music toys and music mugs and my rainbow flag, that sort of thing. I also have decorating items from my former selves. Little knick-knacks which are adding to my sense of desperate overcrowdedness.

Yes, folks. Time to admit it. I am a bit of a hoarder. Not the reality-TV kind. More the kind that would prefer a little more storage. Just a bit.

DH is always impressed when I do a clean out. He would much prefer to live with a lot less. I’m not untidy, but I do collect stuff. We have no real storage solutions in our hundred-year-old weatherboard home, with 2 households of stuff to make room for (and we have already gotten rid of SO MUCH JUNK). The things we buy for the house now tend to be storage solutions. New coat hangers or pantry containers, that sort of thing. Yesterday we bought a third portable wardrobe, one of those sturdy if industrial-looking chrome storage units. Very retro/trendy. DH can’t believe it. He finally has somewhere to hang his shirts and get his shoes off the floor. A moment of quiet jubilation for him.

DH gets antsy when I bring a new thing home. He asks me – only partly joking-: “what are you now going to throw out?” Looking at the STUFF, I finally see how he is feeling. It’s too much. I regularly clean out my closet, removing old, mouldy or long-unworn shoes and outfits that are out of fashion, tired or ill-fitting. I began this habit a few years ago, and I’m now trying to extend it to other areas in the house, but it’s hard. My worst hoarding habit, I think, is book buying. I rarely throw out old books, as I often re-read them. I’m looking at one of our bookcases as I write this. It’s double stacked. All of our bookcases are. We have 10 large free-standing bookcases, including one in the toilet. Each bookcase holds about 300 books. So we have about 3000 books, texts, academic books, magazines, recipe books, CDs, photo albums, and music books in our little house. No wonder DH is overwhelmed! I also buy art glass, pottery and porcelain things. Usually from overseas trips, they are almost always small, but where to store them? We have stacks of little decorative bowls in our kitchen cupboards, although I now throw out any old glassware and china that’s chipped.

Another of our equally serious problems is the paper trail dogging our heels. We have lots of the stuff. Every six months or so I have a bit of a clean up and manage to partially empty my in and out trays, but almost immediately they fill again. DH is the same. He can’t keep a clean desk at home (given that his desk is bright pink – an old pine desk from years ago that we painted for my stepdaughter, it could be worse), and nor can I. He collects playbills and concert programs and receipts and things. I collect bills and invoices and decorating magazines and receipts and things. I am a hoarder of old electronic equipment and pretty paper things. In my desk drawers are about 100 old computer wires. No idea of their purpose, but I’m pretty sure I don’t need most of them.

In the master bedroom I have a lot of cute little decorative boxes (many of them gifted to me) in which I put all my mostly cheap paste jewellery, which then sit on my tall boy making a visual mess. This stuff is horrible to keep clean and dusted. I even have a white and gold porcelain heart-shaped box WITH A BROKEN LID in which I put my single earrings and jewels THAT ARE BROKEN. Why?! (I just threw it out, with sorrow because it was a gift from my daughter from about 1998. It has been broken since 1998).

We went away for a holiday a while back and to ensure our housesitters felt comfortable sleeping in our bedroom I cleared out all of our bric-a-brac. I liked it so much when we returned I haven’t put it back. This includes my perfume bottles, jewellery boxes and decorative items – things from a former design look (girly romantic, if you must know). It’s getting annoying now, but I loved the streamlined look. It also made me realise I can live with much less than I thought. I’ve worn the same 2 bracelets for months, and rotated the same three pairs of earrings. I’ve worn the one perfume. Now I want to expand a little, but I can do this without the jewellery boxes that hold earrings I haven’t worn in 25 years. While I’ve been writing this post I’ve been quietly going through these old boxes, throwing out broken pieces and empty perfume bottles. I’ve popped all the earrings I’m never likely to wear again but are a reflection of my past in one of the boxes, which I’ve taped shut and stuck in the bottom of my tall boy. A memory of me. Not important to anyone but my grandchildren, perhaps.

Now, the master bedroom is looking roomy, clean and tidy, although long overdue for a dust. The dirty laundry basket has been removed to the “dressing room”, and an old comfy armchair has likewise moved into the west wing. DH’s shoes have gone from under the bed, and we removed the French doors from the doorway. I’ve cleaned out one of the Oh Jesus* boxes and the other is now full of unused picture frames, postcards and some scrap-booking things (scrap-booking: one of my little projects for when I have a project room. Why scrap booking? Because STATIONERY, folks. I have a thing for it).

The next area to tackle will be the paperwork, my desk drawers and the music stuff. I’m not looking forward to it. But already I feel so much better. And I’ve been writing this post from my new study area, which overlooks a view of the city and greenery from my neighbour’s garden. Beautiful.


*Oh Jesus rooms were labelled as such by my mother. They are rooms so full of crap that when you look inside the room, you think “Oh Jesus”, and close the door again. Not intended to be blasphemous.

**Waiting for Godot. Things that will never arrive. In our case, builders’ quotes and renovation commencement.




Spring Cleaning Time part two.

We’re getting air-conditioning. Huzzah! We had three quotes, the first a not unreasonable $3700, the second a rather less reasonable $4600 and the third a mind blowing $5800. Each for the same installation process, essentially the same quality and size machines and the same duration for install. Unbelievable. So, of course, we’re going with the first, and it’s going in on Thursday. No point in throwing good money after bad, particularly when we have so little of it. But each quote gave a few options to consider. One, that the units, which are being placed back to back on a single skin internal wall (don’t say my house isn’t craaaazzy fun), could share the same ugly conduit pipe, down the internal wall (well, they’re both internal, but there’s NO option for a better solution, except paint). Two, that the cost can be split into two – one for the business and one for the house. That way I can legitimately claim tax on the portion meant for the business. Huzzah!

So, today, I thought I’d better have a quick look under the house to see what we need to do about making room for the split system thingy. Whoops. Oh dear. We have boxes piled up near the electrical box. So I have to clear those. And we have boxes piled up where the split system will sit. So I have to clear those. Bugger. Because we get quite a bit of water under the house during heavy rainfall we have to keep everything above ground, which means totally reorganising our “temporary” storage. Luckily, the RSPCA sent round a bag for clothes and shoes and linen and stuff, so lots of old stuff can go to them, and I can begin to clear away some of the mess that we flung there when we moved.

But I have to do it all by myself today – hubby is off doing his “service” thing for the AMEB, examining singing students in North QLD. Still, it’s better than going off to DFO where I spent a rather enjoyable afternoon yesterday spending money I don’t have on things I don’t need and can’t afford (well, it’s a lovely beige Oroton bag, so I can justify it, but only just and if I squeeze my eyes shut and sing lalalala not listening with my fingers in my ears), or money on things I do need but still can’t afford (like nylons and knickers and singlets and jocks). I guess we could sell some of the stuff under the house, but it’s worth nothing. And I like to give stuff to charity, because sometimes it’s well made, solid stuff that still has life in it, such as barely worn shoes, and china that we’ve discarded in favour of new china. That sort of stuff.

So, I’m cleaning under the house again today. Later I might reward myself with a quick trip to Bunnings to replace some herbs that died. Because otherwise I would buy cut herbs and that’s just ridiculous. Or maybe I can go to Bulimba Festival because there might be herbs there and I’d much rather give money to the little man, not the big.

Spring cleaning time!

For many home owners, there are jobs requiring urgent action and others that can be delayed for a long, long time. One of the jobs I’ve been putting off is cleaning the breezeway under the house. In QLD, a breezeway is a space through which air can travel during our long, hot, humid summers. It also provides a clearway for the occasional flood. Anyhoo, if your house is not prone to flooding it’s also a perfect spot for storage of old crap, your car, a place for your laundry, and other useful things*. In our breezeway, which has the floorspace of our house, we’ve created a workspace in place of a backyard “shed”. The roof of the space is mostly higher than my head, and it’s a pretty comfortable work zone. Harry, the old dude who owned the house before us had thoughtfully installed a heap of lights, so it’s easy to see under there, in the cool twilight of permanent shade. He left a couple of fabulous old workbenches complete with clamps and interesting drawers full of doohickeys. These currently hold our remaining boxes, as our place floods during very heavy rainfall, so everything has to be off the concrete floor.

So, last weekend I got the desire to stay at home and do housely stuff. A spring clean, as it were. Tools. We have a black tool box with black tools in it. A bitch to find all the tools, and besides it was broken. Darling Husband (known in future as DH) has a tendency to fling things in the toolbox without thought to how we might retrieve said tool in future, and the whole tool area was a mess. Dirty, poorly lit, with power tools jostling for position amongst gardening equipment, car cleaning products and house paint. So we went off to Bunnings (our house, brought to you by Ikea and Bunnings) returned some insulation batts left over from our roof sortie a few weeks prior, and bought some pegboard. Breathtakingly expensive, peg board. And the pegs, too. And some more tool boxes. Little ones. Went home again (well, all right, we did stop for a sausage in bread and I may have bought a heat gun in preparation for paint stripping later this year), and I spent a stupidly rewarding afternoon organising our tools. And after that I SEPARATED THE SCREWS FROM THE NAILS FROM THE NUTS AND BOLTS and put them into separate jars. Crazy, much? I also discovered the tool box was full of things for which there was no earthly purpose. The doohickey and thingamabob pile, so to speak. Never let it be said I remove anything from this earth without first thinking of its potential usefulness, so it all stays in the toolbox. You never know when you might need a doohickey.

I then swept the whole area and washed my car. I think I have a problem. Anyway, it was a really good thing to do. Makes one feel a bit more in control. One of the main problems of our lovely old Queenslander house is the astonishing lack of storage. No wardrobes, no cupboards. Nothing. Just a shell of a home. Anything we have is piled high in boxes or just heaped up on spare chairs (yes, we have many, many chairs). We desperately need a linen closet, wardrobes, a pantry and storage for cleaning products and useful things*. It’s not happening any time soon, considering we can’t afford any of it right now, so downstairs in cardboard boxes it goes, under the house, in the breezeway, open to wind and weather. Nothing expensive or precious, mind, just stuff. Some of which I don’t fit into anymore. Oh, ok, it’s clothes, shoes and books. Lots of books. Mostly choral scores and old paperwork from years ago. But I can’t bear to throw it all out yet.

It got me thinking about our “spaces”. What are these and who inhabits them? One such space is the “garden shed”. My grandpa had a wonderful garden shed, full of doohickeys and thingamabobs, smelling of mineral turps, linseed oil and beeswax. And freshly shaven wood, my favourite smell in the world after toast and coffee. My husband is not really into the garden shed concept. He is more into “office” space, although as life becomes ever more mobile his office is often the kitchen table. My mother inhabits the “cellar”. But it’s not really a proper cold-storage cellar, it’s just a space where dad has his wines, and where mum can do her furniture restoration. Again, this space often smells of turps and linseed oil, because my mum has followed her dad’s footsteps. I can see in her demeanor and posture the hunched figure of my hat-wearing grandpa, bent over his workbench, peering at some dusty old thing, turning it over in his cracked, worn hands, muttering under his breath as he works.

My dad’s space is anywhere he can listen to his beloved music and watch his beloved sport. It usually contains a couch, a large speaker system and even larger flat screen TV. And my space? Well. I have an office which contains my musical equipment, five bookcases groaning with music scores and music books, and my desk. It’s where I teach and has to be neat and tidy. But it’s not my only space. I think I’m getting to the “garden shed” phase, where I like to store the house paint, the brushes, the power tools, the gardening equipment. I like it to be neat and tidy because even though it’s just stuff, it’s stuff that I will want to use, that is useful, that we need. We paid for it, let’s not treat it badly. I used to feel my bedroom was my sanctuary, but as I’ve gotten older and share the space with DH, it’s less of this and more of a place where I can sleep on the world’s most comfortable bed.

These spaces, my office and the breezeway under the house are places of refuge. They are not “private spaces”, but they are spaces where I feel good and where useful things happen. Like learning, doing, creating, fixing. Nurturing. They’re not places for “living”, exactly. They’re not really comfortable places where I like to hang out to read or sit in. But good things happen there.

So, next week, I plan to complete the tools section organisation and start on the garden section. Now THAT’S a fun job. Considering our garden is mainly weeds and overgrown grass, it’s interesting to see how much crap we have for our garden that we’ve not yet used. One day, I promise.

*useful things include power cables and extension leads and shoe polish and wire and batteries and first aid equipment and light bulbs and spare containers and string. You know, useful stuff.