Letters and Cards

As I may or may not have mentioned previously, I’m a bit messy when it comes to my personal things. I have a rather large, unwieldy amount of clutter.

But since I wrote this post back in October – and spurred by my brother who moved out this fall (in a fashion similar to a squatter who’s been evicted) – I’ve been fighting a slow, protracted, passive-agreessive War on Clutter.

Amid the days where I alternate between lazily staring at my junk and impulsively chucking stuff before the urge passes, I’ve set up a couple organizational projects for myself.

One has been putting photos I developed years ago (by which, I mean as far back as 1996), into albums. A lot of them now have homes, but it’s still a work in progress. 

The other has been sifting through old letters and post cards. I’ve been procrastinating about dealing with this because:

(1) the number of letters I’ve kept over the years  is HUGE – good grief! I truly had NO IDEA until I started pulling them out from drawers and out from underneath piles of other junk I have to deal with. (No, seriously – today I found a birthday card I got from my dad when I was FOURTEEN.)

(2) I’ve been having an inner struggle over the type of karma I’ll create for myself if I throw out the letters and cards people have taken the time to write me. (And part of that is also emotional attachment.)

I recently informally canvassed some of my friends on Facebook for advice and suggestions. 

Some said, get rid of it all. Others – who’ve kept every single letter and card given to them, and have only recently purged a bit of their own collections – said to find containers to keep them in, if I didn’t really want to get rid of them.

Other friends – who are quite resourceful and crafty – suggested reusing/recycling them in different ways, such as making little gift boxes.

So as a compromise to what I’ve been advised, I’ve started re-reading cards and letters I’ve gotten over the years and casting final judgement after.

I’ve tried to keep my current methodology very simple:

Postcards and letters from abroad: For now, I keep. No question. What I do with them could be a future project.

Cards: Hand-made ones, I definitely keep. Ones that don’t have anything more than a generic “To/from/merry Christmas/happy birthday” greeting, get chucked. 

Letters: if it doesn’t elicit a reaction or evoke a memory, OR if I no longer keep in contact with the letter’s author, I re-read it, and out it goes.

So far, it’s been helping me to deal with old letters and cards with minimal guilt.  

When I started a few nights ago, I came across a bunch of letters my mom wrote me when I first went away to school. I found one and started reading part of it to her. She actually said, “I WROTE that?” The next thing I know, I went through letter after letter, reading them aloud. It was great.

It also took me by surprise when my mom admitted to me that, after getting me settled in my new residence room and leaving the building to make the five-hour return trip home, my mom sat on the front steps of the residence and actually bawled

All these years, I’ve never thought of my mom as a crier. I can  probably count on one hand – maybe three fingers – the number of times I can recall seeing her cry.

But it gave me a new appreciation for what she went through as a mom letting go (sort of) of her first-born, and re-reading the letters again – with the proper context – gave me a fresh perspective.  

I still have a LOT of letters to go through. I’m putting off  dealing with the piles of letters from friends who constantly wrote me letters and notes.

But at least in this way I can – if only briefly – re-live the memories in those letters before deciding to keep them … or finally let them go.

The Urge to Purge

clutter2From what I’ve been told, I was very neat as a young girl.

And somewhere along the way I lost it.

As an adult, I know I’m not the neatest person. Far from it. And my attention span when it comes to cleaning is pretty short. So if I DO clean, I have to do it fast.

But perhaps I should consider working on that.

Two weekends ago, I watched this one-hour program about people who have problems with clutter. 

I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill slobs. These are people described by psychologists as hoarders. Not packrats, which I think I might be. But people who have disorganized, messy MOUNTAINS of clothing, old newspapers and magazines, and random junk – so much that, in some cases, they’re KILLED by their own mess collapsing on them.

The program had two profiles:

One was of this couple who both hoarded when they were single and didn’t know each was marrying a hoarder, until they did. The wife was a professional re-organizer, if you can believe that. When the program was filmed, the extreme clutter was taking a toll on their their marriage and they were seeking help.

They weren’t so bad. They realized they had problems, sought help, and started working on fixing the situation. You could actually see them start to improve by the end of the show.

It was the OTHER hoarder who scared me.

The woman had so much stuff, she could barely open the front door if she had to leave her apartment OR – heaven forbid – let someone in.

She had SKYSCRAPERS of plastic bins – full of documents, string, yarn, clothes, old things she found on the street that she couldn’t bear seeing thrown away – whatever. If the narrator didn’t describe the place as being her apartment, I would have easily mistaken it for the stockroom of a store or something.

Wait, there’s more. She’d been evicted from her previous apartment. A municipal department sent people into her apartment, and they emptied SEVEN YEARS worth of stuff into a gigantic dumpster.

Understandably, it sent her into a state of panic. But it certainly didn’t scare her straight – it took her only about two years to “re-clutter” her new apartment.

And the thing is, she was seeking help – seeing a therapist, having people from the city check on her … but because of her compulsion, she couldn’t break free. She was past the point of no return. And for the duration of the program, she was on the verge of being evicted from her second apartment.

Amid all this, they interviewed a couple of psychologists to ask them what they believed might cause someone to hoard. One of them suggested that sometimes the hoarder may have had a parent with the same tendencies.

I immediately thought of my father.

I wouldn’t say my dad’s a hoarder.  But I think of everything he’s kept over the years – old clothes and other objects in the house and in the garage – and then I think of my own cluttery habits.

I can’t speak for my dad, but I think of the reasons I keep stuff: sentimental value, karmic superstition, the thought it might just come in handy one day … and procrastination when it comes to figuring out what to do with it all.

The first thing I wanted to do after seeing that show was get a dumpster and just get rid of EVERYTHING I didn’t use on an everyday basis. And then shower three times.

But then my neurosis dissipated, and it got me thinking about how to change the way I organize my things. What SHOULD I do with all those birthday and Christmas cards my friends were so thoughtful to send to me? The photos I never actually put in an album? Or all those binders and manila envelopes full of possibly still-useful information? Because if I ever (successfully) move out, I do not want to think about the amount of stuff I’d have to toss beforehand.

I DID do a purge of my basement a bunch of years ago. Maybe I should re-visit that … 

Before my junk becomes The Mountain That Consumes Me Alive.

*NOTE: The picture depicted above is NOT of my junk. I’m not THAT bad.