Tag Archives: hoarding

Too snug

I started out by writing some nonsense about not having posted for over a week because I was struggling with a topic. Indeed, my next post will be an Observation, and those always take a little longer to write.

However, the main truth about my silence was that in my constant war against overflow of the “bathtub” of my SRO, I’ve had to turn my emotional attention, slowly and very reluctantly, from shopaholism to hoarding.

Packratting is boring compared to shopaholism: I don’t want to gather up all my trash, then walk it down two storeys to the garbage depot, and then walk back up. Same story, again and again. And the more days I am in denial, as I have been this past week, the worse it gets.

At this time of year, facing my clutter is even more difficult. I don’t want to deal with the gifts that people give me, so I leave them here and there half-opened so that the boxes and wrappers snag on me when I try to walk from one place to another in my little home. (Let’s see if I get to the Harry and David’s basket before the pears go bad.) Then there’s the problem of the original boxes that things were shipped to me in that aren’t nice enough to use to give people their presents in. And now I don’t have space to gather up trash as I usually do, so the bags and boxes from needful things like food and prescriptions pile up, ready for me to slip and fall on and for vermin to explore

It’s like the huge garbage whorls in the Pacific Ocean. There’s the big patch by the sink, the patch between my computer and the window, the patch by the door on the closet side, the patch by the door on the other side…

It always amazes me that in about ten days I can go from imagining that I’ve got my hoarding sort of under control to finding that I’m living in quite unpleasant circumstances of my own making. Given that my place is only 8′ x 10′, I shouldn’t be so surprised at how fast this happens, but the sudden ballooning always takes me unawares. I really do feel like Alice (in Wonderland) panicking at how small my room has become so quickly.

I took a couple of little presents to the foyer and put them on the freecycle shelf for someone else to use as their Christmas presents for people in their lives, but that’s not nearly enough to make up for the chaos reigning rampant in my home.

So I am sorry not to have written as I regularly do, but I think the hoarding situation is urgent enough for me to sign off now and put some sweat into dealing with the mess. Housekeeping requires a completely different sort of asceticism from restraining shopaholism, but it is ascetic nonetheless.



Progress report: One for one

VictoryI’m happy to report progress. This blog is helping me to relinquish my obsessions with wanting stuff. It provides repeated practice in renouncing things of many different sorts for many different reasons in many different ways. I’ve gone into a few of my older posts and said, “Oh, yeah, I used to really really want that for years… wow, I forgot.” This isn’t exactly conquest of my shopaholism, but it’s a little victory! I feel a bit freer on the inside, less bothered by spiderwebs of longing for objects. There are still tons of objects I want, but this blog is actually helping.

Now I’m trying something new. I’m going to balance buying something with getting rid of something. This feels uncomfortable. I’ve never been moderate in my management of belongings. I tend to either buy or get rid of stuff by the bag, by the box, or even more. Or I get rid of one single thing or buy one single thing, but not at the same time. Moderation and balance are a whole new ballgame. Or, to use the metaphor from early in this blog, this time I’m simultaneously letting out some hoarded water from the bathtub and letting some fresh new water in.

This plan is a little dicey, because I am buying a bible. I’ve written before about my fascination with bibles of various form factors, especially cute little bibles. (You can click here to see that post.) So I had hoped to be rid of the urge to buy more bibles. I don’t want to fall into a spell of enthusiasm and buy a boatload of various translations, or a parallel-text French-English bible, or that cute chunky edition…

However, as I told you, I read the Bible a lot online, on BibleGateway.com. Recently, the New International Reader’s Version caught my attention. (Click here to see a couple of verses in the NIRV compared to other translations.) And when I want to explore a translation, I want a physical book to flip through and page through.

NIrV with polka dotsI wrote half a blog post explaining how I chose not to buy this translation. I made fun of my wanting the jolly teal polka-dotted edition, and I tsk-tsked at the unscholarly simplified language in the NIRV (which is much easier than the translations I normally read, such as the NRSV). And I quoted myself: “God is not a genie to be captured in a bottle, and bibles are not toys.” That last is true, but I could not sincerely finish writing the post, because the more I wrote, the more I realized I do not want this bible out of shopaholism. I really do want to explore this translation.

Writing this blog is teaching me, slowly, how to distinguish the emotional sensations of shopaholism and hoarding. It is not easy, but it is becoming less difficult for me to tell when I actually want something for itself and when there are reasons not to get it.

I am beginning to sense that when I want to buy something in the right way, I feel a more level-headed, calmer, clear-cut set of interrogations compared to when I am longing for something. Do I really have the space? Do I really have the money? Will I have the time and commitment to respect this object and respect myself by using it, and using it well? Will I lay it aside because it turns into junk in my hands and I get bored with it? Is it worth devoting some of the minimal space in my tiny home to it? Will I have the willpower to give it away if it disappoints, even though I paid good money for it?

So this time I thought about it, and eureka! Why don’t I get rid of one of my least-read bibles? One for one at the same time! I know that those of you who don’t have hoarding and shopaholism problems are probably rolling your eyes at this big “discovery,” but it was a discovery for me!

My building has a tacitly agreed-upon freecycling space where we put small items we don’t want; anyone who wants can take them and after a couple of days, the building manager throws out anything left. This is the flat top of an unused radiator cover in the foyer — no clothes, very good for books, vases, bottles of perfume, and the like. It always looks neat, because if something is good quality, it gets picked up very quickly.

I put my telephone-book-sized six-pound Large Print NIV Archaeological Bible out there with a sticky saying “Great Christmas present!” I peeked a few hours later and it was gone. I felt relief. I should have gotten rid of that enormous bible long ago, because after I read a few pages I lost interest in it right away. (“But it was so expensive, and maybe I’ll make the time to study it, and I should learn what’s in it… and…”) It was even in its original box.

So, jubilantly, I ordered the (much smaller) NIRV, because even though my place is overstuffed with possessions, I was able to keep the situation from getting worse. Not exactly ascetic behavior, but self-disciplined.

One for one: A useful concept.

Glass lust

Please pardon the length of today’s entry. Compared to any other object I have coveted and written about, this one is vastly more difficult. I have written about items I have wanted to grab or to gobble, but I don’t think that I have ever written before of having “given up hope” of getting one, to loose “my mind’s grip” on it, to “wrestle with the decision” not to buy it, as with this. Since beginning this blog, I have struggled several times to write about this item and failed to even begin to set down a few words. Hence the length of time since my last substantial post on this blog. I’ve been fighting the urge to acquire this item.


The Olympus XZ-2

This item is the excellent Olympus XZ-2 camera, which is most notable to me for a lens with a bright, light-eating maximum aperture of f/2.0-2.5, which is practically unheard-of for a point and shoot canera.

Decades ago, when a poor graduate student, I somehow managed to scrape together a month’s pay and bought an Olympus OM-4 with a portrait lens. The OM-4 was one of the last legendary film SLR cameras before the age of autofocus, which was just then coming in. It can even be used without a battery. The esteem in which it is held by its owners can be seen on eBay, where fond sellers tend to set bottom bids at least three times higher than buyers are willing to pay more pragmatic sellers.


The Olympus OM-4

The OM-4 has all sorts of useful abilities, particularly spot exposure, and it could use what was then phenomenal (and no longer produced) ISO 3200 film for low-light conditions.

The Olympus Zuiko 85 mm f/2.0 lens was an affordable marvel. Portrait lenses for digital SLRs of that length and brilliant aperture are now essentially unaffordable to all but pros, costing in the thousands today. (Portrait lenses are so called because an 80-105 mm length is ideal for taking portraits, although actually they can be used for anything.)

Glass lust is hard to explain to non-photographers, but when you have a really good lens on a good camera body, you know it, because it makes taking pictures effortless; you have no awareness of limitations. With a bright and high quality lens, even under dim conditions, the light comes through clear and easy, not shadowed, cramped, and darkened by a small aperture. A blurred background becomes possible, which is particularly good for portraits, as it draws the eye to the subject, instead of the face being one blob among an equally sharp background. With just a little care in framing and choosing an exposure, pictures can look professional.

Glass lust is so powerful that when a young amateur photographer who did good political photographs made a plea for donations for a better lens while he followed our favorite presidential candidate around the country, I sent him $200 without question, because I knew the ache of glass lust in him had to be real for such an unusual and specific plea.

I had a wonderful time teaching myself photography with the OM-4 and that lens. Most notable was a portrait I took of a roommate who then asked for an 8″ x 10″ version to give his mom — “This is the best picture of me that anyone has ever taken,” he declared. Other successes included some remarkable shots of candlelit church services that came back from the processor with fingerprints all over them because they had been handed around the lab. I took a fine shot of a string of 25 Sun Gold tomatoes in my garden. And once, I startled my mother when I showed a picture of her I had casually taken. Used to wide-angle snapshots filled with glare and grinning people, she stammered, “That looks…” she hesitated, “real.”

And then, gradually, over the years and particularly as my finances failed along with my marriage and my business, I stopped taking pictures. There was not much to see in those days that gave me pleasure; there was no money for film and processing; and an abusively controlling spouse meant that I had very little freedom to find any good subjects, particularly people to take portraits of.

When I emerged from that long personal nightmare, the digital camera had dawned, and professional photographers were debating whether to go digital or stay with film. I had no money then, and was much too occupied with survival to use my trusty OM-4. And I had become a recluse to avoid my obsessive husband. However, after I handled demos of cameras that could fit in an Altoids tin, and weighed in my hand the plastic bodies of larger cameras, my OM-4 began to seem less like a prospective pleasure to take up again and more like a steel-framed two-pound albatross around my neck.

I wasn’t satisfied with having a small camera, though, and even the big pro DSLRs could not match the technical capabilities of the OM-4. I wanted something small and capable, not a big DSLR but a smart compact.

And then about a year ago, I noticed that the Olympus XZ-2 was close to the capabilities of the OM-4. I watched the price come down as later models superseded it but did not match its abilities. Now would be a very good time to buy one. If you are dissatisfied with a point-and-shoot, or the picture quality of your phone, or dissuaded by the cost of a DSLR, you should take a look at the XZ-2. I think it is a much better camera than its successors in that line.

However, I cannot see myself getting back into photography. Photography simply no longer appeals to me. Sure, it would be useful to take pictures of things for eBay to thin out some of the muck I have in my little room, but I don’t need a $400 camera with $200 of wonderful accessories for that. Better to use a hundred-dollar tourist toy for that. The XZ-2 is certainly worth its cost, considered objectively, but not as a part of my life. I never did emerge from reclusiveness even after my husband died, and although I have friends, I do not have enough people I want to take pictures of, or to show pictures to, to justify such a purchase.

At this point when in person I discuss things I do not want to buy, my interlocutors channel the cheerful, materialist voices of “positive thinking.” I know the tropes well enough to imagine when alone what such people would say about the XZ-2. “You should get it, because it would renew your interest in this hobby and provide a new way to enjoy the world!” or “You can easily amortize the cost with the things you will sell on eBay.” “You could start a small side business as a classic portraitist, you’re good enough.” “Don’t you want to learn what digital photography and image processing are all about?” And, most appealing to me as a hoarder, “You can buy it and keep it for the day when you are ready to start again.” But I’m simply, plainly not interested in any of that. If I ever have a change of heart, technology and software will have progressed to the point of making the XZ-2 obsolete.

My pride and a dream to regain my youth push forward, encouraging my desires to own this new camera, but it would be a waste. My month-old $30 Dustbuster has given me far more pleasure than the prospect of this camera offers. And so, with tremendous regret, I turn away from this fine Olympus XZ-2.

This hurts.

New “best posts” page

I’m excited to tell you about a new page in the top menu (the red ribbon). The page links to what I think are the best posts from my blog to date, things I don’t want to get buried. If you were brought here by a search engine, these posts probably relate to your interests. If you’ve been reading this blog already, take a look to see if you missed any of these posts when they were first published, with my thanks to you. Click here to go directly to the “best posts” page.

If some is good…

Hawaii,_zeljkoWhen people imagine Hawaii, they don’t usually think of toilet paper hoarding.

However, in 1949, there was a 177-day shipping strike against Hawaii. Since so many of Hawaii’s consumer products are shipped there rather than manufactured there, a toilet paper shortage ensued.

People who lived in that Hawaii at that time are notorious for habitually hoarding toilet paper because, well, you just never know when another shipping strike will happen. My late mother, and many people of a certain age, hoarded toilet paper the rest of their lives, and my mother did it even when we lived on the East Coast. You buy an extra roll of toilet paper whenever you go to the store. What’s it cost, so little! It doesn’t spoil, and eventually you will use it!

This leads to a an unhealthy mental habit with all sorts of consumables, however: “If some is good, more must be better.”

114px-ToiletpaperwhitebgWhenever there is a sale of anything I use regularly, I am prone to buy more than I can use within a reasonable span of time. That is how I learned, for example, that liquid fabric softener eventually curdles to such a degree that it cannot be remixed.

Despite unpleasant discoveries of this sort, this kind of hoarding is hard to break, because you can exercise the excuse that you’re going to use it all up. The last time I got excited over a sale, I bought thirteen bottles of Mio Energy Black Cherry. I kid you not. At least it didn’t take up much space.

So when I read yesterday that the venerable house of Caswell-Massey (“America’s enlightened pharmacy since 1752”) had put its almond cold cream soap on sale marked down from $28 for three bars to $9.99, I had quite a struggle not rushing onto the website and buying more.

Almond_and_Aloe_Cold_Cream_Bath_SoapThe Eisenhowers used Caswell-Massey’s almond cold cream soap in the White House, so it has a certain cachet, and it almost never goes on deep sale. It’s one of Caswell-Massey’s most popular products, and there are reasons they’ve been making it for so long. It smells fabulous (I think, anyway), and unlike any other fancy soaps; it suds up a rich lather; and it wears down slowly.

This last point is important from a hoarding perspective, because one is prone to underestimate how long it will last.

I have enough to last more than a year, so I shouldn’t buy more. However, you should get some, especially at such a good price. And if you don’t like how it smells (inconceivable to me), it still makes a fantastic gift.

Go ahead, get some. It’s a lot more glamorous than toilet paper.

Bibliophiles at a party

Recently at a party I revealed I had started a blog. I explained that it was about shopaholism, hoarding, and my relationship to physical possessions.

I was surprised at what then happened. The host reached into his bookcases, overstuffed to overflowing, and began to bring out his most treasured books, ardently describing unusual printings, first editions, autographs.

The tone of his voice made it sound as though I were trying to take away his most precious possessions.

“But you should keep the things you want!” I exclaimed. His wife, a neatnik, nodded vigorously. I continued, “Put a random batch of things in a box. Take out the few things you most value. Whatever is left, no matter how much you now feel like keeping it, you get rid of.” I had learned this little trick when beginning to get a handle on my hoarding. My friend’s wife beamed.

It didn’t convince him. He continued explicating what made his books special and valuable, as well as the good deals he got on some of them, a quarter for a special edition here, a rare nineteenth-century book lying on the curb for the taking there, and more.

He wasn’t boasting. His enthusiasm took on a desperate edge, the tone of a salesman with a foot in the door who is trying to make that sale before the door slams shut.

I felt a great deal of sympathy. Among my books, I, too, have a few special ones.

But his pleading dramatized something that I have said before on this blog: When you hoard things, or when you approach potential possessions with shopaholism, the things don’t make you happy, and admittedly, the things may not be the goal of your existence – but getting rid of them, or not buying them, causes you anxiety.

And so I will continue to write on this blog about how I am turning down item after item that I want, because I have to work on desensitizing myself to this anxiety.

Asceticism in one sense is not denial of the self; from this perspective, asceticism is really a denial of the false, pretend self that feels anxiety at the prospective loss of material goods.

As with rosebushes, asceticism involves pruning down the deadwood to what may look like a pathetic stub of the former bush, but which is actually the vital, living part, the only part that is capable of growing and blooming.

Fun: How good is your subtle color vision?

I was thinking about the power that lipstick has over me. Fifteen lipsticks, including four reds? Really? Isn’t that hoarding? Am I not making clutter? I decided to explore this topic a little more.

I found a superb test for distinguishing colors. It isn’t the dots-and-numbers colorblindness test you may know. This is the Farnsworth Munsell 100 Hue test, and it is used in industries where a worker’s ability to make subtle distinctions between colors is vital.

The test is very easy and fun to take. Click here for the explanation of the use of the test on a page that sells the test printed on little pieces like a game.

Or just plain click here to take the test.


I’ve read a Comments section somewhere that I can’t find, where all the interior decorators and artists scored very well (low is better), mostly a perfect score or at most 2 or 3. The highest possible scores (over 1000) seem to include how far out of order you place the tiles.

I’ve taken this test a couple of times and the highest score I’ve ever had was 11, and I was rushing that time. I hope you get a better score! It means you have a rich world of color.

This explains the fifteen lipsticks and why I am so sure I want them all. I use them all. I strongly see rather fine distinctions in colors. When I choose what to wear each day, I take into account the light (weather), my skin tone (pale from sickness, dark from sun), and what I’m wearing (hue, intensity).

So, I like lots of lipsticks, because my fifteen look very individual and different to me; I see distinctions that some other people can’t.

And I had difficulty giving up my desire to buy Russian Red and Orgasm because I knew, without realizing it, that they would be unique colors to me. But I still had to turn them down, if weakly, because I really do have enough makeup.

The takeaway for me is that I need to continue to deal with hoarding and shopaholism in order to make space for things I really do want and use – like lipstick. I still don’t think I should get Russian Red and Orgasm, though: That’s for you, or someone you want to get a gift for.

So maybe you will find this test as reflective on your life as I did. Or, just take it for fun!

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