As I carried another load of laundry to the basement, I looked at the cluttered counter in the workshop. The space that should be a functional workbench is littered with discarded objects: the brass shelf that I planned to repaint to match my decor; the old stereo that doesn’t work quite right; a broken clock that I fell in love with when I saw it in the store; a wonky fan that I’m sure I can fix (when I get around to it); what’s left of a quart of paint from the front door that has since been replaced. The list goes on, the pile grows bigger.
Various places in my house are cluttered with items that are no longer usable in their current state, but I’m sure I can re-purpose them in some way. I just can’t throw them away, I know there is a way to make them useful again. Some of this comes from my love and concern for the environment. We have spent so long as a wasteful society that we’re all trying to play catch-up now. I’m trying to do my part. In some ways, I do my part and someone else’s. I twitch when my father uses paper towels instead of a washable towel to clean up a spill at my house. I don’t drink coffee at my parent’s because they have a one-cup-at-a-time coffee maker that uses a non-recyclable filter cartridge for every cup. I have been known to bring my own bags into fast food restaurants and my own containers for left-overs to a restaurant. Yes, I can be one of those people at times. I try to reuse things – that way they don’t end up in the landfill (yet) and I don’t create a false demand for something new.
Some of this comes from my irrational tendency to attach emotion to inanimate objects. That broken clock stood on my mantle for seven years. The day I came home from the hospital without my son, I hung a stained glass angel on the finial at the top of the clock. The angel holds a heart, engraved with his name. I bought it in the hospital gift shop the same day I was finally able to hold him in my arms. I have the angel. I can hang it anywhere! I have my son and he’s healthy – maybe I don’t need to hang it at all. But that clock was the only home that angel ever knew. The clock stopped working (even with new batteries) last fall, but it stayed on my mantel until very recently because of that angel.
I’ve come to realize that it is not just objects that I hoard. I do the same with emotions, especially hurt. I can hear a song, smell a scent, or wear certain clothes and be mentally transported to another place in time, complete with the raw emotions to go with it. I still remember (and can feel) the knot in my stomach for my first date. I can still hear my first crush call me “little girl.” I can still see my husband choose to sit in a chair on the opposite of the therapist’s office, instead of next to me. Every hurt is collected, hoarded. I just can’t throw them away.
Hoarding is, in part, defined as “a pattern of behavior that is characterized by the excessive acquisition and inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects that would seemingly qualify as useless or without value.” Hmmm…..what could be more useless than the vivid memory of an unpleasant conversation from eighth grade? What could have less value than reliving, word for word, the conversation revealing that my marriage was not strong enough to survive? Are they still with me out of inability or unwillingness?
The treatment for hoarding usually starts with therapy and can sometimes take a long time. I just put the clock in the garbage can. That’s enough for Session 1.
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