A recovering hoarders tale


I am Beth, I am 38 years old and I use to be a hoarder...

For as long as I can remember I was every retailers dream, not only did I buy lots of stuff, I also bought lots of storage for my stuff, again and again and again. From my early twenties until my late thirties I was in and out of shops, morning, noon and night. It was almost like I didn't know what to do with myself or my hands, if I wasn't spending money.

I had tried and failed to simplify many times over the last seven years, knowing deep down that fewer things made me happy. Every time I cleared out the clutter it felt like that first bright morning after a big spring clean. Where there is so much productivity, doors flung open wide with possibility and that feeling of having so much more space, both physically and mentally. However it would never stick. I guess like anything, a shopping habit is hard to break and ultimately things would always make their way back in.

I remember once when the children were small, but the amount of things that they had was not, I took it upon myself to filter out the excess. It felt great at the time but only days few days later I felt so guilty. The lack of stuff just felt uncomfortable and I couldn’t put my finger on why but it didn’t feel right. So much so that in the same week I replaced the decluttered toys with better quality, wooden ones, ones that were so much nicer (for me) to look at. The trouble with this was that the children didn't want these non coloured toys. They were attached to their brighter and in their eyes better, louder, plastic counterparts. And so after weeks of asking where the toys that they now loved so much had gone (even though they hardly played with them when they had them) were brought again and were suddenly welcomed back like old friends, friends that they weren't letting go of anytime soon.

Instead of getting rid of the more expensive toys that my children had showed no interest in, I did what any sane mother would do. I kept them. Because I liked them. I mean a 30 something can be attached to toys that have nothing to do with their children, right? It sounds ever so silly now but I had invested money in these pieces and I was eager to hold onto them.

The trouble now of course, was that the toy shelves and toy boxes were overflowing with two types of toys. Those that my children liked and those that I had refused to let go. What had started off as a well meaning declutter, had now ended in double the amount of things. I had decluttered and re-cluttered and I could only blame myself.

I have a confession, I hadn't just done this with the children's things. I had done the same with my own belongings - my wardrobe, my homewares, my kitchen appliances, the lot. Name something and you can bet I had double of it, the things that I actually used and the rest. My home was an eclectic mix of things that I actually loved and thing that I had just brought, either because it matched my decor at the time, or because I had seen it in someone else's home and thought it would look good in my own.

No space went unturned, I had storage coming out of walls, in the walls and everywhere in-between, you can feel the clutter already can't you? Boxes balanced precariously on top of one another, cupboards protested daily by spilling their contents all over the floor and there wasn't an ounce of white space to be seen. I spent all of my days tidying and clearing up yet I genuinely couldn't work out where all of my time was going. I have to point out here that my house wasn't like one of these ones that you see on extreme hoarders, where there is no room to move. It was just a "normal" family home, cleverly filled to the brim with ‘too much for us’ stuff.

One day years later, after toying with the idea of another large declutter, I settled down on a rainy Sunday afternoon with a steaming cup of hot tea to watch a documentary that would change our lives forever. It was called Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things and as I watched this minimalist guy, skate down the street talking so passionately about how he had simplified his life, he gave a different analogy to minimalism - one that I hadn't heard before. I longed for the taste of freedom that he seemed to have and I just knew, in that moment, that there was no way back.

My problem I realised, was that I had always just decluttered. I had never ever thought about the 'why' behind my decluttering. I just spring cleaned numerous times a year and spent the rest of it in dismay, until I would get to the point of needing to declutter again. Minimalism in the context of ‘why’ had never entered my mind. I had always assumed that it was about Pinterest aesthetics with stark walls and harsh lines, certainly not conductive to family life with two young children and two sets of sticky hands.

However as I watched this documentary and listened to the people in it, it reminded me so much of being mindful and my love of slow living. The common thread holding them together was about streamlining your days and living with intentionality. When I thought about it this way I realised that less stuff really could equal more life. And at the end of the day, who didn’t want that? What I hadn't known until I watched this documentary, was that minimalism is actually a tool used to simplify life. And that by getting rid of the excess, I could free up so much time to live the life that I really wanted. A life full of the people that I loved, rather than a life full of stuff that I didn’t.

Over the next 22 months spurred on by guy and his skateboard, I sold, donated and got rid of around 80% of our possessions. Friends came over and took me aside, asking if I was feeling okay, with worried looks and furrowed brows and I honestly wanted to scream. I was more than okay I was FANTASTIC! Because with every bag and every box that left the house, I felt lighter than ever before.

I hadn't realised until I started letting go, how much my stuff had been weighing me down. I was literally shedding the life that I once knew, along with all of my things and in that time, I discovered this:

The more I simplified, the more I gained.

As I emptied the living room of stuff I actually had time to sit down. As I got rid of the excess in the kitchen, I spent less time in their washing up and as we slowly decluttered the toys - with the children and their preferences this time, I wasn't making that mistake again, there was less at the end of the day to pick up. It was like I had fallen down the rabbit hole and found a simpler version of us, I was victorious. I couldn't understand why everyone wasn't living this way but people either didn't really understand what I was doing, or really didn't want to know.

Aside from the home, minimalism found its way into other areas of my life, I mean how could it not? I decluttered my already decluttered calendar and started saying no to the things that I didn't want to do, so that I could say yes to the things that I did. I started being intentional over my digital use, which I admit is always, always a work in progress and I unsubscribed to every online shop and real life store that was use to taking my money. It was liberating beyond belief.

I tired and failed to stop shopping and so I tried again and again, until my first reaction to any situation wasn't to shop. This has by far been the most difficult thing to do. Even if I didn't want to shop mindlessly anymore, I was so use to shopping as a trigger reaction to all the emotions that it has been one of my hardest habits to break, sometimes I wonder if I will ever break free completely.

I am now nearly two years into living living with less and I cant tell you that it’s been easy, because it hasn't. I'm still not even where I want to be in terms of stuff, both physically and emotionally but I can safely say that without doubt, it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself and for the freedom it has given my family.

I now have the space and the time in my life and in my motherhood to pause, breath and be who I always wanted to be - the less stressed version of myself, the me that was buried underneath all of my stuff.