For the past month, I have been getting help from family and a handful of friends, to clean house. Every couple of days, somebody hauls a truckload of stuff from the house I used to live in, deposits it in a friend's garage, and we sort through it, making piles to sell, give away, or send straight to inanimate-object hell.
I am a hoarder.
If you have, in your mind's eye, a picture of those pitiful characters on television, where complete strangers come in and humiliate them into throwing away a decades-old fast food container they'd become emotionally attached to, you have a fairly good picture of what my house and my mind have been like.
Only within the past week or two have I been wholly able to admit it to anybody other than myself. I had spent the past decade amassing possessions which can not possibly have any use or significance for me, and had filled my house so completely that it became impossible to move from one end of the house to the other, except by going outside and around to the other door.
Part of the problem is, I am (you should already know this, if you've read even the smallest sampling of my blog) insane. Certifiably so, in fact. I am bipolar, and spend every day of my life struggling to keep the disease from ruling me. So, I develop habits -- sometimes, they get labeled tools, when they work -- to stop myself from self-harm. One less-successful option was burying my feelings in a superabundance of something else: alcohol was the preferred option in my college years, and, when I developed an allergy to my favorite beverages, the next choice was food. The big one for the new century was bargain-hunting at auctions.
For a while, I was bringing home a full carload of boxes, mostly books, every week. Occasionally, I'd toss in a few kitchen utensils, small appliances, dishes, pots and pans, or other items -- even less frequently, toys -- telling myself that I'd be giving them to people I knew who could use them. And there they sat, year after year. The towers of boxes grew, until they literally loomed over my bed at night. I lived in fear that, as I'd seen in those television police procedural dramas, someday, I'd not make an appearance at some rare social occasion, and people would come looking, only to find my corpse rotting beneath a great pile of paperback novels and blenders.
Worse, the house was in sore need of major repairs -- it had leaky lead pipes, antiquated (unsafe) wiring, a leaky roof, an unstable foundation, doors which could not close correctly (let alone lock), and, due to the leaky pipes, a bad case of toxic mold. I was allergic to my house, but afraid to let anybody know how dire were my circumstances. Not only did the contents and condition of my house make me mentally ill, it triggered severe respiratory distress, exacerbated by the anxiety over it all.
Finally, I started hiding at my parents' home. At least, that way, I didn't have to see daily the mess I'd made of my life. I moved in with them.
This summer, my parents offered further help -- they paid a couple of young men we know to bring their truck over, and to clear away the worst of the dusty chaos. After dreading the decision, I finally told them that they could go through most of the rooms in the house and take what they wanted. The boys went through my things and took a few items, then hauled away for sale or dumping almost everything from five of the ten rooms in the old monster of the house. When we are finished, an architectural salvage team will come and see what is worth saving, and then the house will be brought down, the land sold to the neighbors. That much planning is easy.
Now comes the hard part, though. I have to look at personal items. We're down to my bedroom, studio, and kitchen. Here, the boys will simply haul a truckload at a time to the garage of my friend, and said friend will sit by me and support me as I say farewell to items I'v actually carried with me for the past thirty years or more. I am divesting myself of even my "serious" collections (I'm keeping one collection -- the postcards. The rest will have to go). I do not have room for them in my single-bedroom accommodations.
There will likely be a sale or two. Two friends have said they will have yard sales to see what they can earn for me. When those are done, the remainder of those goodies will be taken to nearby auction houses, so that they don't have to take up space in a landfill.
Another friend has promised to sell my collectible oddities online and at a specialty auction. That will take care of the tacky, politically-incorrect "injun" items, the glow-in-the-dark rarities, and the dolls, of which most are valued around $100-200 apiece.
But the books... there are still so many of them! And we will have them taken to the county library, as straight donations. There are a couple hundred really good histories and collections of folklore of Native Americans, some as larger compendia, some as specific tribal tales. There are dozens of finely-illustrated children's stories. I say farewell to cowboy books, biographies, autographed copies of first editions, and... well, I have no idea, any more, what else is in those stacks, but I'm told I have very good taste.
At any rate, this is only the very beginning of my dealing with my problem. The impulse to collect is still with me. I have people, though, who know to remind me that (a) I don't need that, and (b) I don't have room for it. If I buy something, it must be only to replace something which will leave the house and my possession BEFORE the new item comes inside.
More than the impulse to amass, though, is the issue of my imbalance. Depression sets in too easily, lasts too long, leaves long scars; the manic end of things, while brief, is equally unpleasant. My friends and parents have shown themselves willing, and even able, to stand up and walk me away from the precipice a number of times in the past, but this one is a real lulu of a waltz for me. Were I anything close to a believer in some deity, I'd ask for prayers, for strength.
As it is, I'll just hope for luck. And, maybe I'll hope there is a kind and merciful God. It probably can't hurt.