Interview with Adult COH "Mary"
Updated: Apr 18
How did you learn to organize or clean your space?
The house I grew up in developed a mold problem that was making my entire family sick, and it got to the point that my mom, my sister, and I had to leave. We were effectively homeless for over a year, living in hotels and friends houses, and during that time all I had with me was one bag of clothes, my laptop, and a few journals. The experience helped me realize how little I actually needed, and I realized how much I enjoyed the freedom of having less, of being able to throw everything I had into one bag and go.
Before that, it was mostly trial and error. I would become overwhelmed with my stuff and do an enormous purge, then regret giving away things I wanted/needed. I learned to rein in some of the manic purging and go about decluttering more thoughtfully, but it took awhile. Youtube has been a big help too. I've found a lot of good videos on minimalism and organizing that have been helpful.
Who do you attribute to helping you learn how to organize/declutter?
I've been fairly good at organizing my whole life; I used to spend a lot of time cleaning my old house and I did a good job even though it would all be undone within a few days.
A couple of years ago I discovered the documentary Minimalism on Netflix. I had more or less been living as a minimalist already, but it was exciting for me to be able to put a name to it, and to find other people who had the same values and ideas I did. I've gotten a lot of help from reading books and articles about decluttering, and watching videos on minimalist living.
What items or areas feel most difficult to manage currently? in what ways do you see this tied to your upbringing?
Paperwork and books are probably the two hardest items to declutter for me. There's always the fear that I'm throwing away something important, something I'll need later that I won't be able to replace. Books are difficult, because books always carried this extra sense of...sacredness, almost. We were always extremely careful not to damage or mistreat books growing up and even dog-earing a page was a kind of sacrilege. Books are hard for me also because I love to write and reading was always such an escape for me.
Back when we were still living in the hoard, my sister and I would periodically try to clean up our basement, which was the worst of the mess. Once when cleaning, we discovered that my mom's enormous library of books had been destroyed by mold and insects. I remember taking huge piles of books from the basement, tearing them up, and sacrificing them to our wood-burning fireplace when my mom was out of the house. As much as I loved (and still do love) books, it was so liberating to watch even this small part of the hoard go up in flames and it helped remove that mental block I had about the sanctity of paper.
Do you share any hoarding tendencies with your HP? What behaviors do you mimic?
I tend to have the opposite tendencies when it comes to stuff. I think the only thing I have in common would be still worrying about throwing things out because that was so ingrained in me over so many years. Even if I don't personally have an attachment to an item, I might worry about throwing it away because I'm afraid someone else will get upset with me, especially if the item was a gift or is associated with a memory or a deceased person.
What is your process of decluttering your home now? What do you have difficulty throwing away?
If I haven't used something within the last few months and I don't see myself needing to use it in the foreseeable future, I get rid of it. Getting rid of clothes can be difficult because I hate shopping and don't want to have to replace things I've donated. But if winter comes around and I realize I have a sweater that I haven't worn since the previous fall, I can toss it because I know at that point it won't be used.
What's your favorite room in your home? What does it have that you didn't have growing up?
The kitchen, one hundred percent. Cooking was one of those simple joys that turned into another stressful chore because of the clutter and filth. I clean the counters every day and keep them free of stuff. That way, even if there's a mess in another part of the house that's stressing me out, I can come into the kitchen and look at the empty space on the counters and breathe a little.
What tips and advice would you give to other COH who are learning to manage their space and declutter?
If you don't think you need an item, let it go. Don't let your parents guilt you into hanging on to stuff, whether it's something from your childhood, or their childhood, or their grandma's antique vase. You are not obligated to inherit your parent's stuff, or their dysfunction. Be free of it.