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Ask UfYH: It Needs to Go

Q: My partner and I are planning to buy our first home in the next 18 months after 10 years of renting. We’re both very excited but I have one big concern. THE HOARD.

It’s not quite Collyer mansion, but we are a couple and our 3-bed house is full. The majority of the stuff that is in storage spaces hasn’t been used for over two years, so all the stuff that we do use regularly is just all over the house. None of the stuff has been inherited or anything like that, it is all stuff we have brought into the house. I am aware that a massive amount of unfuckery needs to take place well in advance of the actual move.

The trouble is that my partner finds uncluttering really difficult as he hates waste. Everything that is thrown out has to be carefully checked. What parts are rubbish? What parts can be recycled? What parts can be reused? and if they can be reused, finding somewhere to store them or finding someone that will reuse them.

Example: A pen that has run out of ink. He would take it apart: if he liked the casing, he would find another pen he doesn’t like as much (which takes ages as he has loads of pens) swap the ink parts and trash the “lesser” pen casing. He might keep the spring if it looked useful. This whole process might take 5 minutes, which is quarter of our useful 20/10 time. Repeat this for 10 other pens in the living room and an afternoon is basically wasted.

The above example is real and represents the stages of how he declutters EVERYTHING. Anything that is seen to have any future purpose — particularly if money was spent on it — is stored long term in cupboards etc. If something is broken, its value will be assessed and it will either be stored waiting to be fixed or binned.

I am happy to unfuck and clean on my own, but if it’s been a major tidy he always inspects the trash looking for recycling errors which he then spends ages correcting even the smallest of recycling infraction. If anything of his has been moved in the unfucking process he will double check everything trash and not trash to make sure nothing important has gone astray.

If we try to work on some unfuckery together he ends up, unconsciously, watching what I am doing to make sure I am doing it properly. So it ends up being the same as if I’d done it alone.

It makes unfuckery slow, stressful for both of us, and I think he finds it quite difficult to do. Both of us do not wish the hoard to follow us. I am at the point where I wish to trash and/or donate everything that we have stored for over 12 months without double checking and bin a lot more after that too. He feels that we should “sort through” things and decide what we “really want to take with us” he acknowledges that he needs to set aside time to do this and it will take ages, but then doesn’t actually set any time aside. Occasionally he does a marathon cleaning session, but never a declutter, but then falls victim of the usual marathon downsides.

Has this reached a point where he has “a stuff problem” and needs help?
Is there anything you can suggest for tackling a large amount of surplus belongings? I know marathons are bad but 20/10 isn’t making a dent.
Is there anything you can suggest I can do to motive my reluctant partner?

A: All that stuff? It’s already waste. All he’s doing is postponing the inevitable act of getting rid of it. Trust me, I know there’s little worse than realizing you threw money away on stuff you don’t need, don’t use, or don’t want, and there’s definitely something to be said for thoughtful consumerism, but the thing is, the time to do that is before you bring stuff in your house. Once it’s there, you need to deal with it, and he’s not dealing with it.

First things first, we need to see what level he’s interacting with the mess on, emotionally. If he’s an actual hoarder and getting rid of things causes him legitimate mental, emotional, or physical distress, that’s one thing, and it’s probably worthwhile to see if he can talk to someone about it. If he’s just delaying the process of getting rid of stuff that needs to be gotten rid of because he regrets having purchased it, that’s something else. The attachment to pens, for example, can either be a genuine mental inability to discard anything, or it could be a subconscious way of slowing things down enough so that he doesn’t have to do the hard work of crap-reducing. There’s also an element of control here, not necessarily over you, but definitely over the stuff. The stuff needs to be dealt with, and you both need to be dealing with it.

Some things to keep in mind when going through this process:

  • Donating or finding someone to reuse items? If you don’t want your junk, other people probably don’t want your junk. Don’t just unload your crap on someone else and make it their problem.
  • Yes, there is a negative environmental effect to just tossing stuff. It’s one of the shittest side effects of a consumer economy that focuses on disposable goods. Apply thoughtful purchasing methods in the future to avoid this. However, getting rid of things is not going to be the most environmentally responsible thing you’ve ever done. Make peace with that, make better choices elsewhere to balance it out, and do things differently from now on. But for right now, accept that you’re going to be throwing shit out. (But of course, recycle where possible.)
  • If 20/10s aren’t working for you, try working by area. Today, you’re dealing with three kitchen drawers. One set of bookshelves. Whatever. Point being, that you’re not done until the only things left are things that you’re keeping and moving with you. This does not mean relocating the items to somewhere else in the house. It means, “Yes, this is important enough to take with us to our next home,” or “No, this is the end of this item’s usefulness to us and it’s going away.” That’s it. Those are the choices.
  • Give yourselves firm deadlines. The dining room needs to be done by the 30th. The kitchen needs to be done in two weeks. At the end of that time, you should be pared down to only the things you’re using and want to move with you. If he hasn’t done any of the work by that point, make part of the deadline that the stuff is now yours to deal with as you see fit. He’s had his chance, and if he chooses to procrastinate and halt progress, well, then it’s your turn.

Good luck. It can be done. You can do it. Both of you.

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4 replies on “Ask UfYH: It Needs to Go”

This was all-around great, and I must say this was a very powerful way to end it: “If he hasn’t done any of the work by that point, make part of the deadline that the stuff is now yours to deal with as you see fit.”

When I cleaned up my attic last year, there was a LOT of stuff from ages ago. Multiple copies of magazines because I was interested in one of the things in that magazine. Office supplies for which I have no use, but also office supplies I use. Also sentimental stuff.

Magazines were tossed, with only a couple of exceptions. I made a visage-livre post proclaiming I had a lot of extra unneeded office supplies, to which a few of my friends responded with requests, notably: I unloaded six legal pads & 15,000 staples on a restaurant manager, and two packs of binder dividers & a few other things on an audiologist.

Sentimental stuff I went through very carefully. When I was in college & living with my father, he would sometimes leave notes for me at the breakfast table, particularly if he left for work before I awoke. I found one which said “Good luck on your exam”. It was just a class exam, not a certification or licensing exam. Instead of my name, he drew a picture referencing one of my nicknames. Keep.

A silly postcard from a friend of mine from middle & high school. Aw. But I haven’t spoken to her since 2002, and that’s okay. Toss. Back-and-forth notes from those years with other friends. Good times. Toss. Five copies of the program from my quartet performance. Toss four, keep one.

Oh, and pens. I tested all of the pens I found in that attic. Doesn’t work? Toss. Works? Donate (I had a taker for random writing utensils, too). Works & the barrel is my favourite color? Stash.

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