I grew up in a home with stuff packed into every nook and cranny.
The attic was full. The closets were full. Every horizontal surface in the house was a shrine to one kind of collection or another. Weekly cleaning took all weekend, and if you had the misfortune of being tasked with the duty of dusting, let's just say you knew you probably shouldn't make any other plans.
My mother was the daughter of two lower-middle class Americans who married and subsequently struggled to start a home and family during the Great Depression. Fear of scarcity was deeply set in my grandparents' DNA once the economy began to recover. Their way of thinking and reacting to material goods had been forever changed.
Growing up around the fear of "but we might need that" meant that my mom stashed away every scrap, broken thing, or outgrown whatever that crossed her path. Of course, she then involuntarily passed that fear on to my brother and me, adding her own flavor to it with "but that's valuable!"
I had struggled since childhood with letting go of things, figuring out what I really wanted and needed, and organizing my bursting dresser, closet, and toy box. It was to be expected, I suppose, having spent my formative years in the home of a hoarder.
In a strange twist of fate, it was my mother that eventually cured me of the desire to hoard.
My mom called me one day in the summer of 2010 and told me that she needed to have some repairs made to her home before it reached the point where the county condemned it. She wanted my help.
Yes, it had really reached gotten that bad, but I didn't see it coming because all of the damage had been hidden by stacks and boxes of stuff. I reluctantly agreed to help her clean out some of the clutter so the sub-floors could be replaced and some structural repairs could be made to some walls and the ceiling.
I'd been living on my own for fifteen years and it was sometimes a struggle to even visit her because of the crowded house, much less get into to it and move things around. She was determined, though. She rented a large construction dumpster and we proceeded to load it up with once-valuable things that had turned into trash because of neglect.
We worked for two weeks and had to have the dumpster emptied and replaced three times.
I filled the bed of my pickup truck and my landscaping trailer to the brim with salvageable things and made multiple trips to donate them to charities.
In one month, we had cleared out enough clutter from her home to fill my entire house twice.
The process was hot, filthy, and back-breaking. She had some emotional breakthroughs along the way that helped her to look at the things she'd accumulated with an objective eye. She analyzed the thinking she was conditioned to that made her accumulate those things to begin with.
It was the huge, embarrassing task of cleaning out the clutter in order to make her home safe and livable that served as her wake-up call.
It served as mine as well.
Looking at her situation, I could easily see myself in fifty years. That was not a place I wanted to be in.
After helping her to get her home in order, I took some time to work through my own. I purged clutter, and as I purged, my thinking changed, my habits changed, and slowly (but surely) I began to develop a healthy relationship with "stuff".
I'm sure that my story is not unique. Many of our unconscious habits are behaviors learned from our parents and mentors at an early age. What I hope that my story conveys, however, is that you're never too old to change those behaviors. My mother changed at nearly seventy years old and I changed at thirty-five.
If you're feeling the pressure from clutter, you can change, too.
You can start small and adapt as you go, or like in my mom's case, you can start with a construction dumpster and make a radical new beginning for yourself.
All you have to do is start.