Who Lives in Your House?

Whenever I visit my mum, I always have something like a little panic attack when I look around her house. It’s crammed to the rafters with stuff. My dad was a natural born thrower-outer and never held on to anything unless he was absolutely sure he would be using it in the next week or so. My mum is exactly the opposite. Nothing has been thrown away since my dad died 25 years ago.

I’m not even kidding. I wish I was. Because I roam around her home and start worrying about the day she dies or has to move. And I reckon it’s going to take me about 5 years to clear out the place.

Whenever I visit I try, slying, to suggest I “help her have a little clear-out” Then she narrows her eyes and accuses me of wanting to throw out all her stuff just like my dad used to do.

I’d say at least 60% of her home is just for storage. Maybe more. I would also say that from what I’ve seen, a lot of people live in homes that are largely occupied by stuff, rather than people.

I’ve mentioned before that the average home these days is double, if not triple the size it was 50 years ago. Yet our families are smaller.

People buy bigger and bigger houses because they need all the space for their stuff. They need 3-car garages, not for their cars, but to store stuff. The basements are crammed full of stuff. The spare rooms are impenetrable. (Overnight visitors are put up in nearby hotels.) Stuff is jam-packed in the voluminous closets, cupboards and storage areas. And then there’s all the stuff that occupies the actual “living areas”.

The people who pay through the nose for these big houses have to shuffle around in narrow gaps between their stuff. They try not to spend too much time at home because it’s not very comfortable.

There’s too much stuff in the kitchen to be able to cook properly, so they go to restaurants. There’s no room to entertain properly and the place always looks messy, so you go out to meet friends. The kids can’t do their homework properly because their rooms have too many distractions. You have to keep buying more stuff because the stuff you already have is too deeply buried under other stuff for you to find anything. You’re not even sure if you have pets anymore.

How crazy are we to carry a huge mortgage and to keep maintaining a giant house just so we have a place for our stuff? Why don’t we just get a nice small home and get rid of all this stuff?

Or, if we must maintain a long-term relationship with our stuff, why not get our stuff a real home of its own in a nice, climate controlled (and much cheaper) self-storage facility? Then you you can go and visit your stuff when you really, really want to see it instead of living with it day in and day out, tripping over it, resenting its intrusion in your life and causing no end of damage to the relationship you have with your stuff?


28 responses to “Who Lives in Your House?

  1. Funny, this post arrives as I’m in the long boring process of purging. I feel as if I’m being smothered in stuff and I’m sick to death of it. I’ve taken to purging without asking Mr. Jazz’s opinion cause he’s more of a hoarder. It’s genetic I think. Though I admit to having my moments.

    His aunt drives me to distraction. Among other things, the Consumer Reports from the 80s (as if anything in there was till pertinent).

    She’s in the hospital right now and I’m purging the freezer which is stuffed to the gills with all sorts of stuff, including meat from 2000. I actually found a packet labeled 1997. I kid you not. That’s not counting the stuff frozen into the ice.

    And her whole place is like that.

    I hope someone will have the decency to shoot me if ever I get that way. Come to think of it, if i ever got that way I’d probably kill myself from food poisoning…

  2. I hoard books and Sparky hoards dishes. We both keep buying more arty things we need to frame and hang up, but other than that we’re good.

  3. Funny that you write on the subject of hoarders. For a recent contract that I just can’t seem to get out of my mind, I was proofreading a scientific research piece on hoarders of animals. Yes, animals!

    As for me, I live in a tiny place and would love to have a 3-car garage to stuff my junk in to! 🙂

  4. Although I know it happens in Canada we never really noticed it until we moved down to the south. It’s crazy here! On top of the hoarding everyone needs to ‘keep up with the Jones'”. Which equals way too much stuff!!!
    We right now live in a house that has 1200 sq/ft more than we need. Can you imagine that?!?!
    In the past year and a half we have down graded and are trying to live primarily on a needs basis rather than that of wants! Don’t get me wrong…sometimes I still NEED that new purse, but I do know that I need it less and there are less needs!
    When the time comes and we finally get out of here we are well prepared for downsizing and we welcome it with open arms!!! The day we started living was the day we started organizing and throwing things away!!!

    Also, notice the amount of professional organizers that have popped up?!?

  5. Methinks stuff is inversely proportional to time. That is, the more time you have, the better suited you are to getting rid of stuff.

    Put another way, “a neat house has an uninteresting person in it,” a quote attributed by the internets to a plate inscription.

    Besides, you might need it! And parting is such sweet sorrow!

    – RG>

  6. I try my best not to acquire anything I don’t absolutely need. What I already have and decide is no longer needed, I let go. Let someone else use it, enjoy it, collect it. That’s my philosophy.

    I’ve let go of thousands of books, hundreds of records, furniture, family, friends, and pets. It’s easier to move with a light load and I’ve never been in one place more than two years.

  7. google “declutter goddesses” and you’ll find all kinds of good information about the intention behind which you choose the stuff you live amongst.

  8. I think moving frequently makes you purge your stuff. I’ve move 6 times in the last 6 years. If I haven’t unpacked something within 6 months of moving in it gets put in the garage sale pile. It usually sits there for a couple of more months till I get around to arranging a sale so if I haven’t needed it by sale day it’s on it’s way out. I’ve finally brought my wife around to my garage sale pricing scheme. Which basically goes that I don’t want to truck the junk off to good will so nothing is more than 5 bucks. Works pretty well.

  9. LOL my mother’s house was exactly this way. She’s been gone for 3 1/2 years and my Dad is still going through stuff. She had pile after pile of papers that I would have just tossed but he won’t because he doesn’t know what might be hiding in there. I guess at one point she spent and immense amount of time on a family tree and he hasn’t found it yet. Stuff like that. When I was there in July I found my Great Grandmother’s wedding rings in a box of junk jewelry he was going to send to the thrift store. Some people just need stuff to fill a void in their lives or in their hearts, I guess. It sucks to grow up in a house like that though, we couldn’t eat in the dining room because the table was covered in stuff. We sat on the floor in front of the television. Eww. And you can’t clean around those piles of things. My mother had a little hand painted sign stuck to her oven, it read: Nobody ever died from oven crud poisoning.
    I believe she is the reason I live in a spotless house 🙂 Every cloud has a silver lining.

  10. I live by the 10 tote rule. Other than your Kitchen stuff all your personal effects/stuff should be able to fit in 10 totes, if not, you got to much stuff.

  11. This was interesting. I had just posted on Jazz’s blog: “…if I can’t wear, eat or drink it, I don’t want it.” And even with clothes, I get rid of them all the time and don’t even own many shoes for a woman. After Dad’s death and then cleaning out Mom’s house I became anti-stuff. They say hoarding is a form of OCD but I used to be a pack-rat and mine was not OCD. I was a fairy tale junkie as a child and the hero was always the guy that kept every little thing he found along the way even though his brothers teased him about it. The tales always ended with all that “junk” he had picked up helping him save the kingdom or whatever. All those stories made me think that any little thing may be important later. I got over that. Now I look at something carefully and decide if it could ever be useful to me. 9 out of 10 times I toss it. And I do not buy new stuff to put around. I’m sorry your mom lives like that. It’s very depressing. I’ve seen those houses before and there is a big ick factor. One house had the whole hallway stacked with boxes and old newspapers so you had to walk around through the living room. to get from the kitchen to the bathroom. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. The really sad part is that when I’ve seen the interventions on TV those people looked physically pained to throw away anything. Good luck with your mom but I’m guessing you will have to wait.

  12. Oh yes, my mother looked “physically pained” every time I tried to toss/give/donate anything when she moved. She became quite sneaky at putting certain items back if I didn’t take it away with me. She didn’t pack it – she just put it back, so we’d go through the same scenario the next day. It took 4 months of daily trips to sort out her house. I soon learned that if I said I wanted it, she gave it to me freely and quite happily. Some of it I now have cluttering up my space…

  13. It was nice to read some of these comments and realise I am not alone. My dad’s house is scarey. Every room is stuffed full of stuff. Including the loft, cellar and garage. He is 70 and still has his ‘pump bag’ from nursery school, along with every lawnmower he has ever bought, all cards he has ever received and all manner of other items. He has a huge drawerful of takeaway menus (although he doesnt eat takeaways). It cant be genetic because I am exactly the opposite. I have Freecycle as my home page and try to operate a ‘one in, one out’ policy on clothes, books and most other items.

  14. Pack rats drive me crazy and my husband is one! He keeps everything-From 10-year-old receipts to dirty socks with holes in them to cables for electronics that have since disappeared. (Oh and don’t even get me started on all the empty jam jars in the fridge! LOL)

    Life is much better and less stressful with less stuff. We are so fortunate to have places like Salvation Army and Value Village to donate these items! 🙂

  15. We got rid of a third of our belongings for Lent last year. It took the entire season to complete, but oh what a feeling!

  16. I have a love/hate relationship with stuff, and live with constant tension between hoarding and decluttering. The other day I spent some time decluttering my living room, and it looks much better now. But is the stuff gone? No. It’s in the basement.

    I guess my goal would be to get rid of the meaningless and useless stuff, but keep the good stuff. But we all have different opinions on what the good stuff is.

    Making art allows me to take hoarding to a whole new level. Just about everything might come in handy some day for an art project not yet conceived.

    I have a friend whose kids were recently removed from his ex-wife’s home because of the state it was in. The CAS took them, and she had to bring her house up to standard before she could have them back. It took her a couple of months, and I think she had to get help, but she did it.

  17. You make WAY too many assumptions in your treatise. I would venture that most packrats actually get comfort from their stuff.
    I am a reformed packrat. I lived in one small, one-bedroom apartment for more than eleven years. My storage room was packed to the rafters with stuff — including things like every box for every small appliance I bought during that time (like two answering machines ago).
    But when I finally moved, I did a massive junk-out. Moving four more times in the next eight years was therapeutic, too, helping me sever the bonds with so much useless stuff. The ironic part is that each successive home was at least as big or bigger than the previous one.
    I still have a lot of stuff I’ll never use again, like books, CDs, DVDs and other items some people might consider junk, but not nearly as much as I did before that first move, almost nine years ago. And now I have a basement where a lot of it sits.
    Some day, I might go mercenary all over it, and really throw it out.
    No, wait! I’ll have a yard sale instead, and sell it to other packrats who are much worse than I am.

  18. I was just reading about this on The QC Report. Her mom works with the elderly who still lives at home, and she said she guesses around 70% of them have too much stuff — “too much” meaning there are piles of stuff on furniture and on the floor that would prevent ambulance workers from getting to them in an emergency. Not good!

    My grandmother passed away recently and she was the very opposite of pack rat. She lived clean and her house contained the bare minimum of things she needed to live, and maybe two boxes worth of sentimental nicknacks and books. When my grandfather died a few years ago — he was a bit of a pack rat — my mother thought it was so cold and unfeeling of my grandmother to get rid of all his stuff. Now she really appreciates that my grandmother had done all that work.

    In fact, my mom — whose house is VERY SCARY — has vowed after this experience to clean out her own place. We’ll see — she has terrible keep-it tendencies. Sir Monkeypants and I try to live as cleanly as possible due to the horror that is our parents’ basements — I just spent all morning boxing up stuff for a yard sale next spring (probably due to reading this post).

    Last night I had a dream in which our house burned down, and I was surprisingly okay with it. As long as we were able to save the external hard drive where we back up our photos and videos of the kids, I apparently would be okay.

    That tells me it’s time to add a few more boxes to that yard sale pile!

    Sheesh, this was practically a blog post on its own. Sorry about that :).

  19. My mom is also a pack rat although she’s now obligated to purge on a somehow regular basis. She went from a house to a 1 bedroom apartment. You should see the look I gaver her when I said to her “you’ll need to get rid of A LOT of stuff you know because you’re going to a place about 1/10 of what you have now” and she said “oh no, I’ll be ok…” to give her credit, she did tell me AFTERWARDS that I was right…. sweet… lol

    But her place is still fairly cluttered and it drives me to distraction. I cannot spend more than a few hours there, I feel constricted. I never sleep there, I just can’t. Her fridge is completely FULL and she lives alone… One of these days I think we’ll lose her in all the shit she has at home.

    I have a phobia about clutter. I can only let it go that long before I attack it. I purge quickly and often. One problem I sometimes encounter, like right now, is that I can’t find stuff anymore. I know I put it somewhere but darned if I can find it… lol

  20. As you know, I’m going through The Purge right now. And it’s the most satisfying thing EVER!

    A few years ago after my husband’s father died we had to move my mother-in-law into assisted living. My in-laws lived in that house for 40 years and I swear they never parted with ANYTHING.

    Sorting through that house was overwhelming. We ordered a Dumpster to sit out front, but anytime someone moved to throw something out, my mother-in-law complained that it was perfectly fine and someone should take it: That coffee pot that didn’t have a coffee maker to go with it? It’s still good. Keep it. Those glasses may be chipped, but you can still drink from the other side. We had to sneak stuff out when she wasn’t looking.

    I swore to myself then that I would never become so attached to my stuff that it would come to that. So now I insist on regular purging. My husband hates it, but too bad!

  21. I’m a keep the clutter type of person. I have my grandmother’s photographs and dishes, my mother’s master’s thesis, my daughter’s baby shoe (bronzed) and doll clothes my mother made me. I have two walls of books.
    I’m also sort of a neat freak and sometimes I ask myself why I spend so much time keeping all this stuff filed, boxed and labelled. But I love looking through it, from time to time. And I read the books over and over; a lot of them are reference books (although a lot are old sci fi novels that I read over and over too, blush).
    You would not know me for a clutter person if you visited my house; but I know some day my daughters will be shaking their fists at the sky and cursing me as they throw it away.
    On the other hand, the younger one is a bit of a pack rat herself.
    Loved your post.

  22. All of you just keep yer muckely grubs off my staff dammit!



    Ok, Ok, I know I don’t need the keyboard for my 1991 386DX PC – but you never know!!!!

  23. I regularly toss stuff – and am called “anal” because I am a minimalist and can’t stand clutter. I beg to differ; I am simply “particular”. Anyway, my big rule is if I haven’t used it for a year, I don’t need it, so get rid of it. If I buy some new item of clothing or something for my house, I get rid of something else. I am good at this. But I have had very little influence on my pack-rat of a daughter!

  24. There was a woman who decided at the start of one year recently to not buy anything other than what she needed to live- so she only spent money on utilities, mortgage payments, food, I’m guessing toiletries and possibly petrol to get to work. She bought nothing else. She made things for people’s birthdays, she made do with what she had, she was tempted by nothing in the shops.

    “Wow!” I thought. But not because of the money she saved (which was considerable) but becuse of the amount of crap she probably didn’t have in her house.

    My house too is full of crap I don’t remember buying (mainly because my husband probably bought most if it late night on Ebay whilst a few glasses in)

  25. I am in hte midst of planning and building a home for some dear dear friends whose home is going from 4 people to 2 people – the kids are off to Uni.
    My question to them is “Why do you have to go from 2000 to 4000 square feet?”
    Its all about stuff.
    Don’t get me wrong – I measure my DVD’s and CD’s not by COUNT BUT BY FEET. But some of the shit I see that they are keeping which is creating the problem is just SHIT.

  26. i’ve often wondered if i could live in a storage facility, the rents much cheaper there.

    i guess it’s a generational thing with the mothers, my mom lives exactly like your mom, she gets completely disturbed if you try to throw her stuff away. it’s a sickness and i have huge anxiety in her house, i can’t ever stay long.

    it reminds me of junkies sitting around in a room shooting dope. i know that’s a harsh picture, but it’s basically the same thing, people in their addictions.

  27. Jazz- OMG. That’s just crazy – meat from 1997?? I think hoarding is a natural thing amongst teenagers and old people. Both are storing up memories for different reasons. For anyone in between those 2 ages it’s a borderline (if not totally) personality disorder, I think. You purge, girl!!

    Dr. Monkey – Maybe if it’s just one thing it’s okay to think of it as a “collection” rather than hoarding.??

    CWJ – That’s bad, Julie – when your housing requirements depend on the stuff you have rather than the size of your family. And ya, I think we’ve all heard about variations of the crazy cat lady…

    Helen – YES – to the professional organizers. What does that say about us that we need someone to come in and organize our stuff? I love moving house not just because I get to live in a new place, but also because I get to get rid of a lot of stuff. I’m pared down pretty much to the point where I could probably pack my entire place in a couple of hours.

    Grouchy –Bah – that’s what pack rats say to justify their overwhelming pile of stuff. There’s nothing interesting about a 3500 sq.ft suburban home with a 3 car garage stuffed full of junk. My daughter is very angry with me these days because I got rid of all my hot 80’s fashions. All her friends are wearing their mom’s 80’s clothes/purses/shoes these days and I was foolish enough to chuck all that revolting stuff .

    Tom – For once we agree completely, Tom. This is indeed a frightening day for both of us, I think.

    LoLa- Thanks, I shall. Though I don’t expect any great revelations.

    MG – You are a god! That’s exactly what garage sales are for – getting rid of stuff – not making money!! I make it a policy to move frequently as well, though I do have a good clear out once or twice a year on top of that.

    Charlene – Yikes! As I mentioned previously, I think it’s quite common for older people to hang on to stuff. Maybe because they’re afraid their memories will be thrown out with the stuff or because they like the power that buying stuff gives them when they have so little clout left otherwise. I don’t know. I’m going to try real hard not to leave my kid a pile of stuff to wade through when I go.

    Cedar – 10 totes of what? A pick-up? By hand? And why is your kitchen stuff exempt?

    Geewits – Well, my mum’s place is tidy and she doesn’t hoard really crazy stuff like newspapers, but she loves gadgets and “as seen on TV” stuff and has piles of that no one ever uses or ever will. I was sort of thinking of you, too as I wrote this, remembering the tough time you had clearing your mum’s place. We’ve been trying to convince mum to move to a senior’s residence where it’s nicer, but she can’t even face the idea of purging her stuff.. Ah well, whatever makes her happy, I guess. She deserves to have her little indulgences and we’ll just have to deal with things when the time comes – as you say.

    Violetsky – Oh dear. The time to declutter is NOW!!! Don’t wait until it becomes overwhelming.

    Catherine – If only everyone had a “one in one out” policy. I try to do that myself. If it weren’t for my daughter that would be a snap, but she’s a bit of a “collector”. I’m sorry about your dad and his stuff. That sounds overwhelming to me, too. I don’t even know where you’d begin to divest him of his junk. Good luck!

    Hannah – You two guys are so different I’m always amazed that you ended up together. That would drive me nuts too – 10-year-old receipts. Holy jumpin’!! I suppose you could think of it as if he’s reluctant to let stuff go, he’ll never let you go either, right??

    Alias – I know!! It feels great doesn’t it? Sure there may be a time or two down the line when you sort of wish you still had X or Y, but it’s usually no big deal – just a passing fancy.

    Zoom – Ok. Moving stuff to the basement doesn’t count as decluttering – moving it to the curb, does. In my world, when projects come along you get the stuff you need, do the project, get rid of everything you didn’t use and move on. Although I must say your place is very interesting, as is Scrimshaw Manor – because of the all the quirky, interesting stuff ya’ll have. My place is barren and very boring by comparison – but, as much as I love to look at all that stuff, I could never live with it. I think as long as you don’t start buying homes specifically to house your stuff, you’re still okay.

    Bob – So where are the erroneous assumptions? I agree, that packrats get some sort of sense of stability and comfort from their stuff – much like the good feeling I get when I have a fridge and pantry well-stocked. I just think it’s frightening that we keep needing bigger and bigger places just for our stuff. A family of 4 can live very happily in a 3 bedroom bungalow, but no – these days they need a 3500 square foot 2-level home in the burbs and only because they have so much stuff – people haven’t gotten that much bigger.

    Lynn – Not at all – it was very interesting. I, too, would be perfectly okay if my place burned to the ground tomorrow – as long as my daughter and the cat survived (and I’m iffy about the cat). And photos – maybe it’s time to put those on a CD?? They’re the one thing you can’t replace. There’s a blogger I read whose family home burned to the ground when she was a teen – she recently blogged about it. And while the experience itself was horrible and there were certain unexpected repercussions to being out in the world with all new stuff, I think, overall, most of us can easily survive something like that. If I contributed to your household purge, then I am most gratified. If you put any stock in Feng Shui then, your life will become much better in many ways once you declutter.

    UA – If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you probably got rid of it – that’s what happens to me! Though I felt your pain, back in your bed bug days, I was also a little envious that you had a great excuse to get rid of a lot of stuff!! Who’s crazy now?

    Mo – Ya, your post kind of sparked this one – that and the fact that I was off to visit my mum the same day. My dad used to keep our place nice and Spartan. He had all sorts of sneaky ways of recycling and making stuff disappear. I wish you much success in your purging project, too!

    Mary – If it wasn’t for people like you, our museums and antique shops would be empty. I can see (sort of) keeping stuff like that, but keeping the last 7 computers you owned? Every margarine container you ever bought? Reference books that are not only out of date, but also worthless in the old book market? Clothes you’ll never wear again? 9 sets of dishes… none of which hold any particular value? Towels that are so threadbare you’ll never use them again? Etc., etc

    Elliot – Ah yes, the “you never know” syndrome. Have you met my mum?

    Pinklea – We are identical twins – right down to the pack-rat daughter. She’ll grow out of it, probably. I kept a lot of stupid stuff when I was younger, too. But in my late 20s, after moving a million times and being tired of packing all that crap I got brutal about the purging. Hopefully, the kids will, too.

    MisssyM – When you begin YOUR purge, perhaps you should start with husband??? I’m just sayin’…

    Lebowski – Like I said, way, way back there – if you have a collection of one or two things, that’s okay – but keeping everything and then building it all a house to live in?? That’s just nuts. And thanks for being the only one who really got the point of the post – the ever expanding living space thing. Non-Oprah type people are buying and living in homes that are way beyond their real requirements or finances just because they have waaaay too much stuff.

    Leah – I sort of excuse old people and teenagers because they are hyper-emotional. All the in-between people need to have a good, hard look at their stuff though. It really is an addiction. I have a friend whose sister is in serious emotional crisis with all the shit she saves. She never gets rid of anything. She has TV guides from when she got her own place 25 years ago. She snagged and kept all the toys her 4 brother and sisters had as kids. She grabs every ketchup packet, hand-wipe and brochure that is on display wherever she goes and packs it into her place. She’s been evicted 7 times in the last 15 years for being a health and safety hazard in her building. She literally has a narrow path between her stuff to the bathroom, kitchen and bed. She’s become unemployable. Her family is at their wit’s end. She’s the extreme. But those with means can afford to keep getting bigger places. It’s really is an illness.