The common cure for selective hoarding


It is not uncommon for people to want to hang onto things, but a peak into my medicine cabinet would confirm that I’m a pretty sick person. I still have a bottle of Robitussin I purchased when my boys were infants. I wouldn’t go so far as admitting I’m a pack rat – instead, I prefer to think of myself as a selective hoarder. Not quite the same level of commitment. Being a selective hoarder is sort of like being a secret drinker – all neat and tidy at first glance, but open that cupboard door at your own risk.

Fortunately my hoarding compulsion only translates to a few things. My children, for instance. The walls of my office are lined with their drawings. I save school papers, scrawled messages, mementos, birthday cards, locks of hair, teeth.  Oh, did I mention my children are approaching middle age and already receiving solicitations from AARP?

Rather than asking “Why do I keep this stuff?” I believe taking action is the key.

Often we see things piling up around the house, and it becomes overwhelming. That’s why I suggest taking this first step: Start with something that’s easy to manage and throw out just one thing today. You don’t have to tackle the whole pile at once.

I just dropped the bottle Robitussin in the trash can. It felt good.  Really good. I liked the little space its demise left in the medicine cabinet.  It was like a breath of fresh air. So I took it one step further.  I grabbed a bottle of shampoo I pilfered from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City in 1977. I dropped it on top of the cough syrup. Glory be, I was on a roll.

Behavioral experts suggest that as you consider the merits of hanging onto some ridiculously outdated item, stop and ask yourself, “How important to my life is this?” and “What are the real consequences of throwing it away?” If there is truly a good reason to keep it, choose to throw away something else. Okay, so I retrieved the shampoo and tossed instead a red toothbrush I was saving for an emergency – I think I once used it on Lucky Dawg, and I cringe to think about a guest using it.

Next, I tackled the pile of magazines I’ve been stuffing under the bed. I couldn’t  come up  with a good reason to keep fashion and lifestyle news from the last century. A good rule of thumb is to allow yourself only two “vetoes.” When you have used these up, you must discard something. Once you have successfully done that, pat yourself on the back and set the goal of trashing something else tomorrow.  Your sense of accomplishment and control may well lead to a major cleanup. Even if it doesn’t, you will still be making gradual progress.

Keep in mind that more severe versions of “packratting” may be a sign of a serious medical condition known as obsessive-compulsive disorder.  If you are unable to complete the “trash one thing a day” routine outlined above, talk to your doctor or mental health provider for additional help.

Okay, I just retrieved the cough syrup from the trash can.  It’s time to call in a shrink!

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