I lived in level three for many, many years. Through desperate poverty, clinical depression with hospitalization, three years of intensive psychotherapy, starting and losing my own business and many other hardships, I struggled along, never knowing what tomorrow would bring. I tried so many times to 'clean up my act', but it never stuck. I would go through marathon cleaning sessions, only to watch it all degenerate into total squalor once again. I'm sure you all know what I mean.
I knew how bad it was—deep down—but I told myself I didn't care. I have privacy issues, so the squalor acted as an excuse to keep people away, and the less people in my house, the better.
One day, my Pastor was preaching about hospitality—that God gives us homes so we can be hospitable to others. That hit me hard and I knew it was time to change me. I knew it wasn't the house that needed change, but me. Deep down inside, I needed to change. I started surfing the 'net for help to do that and I found the Flylady. Well, the website made a lot of sense and so did the millions of emails she sends out everyday—for a couple of months. But then, it was just redundant blah blah blah, same old stuff everyday. I liked the shiny sink, but everywhere else was still filthy.
So, back to the drawing board. I stopped the email bombardment and started searching 'decluttering' instead. Somehow, that led me to Squalor Survivors. Within moments, I knew I'd found what I was searching for. The pictures and stories were EXACTLY what I was dealing with and wanted to overcome. I was inspired most by Kimmy's pictures, both the befores and the afters.
I started decluttering. I wasn't particularly organized about it. I didn't go through one room and then move on to the next. I didn't have a 'save' box and a 'give away' box, I just started hauling stuff out of the house and dumping it in the trash barrel. I had shelves from floor to ceiling full of 'stuff' and a yard in the same condition. I'd pick up a piece of stuff and think about it for a second, "Do I need this? How long have I had this? When's the last time I used this?" Then, into the trash it went. I didn't even consider having a yard sale or giving it away. I just threw it out. I figured that if it was garbage in my house, it would probably be garbage in someone else's house, too, and I didn't want to waste any time or energy on these stupid pieces of stuff anymore. In my city, which is low income, you can put just about anything on the curb, any day of the week and it will disappear in about an hour. People just take whatever's sitting out on the curb, so I didn't have to wait for trash day to get rid of most of it.
I handled every single item that I owned, piece by piece, asking myself the same questions. Anything that I couldn't part with was set aside and I'd move on to the next thing. I have a tiny tiny house, but it was absolutely crammed full, so I just kept picking up one piece at a time and going through it all. I didn't use trash bags—I dragged the big trash barrel into the house and just threw stuff into it or into boxes that I'd put out on the curb. I watched the neighbors picking through my old stuff and laugh, then go back to work. I went into a kind of trance, I think, as I worked through it all. For every item I tossed, I saw that I was gaining empty space in my house. The empty space seemed beautiful to me—precious, and I wanted more of it.
I moved out to the yard next—cases and cases of empty mason jars stacked everywhere that I broke one by one into the trash barrel with a hammer. I loved the sound of the breaking glass, and with each one gone, I felt lighter. I didn't know why, but later I realized that every one of those mason jars had been purchased to hold emergency rations for Y2K, which had turned out to be pure folly. They represented a poverty mentality to me and I saw how they had kept me 'stuck' for years, thinking there was 'not enough' and that I had to hoard to survive. I broke dozens and dozens of those hated jars in one afternoon, and it felt GREAT! Next, I took my two hens that I had been neglecting back to the feed store where I had bought them a few years before and tore the coop that I had built with my own hands apart piece by piece. It was huge and took up most of my side yard. It was the right thing to do for the birds, and for me. I gained more open space and they went to new homes. In one afternoon, I emptied out my entire side yard, to the amazement and delight of my landlord, who had been very patient with my hoarding problems for many years. In fact, the very next weekend, he was in his garage, decluttering and thanking me for inspiring him to do some clean-up of his own.
After the yard, I started on the house again, handling each item I owned individually and tossing more stuff out. I was feeling lighter and cleaner and happier every day. In the end, I went through everything I owned about six times, each time releasing more and more clutter. When I was done, I had thrown out about 80% of everything I had owned. I was able to walk through my house at night without barking my shins on broken down furniture and piles of tools or 'projects'. I could reach the window to open it if I wanted to, I could open all my cabinets and not be afraid of stuff falling on my head. I could see my floor. I started to like my house, but even though it was mostly empty, it was still filthy.
One day, I got out a scrub brush and the gigantic, unopened bucket of Quik N Brite I had had under the sink for years, a bucket of water and a chair and started to scrub the ceiling. It was so filthy, it looked as if it was black and white, the white being the places I'd just scrubbed. Twelve years of cigarette (and other) smoke, built up to unbelievable filth. Each square inch I cleaned inspired me to do more. I ended up scrubbing the entire front room, top to bottom, until it was spotless. Then, I moved on to the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen (skeery, skeery place!). I scrubbed and scrubbed until the entire bucket of cleaner was used up and the walls, ceilings and woodwork shined. Then I started painting, and I got most of it finished. That was going on three years ago. I developed health problems and couldn't keep up the pace, so the painting still isn't finished and it's time to paint again. Soon, I hope.
I still struggle with clutter accumulating. I still don't always do the dishes. I still don't clean the shower or toilet regularly, and the junk mail tends to pile up some, but overall, the change has been dramatic. I don't have rotting food piling up in the kitchen anymore. I can walk barefoot and not worry about stepping on trash or junk. Most of the time, I can let people into my house and not be embarrassed. I have no more animals, having chosen to let them go due to not being able to care for them properly. I've always been an animal person, so I never thought I'd be happy without critters around the place, but it's been three years now, and to my surprise, I find I'm quite content to not have to feed anything dinner but myself.
I don't consider myself 'recovered,' whatever that may be, and I know I will always battle the clutter and stuff, but thanks to this community, I also know how to keep it under control.
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