What purging 50+ sacks of clothes and 24 bins of possessions feel like
A lot of things happened in April. The toddler stayed home because of the nationwide lockdown. We just moved into our new home and without the inability to physically escape from our things, I proceeded to purge 50+ black sacks of clothing and approximately 24 large bins of general possessions.
For context, I live in New Zealand, so our version of a lockdown means no one leaves the house other than to get food or go for a walk around the block — all the while remaining on opposite sides of the street from any other human we may encounter.
In addition to this, we moved into a house without a garage.
When we moved from our first rental and into our second one, we took with us all the contents of the spare room. The first house was fully furnished, so we didn’t really have anything other than possessions from our prior years.
They were loose objects like books, clothes, old mail, empty boxes, and whatever else we accumulated as children, teenagers, and early adulthood. We were accidental hoarders, unwilling to face our past for what it was — a clusterfudge of things that grew too big to tackle in one swoop. So like normal, responsible adults that we were, we deferred the process to a later date.
In other words — we procrastinated. We stuffed everything into a room and the garage, closed our eyes and pretended that it wasn’t there.
By the time we got to our third house, we’ve managed to accumulate enough worldly possessions to fill up an entire double garage and a spare room. All in all, the large number of contents stuffed into bags was enough to fill up a small house.
In addition to this, we had the things we actually used like the dining table and the one bookshelf that was supposed to house my 27 boxes of books, dating back to grade school.
It was all a mixed-up jumble of possessions that turned the house into an accidental junkyard. Although the house was physically bigger than the previous one, the lack of space to hide our past away made it impossible to ignore. The stuff had to go somewhere.
For the first few weeks, I wished I could just call someone and have them take it all away. Most of the stuff contained mediocre memories, awkward days of high school, and remanents of failed endeavors.
There were things I wanted to keep, hidden in one the black sacks that contained everything. They were things like my baby’s sonograms and her first pair of shoes. There was also her handprint, made on Christmas eve, when she was less than 3 months old.
We didn’t want to subject our toddler with our junk, so we moved a lot of the stuff into our bedroom and the hallway. But we couldn’t escape it like our previous spaces. The black bags covered in cobwebs refused to be hidden, their presence always a physical reminder of the money we spent, the choices we made, and the myriad of forgotten memories dating back at least three decades.
Our clusterfudge grew so bad that I didn’t have the physical space to separate what we actually used and what was just a whimsical purchase made in my youth, which turned out to be a lot of books.
The more I tried to sort everything, the more it became overwhelmingly too much. So I did what modern Millennial did, I semi Kon Mari’d anything I touched.
I say semi because I didn’t follow her instructions to the letter. I didn’t hold every single item up to my chest and determined if it brought me joy or not. No. That would haven’t taken a life time. Instead, I went down the functional route. I asked myself the following questions:
95% of the time, the stuff went into the throw or donate pile. The remaining 2% I kept upon rediscovering its existence, and 3% was fished back out due to sentimental feelings. They were the objects that I threw out but took back in because I wasn’t mentally ready to decide just yet.
Every now and then I’d regret a decision a week or two later. Murphy’s Law would kick in and after years of never using or needing the item, I’d find myself in need of it — like cello tape for wrapping up a birthday present.
I kept the baby clothes last. It was easy to throw out my own stuff but the baby things, well, the memories associated with them were still too recent and raw to deal with.
My friend thought I was clearing out to be a minimalist. In reality, I was clearing out to save myself from insanity.
Between my parent’s house, and the two other houses I previously lived in, I’ve never really felt like a space that’s my own. The first came with its own furnishings, complete with black mold and whatever else that grew inside the walls.
The second house, well, all I can remember was the chaos that ensued after losing my job, trying to make an income, kick start a different career path while being a stay at home mom. The rental agreement was for 2 years and the new landlord made it clear that he wanted us to move out after our term was up. There was always the anxiety sitting in the background, the kind that nudges at you at the worst moments.
I probably only had 3 months of actual calmness at that place, sporadically spread out. It made it impossible to find pockets of time long enough to do anything significant.
Then we finally moved to the place we’re at now — the landlord determined to house a family that’s willing to stay long term. The house is dry, has good insulation, close to my partner’s family, and had all the right amenities — parks, ducks, within walking distance shops, and alright looking grade schools.
It’s hard to hide from my things when they’re always right in my face, no matter where I went within the house.
I was determined to be free from the shackles of my possessions. It turns out that the multitude of black sacks were the result of misplaced values. There was a lack of understanding of myself and what I truly wanted. Remanents of old bits and pieces I bought sat on the floor, constantly reminding me of the time I bought them because it was on sale, or on trend, or because someone said I should. I kept them because I was afraid to face the sunk cost of the purchases.
As I emptied all the boxes and bags (just to be sure that I didn’t accidentally throw anything I wanted to keep), I shifted through everything at lighting speed. I became a professional at repackaging them again for the weekly trash pickup. It took an additional five trips out with the car, jammed pack with bags, to the donation bin up the road.
There was a point where I had emptied so many boxes that I built a tower in my kitchen, high and wide enough to cover the double French doors. It was that bad. But it was also getting better.
It took about three months to get rid of almost all of the boxes. It turns out that I can fit more in if I cut them down into tiny little pieces.
I gave some markers to the toddler. It kept her occupied while I hacked away at containers that held my decades for a decade. Older boxes were thicker than the new ones, making them harder to tear up.
Around this point, I got hooked on Pinterest and started to create my own boards that contained inspiration for the ‘dream home’. I created a digital vision board for what I wanted, little picturesque corners that contained capsule wardrobes, neatly arranged Montessori styled play spaces, and spotless kitchens filled with greenery.
But I held off from buying it all. In part, because I feared that history would repeat itself.
I still had half a house full of stuff. Even with my persistent and ruthless purging, our worldly possessions still dominated the house. I remembered back to when we moved into our previous house. It was unfurnished, and we ended buying things we never used.
I wanted the things I owned to be functional and intentional. So I waited until I was certain that I needed it.
The first thing I bought was another bookshelf — a 4-tier flatpack piece that matched the other one I already had. Although I can still purge more volumes from the shelves, I’ve stopped myself from doing so. These were books I’ve decided to deal with in the second purge.
I’m still in the first purge, it’s speed hampered by the toddler becoming overly attached to random discoveries the boxes of remaining things to sort, and the number of things I can fit into our bin.
Every time I fill up a bin, all I can hear are the eco-warriors complaining about my immense consumerism, how I’m intentionally killing the planet. But hoarding stuff was killing me on the inside. I couldn’t keep it all. I couldn’t upcycle it all. So I made a deal with the invisible voices inside my head — that I would restructure my life in a way that reduced the amount of trash I created.
I ended up with a pack of 12 reusable unbleached cotton bags and glass jars for the spices, sugar, salt, and coffee. I count this as my contribution to saving the planet and hopefully balance out my past consumerist mistakes.
For the first time in my adult life, I can see the floor.
When lockdown lifted and we were allowed to mix and mingle once again, I ended up at my parent’s house. Suddenly, the habits of hoarding they’ve bestowed on me seemed cramped and dated.
My old room had turned into the second storage space for all of my mother’s worldly possessions. The spare room was not much better, with entire walls stocked up to the ceiling with boxes of who-knows-what.
In my purge, I’ve probably thrown out a few thousand dollar’s worth of things that have lost most of their value. The time it would take to list and sell them online was not worth the return they’d generate.
As more space materialized, the toddler found it easier to focus her toys. She played with them longer and became more engrossed in the process. For the first time ever, she could see her toys for what they are.
I haven’t quite finished round one of purging just yet. There’s still a box of things to sort through for the eight-time, the seven sacks of books, and two bags of clothes that sits waiting to be donated.
Once that’s done, I’ll probably have a week or two breaks in between before I hit the second round of purging. Then I can finally declutter and start making the house our own.
Sales don’t excite me anymore but only serve as a reminder of the time I got trapped in a cycle of believing I needed things I didn’t actually need.
For people who’s never had a hoarding problem before, purging is a liberating process — but also a lengthy one. The act of throwing things out takes coordination and time. It can also be physically and mentally exhausting.
We can finally have family photos up and see them. There’s no sea of clutter to wade through, and less cleaning up required.
Some people have wondered how we managed to get into the state that we did. I explain it to them like this — hoarding is like a stain on the bottom of your pans. The longer to leave it, the harder it becomes to scrub and clean. Then it gets to a point where you give up.
Hoarding is like owning a few hundred of these pans, and you’re not allowed to throw them out. Instead, you’re tasked with cleaning them all. The process is time-consuming, so you give up before you start. The thought of doing it paralyzes you before you can even begin. You pretend it doesn’t exist and hide it away until you can’t anymore.
That’s hoarding in a nutshell — a pathological avoidance of reality until reality forces itself on you, and you’re forced to deal with it.
50+ sacks donated and more than a dozen bins to landfills and recycling later, I can almost taste the liberation. Purging becomes easier with every weekend spent throwing things out.
Not having a garage was that physical force that moved me into action. Having a toddler contributed. A desire to turn our new-ish place into an actual home became the ultimate driving force. Maybe in a year, I’ll finally feel like I’ve settled into somewhere properly and completely unshackled from my worldly possessions.
It’s a process, and this is the journey. I’ll get there at some point, but most importantly — I know that I’ll get there. I’m finally moving forward, one weekend at a time.