In high school, Cox gave my family a free year of cable for switching to their internet. “Basic” didn’t even begin to describe the package they gave us. We never had cable before, but I had still stayed in enough hotel rooms to realize how pathetic its selection was.

At times my old bedroom looked very close to this.

However, there was one station that had my family instantly hooked: TLC. That year we quickly became reality show addicts (a habit I am glad to have broken) and tried to never miss an episode of What Not to Wear or Say Yes to the Dress. One of our favorite shows was Hoarders: Buried Alive. It had the exact right amount of visual horror and emotional triumph to be captivating. It also showed me a very possible and horrifying future for myself. I realized that I could easily become a hoarder if I wasn’t careful.

I think I explained this in a previous post (I am too lazy to go back and check), but our departure from Ethiopia was a bit traumatic for me and I refused to throw away anything that reminded me of the country I felt was my home. This quickly evolved into refusing to throw anything away that might have some kind of emotional attachment or I “might need” later. I only now threw away the almost 200 wedding cards from over three years ago. It may seem strange to some, but throwing things away or getting rid of them gives me extreme anxiety. I feel my chest tighten and the panic rise within me. I become terrified, of I don’t even know what, and simply shut down.

This was an issue that I faced for a long time. Before Hoarders showed me my future like some strange crystal ball, I just called myself a “pack rat.” But watching the show made me realize that this issue could become so much worse. I didn’t want to get there. So I started to get rid of stuff more and more. But the things I had had for years were so hard to get rid of. They had rooted themselves in my life and uprooting them seemed too painful, so I just hid them away in boxes. Then, the big motivation arrived: I got married and was moving out of my parent’s house. The best way to get rid of junk is when you are confronted with the possibility of packing up over ten years of crap and storing it in an apartment. Apparently, when in conflict, my laziness wins over my hoarding.

I have gotten better at downsizing and the second time we moved apartments, I got rid of even more junk. But I still have my moments where I can’t get over the emotional block. I had a complete panic attack and emotional breakdown when I found out my husband had thrown away a box of my old stuffed animals instead of donating them. The only reason I had been able to part with them was the thought someone else could use them, so when he told me what he had done I completely flipped out. It is probably the maddest I have ever been with my husband and I’m pretty sure he started to rethink his marriage to this crazy person.

Over the years here are some strategies I have developed to declutter without having an emotional break down:

  1. Right when you get something (card, gift, letter, etc.) think about if you will really use it. If not, try to get rid of it right away. The longer you have something, the harder it gets to get rid of.
  2. If you have things that you don’t think you need but can’t get rid of, hide them in the closet. (added bonus: you forget about them and the guilt associated with being a pack rat)
  3. Every so often, when you are feeling emotionally strong or particularly annoyed with clutter, take out a box and sort through it. Over time you can start to whittle down the contents of the boxes.
  4. If you still can’t bring yourself to get rid of things, pick out the stuff you know is the least useful, and try to just throw it out without thinking too hard. It might be tough but after you do it for the first time, it gets easier.