I’m a collector.

If it’s camp, vintage, mid-century, teak, or rattan, throw it my way. Ugly kit blankets? Mine. Big plastic googly eyes, ribbons patterned with misprint creatures, and tiny American flags? MINE. As a kid, it pained me to say goodbye to inanimate objects. As an adult, I had to fashion my own 12-step program to manage all those items I couldn’t throw away as a child, and organize the things I wanted to keep.

As I got older, I began to identify where my collecting (hoarding) tendencies came from. Like most things, my habits were largely influenced by my family. That’s when everything started to make sense.

And then I got cocky, and volunteered to help a relative clean and organize their house. It’s REALLY HARD to rationalize emotional hoarding to someone else.

Here’s why: it’s not about you. It doesn’t matter if you would throw it away. You don’t remember the day your aunt bestowed that ugly lamp upon you in the summer of 2004. And I promise you this: if the person you’re helping doesn’t make the “recycle” or “toss” call on their own, they’re going to go and dig that item out of the goodbye pile the SECOND you leave.

When you’re helping someone else get rid of stuff, you have to do it on their terms.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Arguing, belittling, and ridiculing are nasty things to do to someone who feels emotional about letting an object go. Emotional attachment feels a lot like being homesick. It’s never appropriate to make someone feel bad about that.

Baby steps forever and ever and ever. You don’t have to go for the big papa. Start with a drawer, or a pile, or one bag. Do the “no brainers” first. That pen ran out of ink in 1998, let’s get rid of that. You no longer have the board game this little plastic guy belongs to. Let’s donate that – maybe someone out there is missing this exact piece.

⏃ Get REAL storage solutions for the things they want to keep. The bankers box full of silverfish and crust that was packed in 1994? Bye. Get rid of it. Buy some Rubbermaid containers instead. Things that are going to be kept for memories or future use should be stored properly and safely.

⏃ If they have a tendency to hoard, try and manage the things that enable them to. For example, pieces of furniture with lots and lots of drawers and compartments? BYE.

⏃ Don’t forget about resources like Facebook Marketplace and Varage Sale. For big ticket items like furniture, electronics, or vintage pieces, it’s a good way to get a little cash in yo coin purse.

Rationalizing and compromising are a killer combination. Yes, I know the 300 empty plastic bags balled up under your friend’s sink is a little much. So let’s ask them what their plans for those bags are. Get them to walk you through the process of making the decision to keep them. If they can’t, ask questions. Can they recycle half? Can they move some of them to a different area of their house where the bags may get more use?

Kindly remind them that if they haven’t missed something for 10, 20, or 30 years, they probably aren’t going to miss it for the next 10, 20, or 30 years. Do we need to open this box? Let’s not! Let’s just donate it to someone who lives for a surprise!

⏃ Try to put things in perspective from a “use” standpoint. Who would benefit from your family member donating these belongings today? I think these winter jackets would be appreciated by the homeless shelter, what do you think? I know you got that brand new coat last fall, so let’s pass these onto someone who could really use them. Use this list for ideas.

⏃ Don’t be sneaky or throw things away behind their back. It will backfire. Trust is important when you’re digging around in someone’s personal belongings.

Use my photobook trick to combat attachment to childhood belongings. When I had a hard time with this, I took pictures of each item I decided to donate, and then I created a photobook with a photo of the belonging, plus a memory I had of it. This was a good way to honor my emotional connection to the item without leaving them to collect dust in storage. Offer to take pictures of your family member’s belongings, and then show them how to build a photobook online.

For most people, sorting out personal belongings and getting rid of stuff is an emotional, energy draining process. It’s not easy, especially when you’re trying to facilitate someone else’s ~junk journey~.

The more you push through the difficult moments, the easier it gets.

Having a clean, organized space is worth it.

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