If I Don't Bin This Bad Habit I'll Turn Into A Full-Blown Hoarder

This February it’ll be one decade since I moved to Melbourne -- just 18 and towing a carful of Ikea storage solutions and knick-knacks from my childhood.

The fact I dragged boxes of $10 Penguin paperbacks and an electric blue wheelie bin (to act as my laundry basket, still in use today!) from Sydney to Melbourne was perhaps a warning sign. Yes, reader, I am a hoarder-in-training.

If you’ve watched the terrifying show Hoarders: Buried Alive, which depicts the tragic existence of “extreme hoarders”, whose genuine mental health condition prevents them from decluttering anything from old newspapers and bicycle parts to food and personal waste, you’ll know the plight of a hoarder is no laughing matter.

Crushing yourself, your loved ones, and your ambitions under your own detritus is a pretty messed-up way to live, and perhaps those of us who joke that we are “hoarders” for keeping a secret cupboard of junk are making too much light of too serious a situation. But sometimes I wonder...

Daily search for my outfit. (Image: Getty)

Next month, my boyfriend Lawrence will officially move into my apartment: me, him, our cat and all our clutter combined. It’s a terrifying prospect, not least because, when I searched my bedroom closet for Christmas wrapping paper, I realised I’d absently stuffed six unopened boxes from my last move in there. Six boxes! Still untouched despite moving into my flat seven months beforehand.

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And these boxes weren’t just full of rubbish, able to be thrown away without sorting through; when I unpacked the first one I found a bottle of perfume still in its packaging, several favourite pieces of jewellery I’d been missing, my nail scissors (I’d spent the past seven months cutting my nails with kitchen scissors), my emergency reading glasses and our sorely needed collection of USB cables. What treasures could the other five boxes hold?

So that's where you've been. (Image: Getty)

It’s not just these six boxes that have me concerned. Our linen closet is full to bursting with everyday towels, special towels, guest towels and “spare towels” (what are these? Who could possibly need them, considering the other categories??).

I’ve kept more second-hand glass jars as cups for drinking than our kitchen cupboards can hold; and three whole shelves in the living room are full of books I haven’t read, yet I can’t stop pressing my bookseller buddy to buy me new treasures using her discount.

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Under our bed, for 11 months of the year, we shove a plastic Christmas tree I bought from Kmart eight years ago --  on sale, out of season, for $10 -- and which I put up every year, though I haven’t spent a Christmas at home since I moved to Melbourne. There’s also an entire Ikea shelving unit under there, which we’ve never bothered to assemble -- cam-locks, allen keys and all.

Yes, I do need all of it. (Image: Getty)
Just a few coffee table books. (Image: Getty)

Then there’s the clothes: T-shirts purchased at sample sales in 2007, shorts two sizes too small that I’m convinced I’ll fit into one day, and summer dresses with holes in the hemlines I’ll never hope to darn.

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I’ve got odd socks whose pairs were lost years before, bags riddled with holes and pen-ink stains in the lining, and underwear so loose and with elastic so frayed it belongs nowhere else but the bin, but which I keep convinced it’ll come in handy once a month, or when laundry time comes around. (These pairs remain balled up at the back of my overstuffed drawers, joined by more and more “emergency” pairs of underwear I can’t bear to retire.)

There was a sale. (Image: Getty)

It’s not just that I have a penchant for buying new things before I’ve turfed my old, useless items (new underwear without tossing the old ones, new glasses without donating the old ones, new books without reading the old ones) -- it’s simply the fact that I’m determined to hold onto things for which there’s no discernable use or value.

I have boxes of the cheap paper that our loo rolls are wrapped in, nestled among the carefully folded bubble wrap I’m convinced will come in handy if I ever need to wrap, transport or post valuables. These take up a whole cabinet in our bathroom.

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I still have the box my computer came in, the boxes my lamps came in, the boxes my wine glasses came in -- should I ever need to pack them away again. The most recent move I finally let go of the dusty old box, ripped and repaired with packing tape many times over, for my six-year-old TV, which Lawrence forced me to throw away. And though he often plays bad cop, sometimes he’s just an enabler. When we put our new decorations on the Christmas tree last year, Lawrence asked me if we should keep the plastic boxes the ornaments came in!

I'll use these again, right? (Image: Getty)

The fact of the matter is, in 2019 we’re all carrying around too much crap, and our houses are bearing the brunt of it. I look around our reasonably-sized two-bedroom apartment, which has more storage than any flat I’ve ever lived in, and I think: What are we going to do with all our stuff! And Lawrence hasn’t even moved his stuff -- including a couple of guitars, a record player and an Essendon footy blanket -- in yet.

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Perhaps this is why series like Consumed, and the new Netflix phenomenon Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, are taking off with such gusto. We’re drowning in our belongings, and are desperate for smart solutions.

I watch series like Consumed, Tidying and Extreme Hoarders with a mixture of fascination and horror. I recognise something primal in the urge to justify why, for example, a middle-aged woman would collect boxes and boxes of unopened, unused Tupperware containers, or why a young woman might just buy new clothes rather than deal with the cleaning, folding and storage of her old ones.

I'll deal with this tomorrow. (Image: Getty)

And that scares me -- the recognition that literally piling your problems up around you seems like a viable, even liveable solution to physical and emotional issues.

I don’t know if I can hold a plastic box or a plate or a piece of jewellery and decide if it “sparks joy”, a la the KonMari method. I understand the sentiment, but for those of us who make a hobby of collecting clutter, justifying our collection is part of the art.

Anything can “spark joy” if you put the right spin on it. But I hope I can create a little bit of space for Lawrence in my life and in our house -- and perhaps even turf that old plastic Christmas tree.