After the holidays, I caught up with my cousin Angie. Across the state line, she was on my mind, and I texted her out of the blue. Come to find out, I was on her mind, too, so I dialed her number.
“I don’t know where to start,” she said. “Guess what I’m doing?”
I asked what.
“The purge,” she said with a laugh that sounded like Grandma and warmed my heart.
The last time I talked to Angie, sometime last February, I was on a decluttering challenge—donating, recycling, throwing things away—and I told her about it. On February 1st, I got rid of one thing. On the 2nd, two things. On the 3rd, three, and so on for thirty days. I stuck the donations in bags in the closet and dropped them off on weekends. If my math was right, week one’s purge added up to 28 items, and the grand total was 465 fewer things at my house. Angie joined me.
There’s something about the power of suggestion. After our recent conversation, I texted her: “I think I’ll start the decluttering Feb. 1.” I needed time to wrap my brain around the task, and February worked for me last year.
This past week was the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, and I was home from school. A text from my best friend Denise popped up. “I’m going to go all Marie Kondo around my house,” she said. I noted the suggestion and sat on my couch feeling like I should be doing something. I flipped to Netflix and watched Gilmore Girls instead.
The next day, I found myself with an extra day off, something about COVID spiking. I started on my closet and my unworn clothes, counting the things and dragging the bags to the entryway. Kody was working from home and watched me. The next thing I knew, he joined me. I didn’t even ask. He purged his closet and drawers. It was January 18, a fourteen-day head start.
It felt good to silently count those numbers: “101, 102, 103.” Then, I loaded the bags into my car and drove down the street to Goodwill.
And last night’s message from Angie said, “I just found $300 decluttering.”
This morning, I sat on the couch with my laptop, and I drank my coffee. These words jumped off my screen. They resonated.
The words were only part of a sentence, part of a bigger thought from the goop article I was reading, an excerpt from Habib Sadeghi’s book The Clarity Cleanse. Dr. Sadeghi believes in the transformative power of writing to heal from the inside out. He says, “Words have tremendous power, and whether their effects are positive or negative depends on how we choose to use them. I can’t express how powerful a tool free-form writing is to expel negative energy from our minds and hearts. I used it daily during my recovery from cancer. I also return to it whenever I’m feeling emotionally oversaturated.”
I was feeling emotionally oversaturated, and so I read on. Dr. Sadeghi suggests an exercise called PEW 12 (Purge Emotional Writing), writing on paper for twelve minutes about whatever is disturbing my peace. At the end of twelve minutes, he says to take the page(s) to a secure, non-flammable area and burn it. “Fire is transformative and healing,” I read. “Your goal is to neutralize the negative energy, and the fire does that by transforming the chemical composition from paper to ash.”
The doctor warns that re-reading my page would only re-infect me with negative energy. He says never to direct the negatively charged words toward myself. I know these things intuitively. Sometimes I need reminders.
And so I found a spiral and noted the time and wrote for twelve minutes. I dropped F-bombs along the way. Then I ripped out the page and found a lighter and walked through my front door. I lit the page, watched it burn, dropped it on the concrete driveway, and stomped on it. I swept the ashes into the grass.
Dr. Sadeghi suggests doing this every day for five days before moving on to the next step. Except I don’t know what the next step is. His book is on my to-read list. I suppose I have four more days to find a copy.
My 31-year-old son has a collection of clutter to the point where one of our rooms is unusable. It’s called being a hoarder. I decided to look up the term. According to the mayoclinic.org, hoarding is a disorder. Signs and symptoms may include:
Excessively acquiring items that are not needed or for which there’s no space
Persistent difficulty throwing out or parting with your things, regardless of actual value
Feeling a need to save these items, and being upset by the thought of discarding them
Building up of clutter to the point where rooms become unusable
Having a tendency toward indecisiveness, perfectionism, avoidance, procrastination, and problems with planning and organizing
Years ago, our garage included a home gym. Now, circular, cast-iron barbells litter the floor on all sides of the weight bench centered below a 7-foot weight rack. I haven’t counted the weights. There are probably close to thirty of them, of various size, from five-and-a-half pounds to forty-five. Some lay haphazardly on the foam mats beneath the bench, some on the concrete amid dead leaves, bits of rope, PVC, a weight bar, a circular saw, timber, a sledgehammer, empty cardboard boxes, and sawdust. A collapsible elliptical machine leans against the wall. A freestanding heavy bag lays on its side on top of a toppled bike. There is a Honda Grom with a large plastic storage container strapped to the back. Something is wrong with the motor. There is another mini-motorbike shipped in pieces from China, put together at one point, now in pieces again. Lots of destroyed and broken things. There is more, much more. Plus, regular garage stuff. Sawdust covers all of it. Our son Drew thinks he is building a house. The clutter is beyond clutter. It’s excessive. We don’t have the space. We would like to park a car in the garage. The mess belongs to Drew, but I take responsibility for allowing it to happen. He lives with us, well, not exactly with us. He sleeps in his car most of the time, by choice. He has schizophrenia, and his thinking suffers.
The hoarding was motivation for the Less Is Now 30-day challenge. Day One—get rid of one thing, Day Two—get rid of two things, and so on. That equals 175 things to sell, donate, recycle, or trash during Week Four. My husband and I usually avoid the garage like the COVID. But during Week Four of the challenge, I turned my focus to the garage. One day I trashed or recycled 45 items. Lots of cardboard boxes and packaging pieces. Another day 72. Add those numbers to some other household items, and I’m currently 22 items short, but today is the last day of my fourth week. I still have time. Plus 29 for tomorrow and 30 for the next for a grand total of 453 items to be purged. I’m almost there. The challenge has been a challenge, made easier by a hoard. Progress is progress.
The Mayo Clinic also claims that many people with hoarding disorder also experience other mental health disorders, such as:
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
I think we could add schizophrenia to the list. However, my son also has the OCD label. We’ve gone through ten plus years of a rocky, uphill battle. Do you give up on people who are ill? I’m trying really hard not to. I wouldn’t give up if the illness were physical.
Back on the Mayo Clinic website, they say schizophrenia involves a range of problems with thinking (cognition), behavior and emotions. Signs and symptoms may vary, but usually involve delusions, hallucinations or disorganized speech, and reflect an impaired ability to function. Symptoms may include:
Delusions. These are false beliefs that are not based in reality. For example, you think that you’re being harmed or harassed; certain gestures or comments are directed at you; you have exceptional ability or fame; another person is in love with you; or a major catastrophe is about to occur. Delusions occur in most people with schizophrenia.
Hallucinations. These usually involve seeing or hearing things that don’t exist. Yet for the person with schizophrenia, they have the full force and impact of a normal experience. Hallucinations can be in any of the senses, but hearing voices is the most common hallucination.
Disorganized thinking (speech). Disorganized thinking is inferred from disorganized speech. Effective communication can be impaired, and answers to questions may be partially or completely unrelated. Rarely, speech may include putting together meaningless words that can’t be understood, sometimes known as word salad.
Extremely disorganized or abnormal motor behavior. This may show in a number of ways, from childlike silliness to unpredictable agitation. Behavior isn’t focused on a goal, so it’s hard to do tasks. Behavior can include resistance to instructions, inappropriate or bizarre posture, a complete lack of response, or useless and excessive movement.
Negative symptoms. This refers to reduced or lack of ability to function normally. For example, the person may neglect personal hygiene or appear to lack emotion (doesn’t make eye contact, doesn’t change facial expressions or speaks in a monotone). Also, the person may lose interest in everyday activities, socially withdraw or lack the ability to experience pleasure.
All of it applies to my son. The hoarding is sort of down the list of problems we have at our house…or that my son has in his car. What happened to my little boy who made straight A’s and became a cellist with a full ride to college? I’ve learned I can’t reason with schizophrenia. There are people close to me who wish I wouldn’t be so open about Drew’s mental illness. But for me, secrets are heavy, and people keep them when they don’t want others to know the truth. Maybe it’s guilt. Maybe shame. Maybe grief. Secrecy perpetuates the stigma of those seeking help. I’m not ashamed, but I do mourn for the person he was before. Still I cling to hope. Hope for Drew to take responsibility for his symptoms and treatment. Hope for better medicine…a Team Drew…better days…a cure?
For Week Three of my Less is More Thirty-Day Challenge (Day One—get rid of one thing, Day Two—get rid of two things, Day Three—get rid of three things, and so on), I hoped to make it into my garage to continue my purge, but ya’ll it’s freaking freezing in Texas. 63% humidity intensifies the chill. Thank goodness I had a 61 item surplus over my goal for Week One and Week Two. This week I collected a few more for give away, throw away, recycle, or sell (I’m not much of a salesperson)—6 items of my clothing and 32 of Kody’s, 9 outdoor items, 25 decorative/Christmas, and 5 candles which I burned to the bitter end (candles below still hanging in there). That adds up to 138 items for Week Three. 12 over my goal of 126 for Week Three. Next week. The garage.
Speaking of my candles, they served me well this week. We spent twenty-four hours at my house without electricity and forty-eight hours without water. My candles provided light in the darkness and a little aromatherapy. Now we have water (without pressure), and the city of Houston has issued notices to boil it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful. Millions of Texans have gone days without power or heat in subfreezing temperatures. What’s wrong with Texas? Explanation below. But first, I made a run for groceries yesterday. Do you know what’s worse than grocery shopping in a pandemic?
Answer:Grocery shopping during a Texas winter weather event mid-pandemic.
But as bad as that looks. I found frozen flounder and Ahi Tuna, chicken sausage links and ground pork sausage. Jasmine rice and pinto beans. Loads of veggies. We are warm, safe, and fed.
“Texas leaders failed to heed warnings that left the state’s power grid vulnerable to winter extremes…
Millions of Texans have gone days without power or heat in subfreezing temperatures. brought on by snow and ice storms. Limited regulations on companies that generate power and a history of isolating Texas from federal oversight help explain the crisis, energy and policy experts told The Texas Tribune…
Energy and policy experts said Texas’ decision not to require equipment upgrades to better withstand extreme winter temperatures, and choice to operate mostly isolated from other grids in the U.S. left power system unprepared for the winter crisis.
Policy observers blamed the power system failure on the legislators and state agencies who they say did not properly heed the warnings of previous storms or account for more extreme weather events warned of by climate scientists. Instead, Texas prioritized the free market.
‘Clearly we need to change our regulatory focus to protect the people, not profits,’ said Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith, a now-retired former director of Public Citizen, an Austin-based consumer advocacy group who advocated for changes after in 2011 when Texas faced a similar energy crisis.
‘Instead of taking any regulatory action, we ended up getting guidelines that were unenforceable and largely ignored in [power companies’] rush for profits,’ he said.
It is possible to ‘winterize’ natural gas power plants, natural gas production, wind turbines and other energy infrastructure, experts said, through practices like insulating pipelines. These upgrades help prevent major interruptions in other states with regularly cold weather.
In 2011, Texas faced a very similar storm that froze natural gas wells and affected coal plants and wind turbines, leading to power outages across the state. A decade later, Texas power generators have still not made all the investments necessary to prevent plants from tripping offline during extreme cold, experts said…
Texas politicians and regulators were warned after the 2011 storm that more “winterizing” of power infrastructure was necessary, a report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation shows. The large number of units that tripped offline or couldn’t start during that storm “demonstrates that the generators did not adequately anticipate the full impact of the extended cold weather and high winds,” regulators wrote at the time. More thorough preparation for cold weather could have prevented the outages, the report said…
Texas’ grid is also mostly isolated from other areas of the country, a set up designed to avoid federal regulation. It has some connectivity to Mexico and to the Eastern U.S. grid, but those ties have limits on what they can transmit. The Eastern U.S. is also facing the same winter storm that is creating a surge in power demand. That means that Texas has been unable to get much help from other areas…
Rhodes, of UT Austin, said Texas policy makers should consider more connections to the rest of the country. That, he acknowledged, could come at a higher financial cost — and so will any improvements to the grid to prevent future disasters. There’s an open question as to whether Texas leadership will be willing to fund, or politically support, any of these options.
Texas Tech University, University of Texas at Austin and University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.”
Back to the candles, they served me well this week. We spent twenty-four hours at my house without electricity and forty-eight hours without water. My candles provided light in the darkness and a little aromatherapy. Now we have water without pressure, and the city of Houston has issued notices to boil our water. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful. Millions of Texans have gone days without power or heat in subfreezing temperatures. What’s wrong with Texas? Explanation below. But first, I made a run for groceries yesterday. Do you know what’s worse than grocery shopping in a pandemic?
Lauren called late, 10:38, last Sunday night. She said, “Mom, will you come to Dallas?” I felt a tug in my heart. Something in her voice said, I need you, whether she said it or not.
“Of course, I’ll be there tomorrow,” I said. Lauren knew I had planned on making a trip sometime before the end of February. I just needed to wrap my brain around when. Just a month ago, I helped her load her Houston apartment into a U-Haul. She had lived fifteen minutes away. Now four hours. Part of my thirty-day purge required unloading some items from my house at Lauren’s new place. Still, when your child tells you you’re needed, you go. At least I do. If I’m able. And thank God I was. So I drove the road to Dallas beneath overcast gray skies.
Lauren is okay. New place. New job. Some of the same old stresses. How many times did I call my mother, especially in my twenties, with news of how the sky had fallen off my world? Sometimes a girl just needs her mom.
Together we hung a few things on the wall, some of my discards. “Anything you don’t want, we’ll give to Goodwill,” I said. Two small bags of things went back to my car. She let me rearrange some shelves and décor. We ate a few meals out, a few meals in, and each night we curled up on the couch and tried to make it to the end of a movie. We finally finished The Devil Wears Prada and concluded that no one needs to sell their soul for work or things.
And today I’m headed home. I don’t like the thought of leaving my baby girl alone. And so I leave her in God’s hands and trust. What else is a mama to do?
And for a quick post script, this week’s purge included 6 Christmas items, 13 decorative, 23 to Lauren, 5 more for dogs, 8 from one cabinet, and 31 from the garage straight to the trash. That’s 86 things no longer needed, used or loved, now gone from my house. AND, I’m 61 items ahead of schedule going into Week Three, which is awesome since I’ve been out of town. And at Lauren’s I helped her do the same 58 items out of her closet and dresser drawers. I had a trip planned to Goodwill anyway.
The day was February 1st, and I needed a kick in the pants. I decided I was the one to do it. Inspired by my friend Dwight’s Less Is Now Challenge, I figured the first of the month was a good day to start. My own guidelines go like this: SELL, DONATE, RECYCLE, TRASH. I just don’t have the energy to sell. Two questions guide my decisions: Do I love it? Do I use it?
Day 1 — get rid of one thing
Day 2 — get rid of two things
Day 3 — get rid of three things
And so on for thirty days. If my math is correct, week one’s removal adds up to 28, and the entire purge ends up eliminating 453 items.
In my entry way closet, I had a small box started with 8 items to donate. In January, I helped my daughter Lauren move and ended up with some of her laundry, which equaled 11 things. In my car, I still had 3 trash bags of her clothes to donate (I didn’t count what was inside, but I counted the bags) and 2 patio chairs that I didn’t care to keep. From my own closet, I pulled 3 dresses, 2 pairs of shoes, and 1 pair of jeans. In the pantry, I found 23 dog items I no longer needed. In the garage, I found a box of flooded books, numbering 13, and recycled. And on Monday, I made a trip to the Goodwill donation site closest to home and left everything except what will go back to Lauren. From there I drove to the post office and mailed four envelopes and counted that, too. I started my gathering last Sunday, and on Monday 70 items vacated my house. That felt awesome, and I’m ahead of schedule.
And on February 1st, I went for a walk, two miles or so. As I did on February 2nd and the 3rd and the 4th and today is young. Also I started February 1st with a devotional from a book I haven’t finished. This year I thought I would try. I’ve kept it going all week. How is that for a kick in the pants?