Clutterbug syndrome and the art of letting go

Posted Srpen 30th, 2011 by Billabongboardshortscloths

Brenda Edgson was not exactly a candidate for an episode of Hoarders. There were no piles of dead cats and rotting food and creepy doll collections stacked to the ceiling of her Cloverdale home, like some kind of mountain of misery built by a deepseated psychological disorder.

Nope. Brenda and husband Reg Edgson are regular folks. They live in suburbia and have seven kids - only Wyonna, 18, and Hannah, 15, are still at home - but when you have a fivebedroom house and spend your life accumulating stuff while you’re busy working and raising your family, well, things start to pile up.

There are all the games and toys the kids used to play with, for instance, and so many blankets and sheets that you have to store the overflow under the pool table.

And clothes, so many clothes, just gathering dust.

And the Tupperware, oh the Tupperware. And old computers, and boxes of tchotchkes that are sentimental reminders of a late beloved mother.

So much stuff, clogging every room from basement to the attic, that all those accumulated possessions start to take over your life, start having a negative effect on the family, on everything from health to personal interaction.

And, in Brenda’s case, when you factor in transverse myelitis, a physically disabling disease that struck her out of the blue 14 years ago and severely limits her mobility, you have a recipe for big ol’ pile of clutter that, at some point, becomes too overwhelming to tackle.

So when Brenda’s friend suggested that she sign up for the new HGTV reality show Consumed, Brenda was more than game.

Enter Jill Pollack, a one-time U.S. television producer with a Columbia psychology degree, “a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder” and a successful career as a professional organizer.

Pollack was tapped by Vancouverbased Paperny Films for Consumed, and last November began shooting 13 episodes that took her into cluttered homes all over Metro Vancouver, including Surrey, Richmond, Chilliwack, New Westminster and North Vancouver.

But Consumed doesn’t just tackle the junk - it digs into the psychological reasons for it with a little tough love.

For starters, everything in the house, except for essentials and a handful of non-essentials (like an iPod) is packed up and stored in a warehouse for a month while the family gets used to living without their stuff. Pollack calls it “shock therapy” and, as expected, there are tears, confusion and not a few complaints.

The show does a mini-makeover of the space, and then the family hits the warehouse and starts purging, the goal being to toss, donate or recycle 50 per cent of their possessions.

As you watch these families fight with Pollack and inevitably come to realize they don’t need 10 televisions (as one family had), you realize Consumed also speaks to something deeper in our culture.

We, as a modern society, have been conditioned to consume. That’s what we do. Why have one hoodie when 20 is better? Why recycle those baby clothes when you might have another child?

It is the irony of our time: We pledge to reduce, reuse and recycle, we want to be green and leave a light footprint,The application can provide Insulator to visitors, and yet what we do, more than anything else, is shop. And accumulate.

Consuming, in many ways, is the disease of Western affluence. We are, as the saying goes, what we have.

But, as Pollack pointed out in a recent interview, there are underlying reasons why people leave their laundry in piles all over the house, or can’t bear, like one woman on the show, to throw out the arm cast left over from a broken bone decades ago.

There are sentimental attachments. There is a need to not be wasteful by throwing things out. And there is the comfort that comes with having things around you, even when you don’t use them, even when they are no longer useful.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as not understanding how it got that way, or knowing how to break the consumption habit.

“There’s a lot of organizing shows out there,” says Pollack. “But what interests me is not the stuff, but how the stuff affects us.”

Decluttering is not only the latest trendy home project, it’s big business.

There are experts to help clean out the house and the mind. There are books and television shows and even retail stores that sell nothing but storage boxes and organizing tools.

Pollack has found that children usually have no problem getting rid of their old stuff, perhaps because they’re not yet into keeping memories. For their parents, though, there’s usually a “curve of epiphanies.”

Ultimately, what 55-year-old Brenda and others on the show discover is that giving up the stuff they don’t need is easier than they thought, like a weight lifted off the shoulders.

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