As I said at the beginning of Part 1, one of the early obstacles to doing the KonMari method was figuring out which clothes in my room belonged to me, and which clothes belonged to my mother.
I had vast piles of clothing in my room (writing this sentence in past tense feels very good). 95% of this clothing was clothing I never asked for, never wanted, and if a fairy had come along at any point in my life and offered to make those clothes magically disappear, I would have enthusiastically accepted the offer.
You have probably figured out that my mother was the one who put all those clothes there. There was a time when, whenever someone put clothes out in the street, she used to pick it up and bring it home, even clothes which obviously (to me) would not be of use to anyone in the household. Fortunately, she stopped doing that years ago (I do not recall her ever doing this since I returned from Asia), but while she was doing this, she accumulated a lot of clothes, and … rarely discarded clothes.
Is your mother a hoarder?
If you are referring to the mental illness referred to as ‘compulsive hoarding’ in the DSM, the answer is no. I had never heard of the mental illness until January 2019 when I saw hoarding and the associated reality TV shows mentioned in some of the commentaries on Marie Kondo’s work. After seeing so many references, I got around to watching a few episodes of Hoarding: Buried Alive, and read the Wikipedia article about compulsive hoarding. My mother is not like the hoarders in the TV show, or described in the Wikipedia article.
Are you sure about that?
Okay, when my dad or I try to persuade her to discard something, she often puts up more resistance than my dad or I think is reasonable, but she does not become distressed or emotional about it the way that compulsive hoarders do when someone suggests discarding their stuff. I’ve described some of her behavior in this post. That said, she sometimes discards things of her own initiative. Most importantly, our living spaces remain livable.
Umm, your mother has used the word ‘hoarder’ to describe herself multiple times.
Yes, and I think her awareness of her tendency to hoard is how she stops herself from becoming a compulsive hoarder. She is way better at controlling her hoarding tendency than any hoarder featured in the hoarding reality TV shows. She does not let it render the house uninhabitable. If she did – if she really were a compulsive hoarder – I would have never moved back in, and I’m sure my dad would have moved out a long time ago.
It is possible that if she experienced a major mental health problem – such as psychological trauma or dementia – she may lose control over her hoarding tendency, but that is not how things are now.
That room in the basement…
… is really normal for a basement or attic room in an American home (I don’t like the way it is, and I think we would be better off letting go of a lot of the stuff stored in that basement room, but it is not a sign of compulsive hoarding). (And quite a bit of that stuff belongs to my dad, and some of it even belongs to me, so the stuffing of that basement room cannot be entirely attributed to my mother).
And we have another room in the basement which is completely empty. Methinks that if my mother were a compulsive hoarder, there would be no empty room in the basement.
(And the empty room is the basement is a glaring sign that we, as a household, have more storage space than we need).
I’ve read speculation than Marie Kondo is especially popular in New York and San Francisco because people in these cities tend to have less spacious homes than most Americans. That may be true, but even though I live in San Francisco, that is not my situation, or motivation for trying the KonMari thing.
Then what IS your motivation?
I want to be happier in my bedroom. I want my whole bedroom to reflect my wishes, the way I managed to change my sleeping area so it reflects my wishes now. I want a lot less dust in my bedroom. I want things to be easier to find so I waste less time looking for things. I want to have the same kind of relationship with the things in my room that I have with the gear I pack when I go on a long distance hike. And I want to resolve my feelings about many of the things in my room. Especially the things I never wanted and never asked for yet have been in my room for years.
So how did this go over with your mother?
There was a conversation which went something like this:
Me: They are my clothes, so I can do what I want with them.
Mother: No, they aren’t your clothes.
Me: So they are your clothes? Then why are they in my room?
Mother: Because they are for you.
Me: So you gave them to me, which means they are now mine, and I can take care of them.
Mother: No, they aren’t yours.
Me: So they are yours? You are responsible for them? Do you want me to return them?
Mother: No, I kept them for you!
(repeat a few times like a broken record)
We finally did come to an agreement – these clothes do in fact belong to me, but as a ‘courtesy’ I was to pass along any undamaged clothes which might be her size to her, and she would decided whether or not to keep them. (I really had to stand my ground on not passing on any damaged clothing that was her size. I said a few times, ‘seriously, you would want to wear damaged clothing even though you have clothing in good condition?’ She eventually relented, and said I did not need to pass on any damaged clothing for her inspection).
How much of the clothing was possibly her size?
A small percentage.
Why did you accept these clothes as yours? Why not just treat them as if they did not belong to you, and therefore you would not include them in the KonMari process?
That is pretty much what my dad asked me (though he phrased it differently). First of all, they
are were in my room, and I very much wanted to get them out of my room. I was the one who was motivated to put in the labor of actually getting them out of my room. But I don’t expect my mother to ever take care of those clothes or discard the 97% of the clothes which are of no use to our household, which means I would just be shifting obstacles to another part of the house, and after my mother dies (which hopefully won’t happen any time soon, but she ain’t immortal), if I’m still alive and able, I’ll then become responsible for dealing with them. I’d rather deal with them now.
And most importantly, even though I never asked for these clothes or wanted them, I AM the one who let them sit in my room for so many years. By letting them take my space for so long, I did assume responsibility for them.
Marie Kondo advises preventing close family members from observing the process too carefully. I think this is great advice, but my two problems were 1) since my bedroom is right next to my mother’s bedroom, and there is so, so, so much to do, I can’t completely hide what I am doing and 2) since it was a bit unclear who the clothes belonged to, there was a need for at least a little negotiation.
My mother and I had a couple of arguments, including one where I screamed a bit and broke down in tears. That was … actually less bad than I was expecting. I was especially upset when my mother repeatedly said that I was being ‘insensitive’ because I was ‘taking her time’. I only asked for a few minutes of her time to ask questions, and the rest of the ‘time’ that I ‘took’ from her was when she insisted on seeing what I was doing even though I did not want her to. For example, the first time I filled a bag for clothing to go to recycling, she insisted on inspecting everything on the bag, EVEN THOUGH I WAS OPPOSED, and then claimed that ~I~ stole that ~time~ from her. This especially rubs me because this is a project which is taking many hours of my labor, labor which I would not be doing if she had not spend so many years accumulating clothing that is useless to us without bothering to discard it, or even ensure it was properly stored to prevent damage to the clothes. Yet she claimed that ~I~ was the ‘insensitive’ one who was taking ~her~ time.
What was her reaction to her inspection of that bag going to recycling?
I think, in the long run, it was helpful. I only put in recycling clothing that is too damaged to donate, which meant she got a good look at just how damaged some of this clothing was. I think some of this clothing was damaged before it reached our house which is why it was left in the street, but I’m sure some of the clothing was also damaged by years of bad storage, a point I’ve made to her several times. It seems to have registered with her, because she responded that keeping clothing in good condition takes time and energy, and she didn’t want to spend her time and energy maintaining so much clothing. I told her that I also do not want to spend so much time and energy keeping so much clothing in good condition, which is why I am getting rid of the clothing. She said that this made sense.
She also specifically said that, because she saw the condition of the clothes I was putting in recycling, she decided not to insist that I pass on damaged clothes which were possibly her size.
She has even told me multiple times that she supports me in doing this tidy-up. That is a bit of a surprise to me. Like I said, there has actually be less drama than I feared.
That said, I’m trying to prevent her from looking at any of my other bags going to recycling, and in particular I am trying to prevent her from seeing how much I am going to send to recycling. Thus, when my mother is asleep or not around, I put the bags of clothing heading to recycling in the basement.
Won’t your mother see those bags in the basement?
Nah, she hardly ever goes to that basement room, and when she does, she doesn’t look carefully.
But doesn’t your father go to the basement multiple times a week? Won’t he notice?
I’ve explicitly told him what I am doing, including the fact that I’m trying to avoid my mother’s attention. I even ask him to advise me where to place these bags in the basement.
Aren’t you concerned that he’ll try to take or keep some of those clothes which are on their way to recycling?
Unlike my mother, my dad does not find the prospect of sorting through and/or keeping damaged clothing the least bit tempting. I think he wants that clothing to get out of our lives even more than I do. Even though he is also a close family member, I have no concerns that he will obstruct my KonMari process.
Why do you have to wait to send this clothing to recycling?
As I mentioned in the previous post, there is some furniture which I would like to remove from my room (and the entire house). I intend to do that through the local Bulky Item Recycling service. When they do a bulky item pickup, they can also take up to ten bags/boxes of textiles at no extra charge. Thus, I intend to send the damaged clothes to recycling at the same time I send away my damaged furniture.
Why do you say that you haven’t really started the KonMari method? It seems like you’re doing it.
After visualizing your ideal life, the next step is to put all of your clothing in one place, and I haven’t done that yet. There is too much clothing. Therefore, I am trying to reduce my clothing to the point where that will be pratical.
I’m afraid to ask, but – just how much clothing are we talking about?
I am so not keeping count. I think that, if I’m only counting major clothing items such as shirts, pants, dresses, blouses, skits, etc. (excluding small items such as socks, underwear, etc.) … I am dealing with less than a thousand items of clothing.
Less than a thousand items of clothing … have you deal with less than 500 major items of clothing?
Oh no, I have definitely sorted more than 500 major items of clothing. I’m faily sure it is in the 500-to-1000 range.
I see why trying to put so much clothing in one place would be a problem. And ALL of this clothing was stored in your bedroom?>
If my closet counts as part of my bedroom, yes. Closets can hold an amazing amount of clothing, especially if they are in a pile rather than hung up. BUT NOW MORE THAN 90% OF IT IS GONE! GONE! Most of the clothes which had been in my bedroom/closet at the beginning of 2019 are now either in the basement (awaiting pickup) or totally out of the house.
I imagine this process has stirred up a lot of thoughts and feelings.
Yep. And I’m going to discuss that in Part 3.