A Year Later: The Emotion of the Stuff Project

It’s been one year since I eagerly embarked on the incredibly daunting task of cleaning my childhood home, what I called “The Purge of 2010.” My goal was to clean at least 75% of the house in hopes that I would help my family and help myself in the process. I hoped to finish at the end of two months, working on the house like a full-time job.

If you followed along, or even if you’re just discovering this blog for the first time, you’ll see that the last time I posted anything was, well, 10 months ago… just 3 months after I began the project. Before I explain what happened in the past 10 months and what happened with the project, let me tell you a little bit more about what allowed me to start the project to begin with.

After I graduated high school I left home to go to a university in a different city. While I was in school I grew really depressed for a lot of different reasons including my difficulty in adjusting to university life away from family and a completely different town. Among other things, a part of me resented how the living conditions I grew up in stunted me socially, how it left me unprepared in different important skills. Another part of me felt guilt over leaving my family for an awesome life in an awesome city, while they were stuck living in a pile of stuff.

Meanwhile, I was struggling in school and struggling to create a new “independent” identity for myself. I would skip class, then skip weeks at a time, until I withdrew from whole quarters of school. After several incidents both caused by and leading to some psychological issues, my university education sputtered to a halt. Combined with the dismal-looking economy and discussions swirling about the declining worth of a degree, I decided to stop going to school indefinitely. I didn’t move back with my family; I stayed in the city of my university.

I spent months in my apartment becoming more and more depressed. In attempts to get over what I was feeling in this slump of not doing anything at all, I decided to get a job. This was not easy knowing that I would have to “sell” good qualities of myself to employers to get hired while genuinely believing I had no good qualities at all. Within a couple weeks, I found myself with two jobs. Working made me feel more productive, more creative, and just better overall. After several months of working I had a little bit of savings and an idea to help my family with the house, an idea I knew would also be an opportunity for me to understand and overcome some of my own psychological issues. I left both of my jobs and moved back home. It was a challenge in more ways than one. I knew that if I could get to my finish line, I’d prove to myself my strength and willpower, and I’d prove to my family that no obstacle is too daunting.

As you’d expect, I started the project wide-eyed and full of energy and as time went on the magnitude of this project began to chip away at that excitement. The task of cleaning and organizing was very doable despite the heat and logistical puzzle of moving things to get to other things without injuring yourself. What made the whole project come to an end was how emotional it all got.

Based on my experience growing up in that house and then coming back to clean it, I believe that hoarding is a symptom of some bigger, deeper issues that are not being addressed. There are other problems and issues at work here that lead to lots of shopping and no motivation to let go of those items. While I was back at home, I began to see that hoarding was a way to cope with those other issues. But even coming into the project I knew that it would most likely NOT get to the root of the problem, it would just alleviate the overwhelming feeling associated with the amount of stuff in the house and the daunting task of trying to clean it up. As the project went on the other issues began to affect my own psychological well-being. Just when I thought my role as a member of the family would help in the clean-up, it turned out that my role made me more susceptible to being more emotionally affected, and subsequently emotionally unfit to really help.

Meanwhile, the little bit of savings from my few months of working disappeared into the project, and my life back at the university was calling. As much as my family appreciated my help with the house, I could tangibly feel their disappointment in me for dropping out of school. Out of money, out of energy, and out of emotional patience, I decided to slowly ween myself away from the house. The house was just one aspect of my life that while I was focused on it, I neglected everything else. I needed to find some balance, and resign myself to the fact that there are other people out there who are better trained and more suited to help my family.

After the 2010 holiday season I moved back to my college town, immediately got a new job and applied for readmission at the same university I left. I was accepted for admission in May this year and I just started classes again in July. I hope to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree by Spring 2012. And I continue to work on my own personal issues in therapy.

Up until now, I didn’t know how to explain all of the emotional and psychological dimensions this project had without getting emotionally wrapped up in my description. Seriously if I wrote this post several months ago, I would probably use a lot of expletives and burst into tears. Ultimately, it was all of that emotion that led me away from the project and I couldn’t accurately convey that until now.

I really appreciate the comments and emails many of you have sent throughout the project and now. Many people who read this site have been affected by hoarding in some way, and it helps to know that someone else understands not only the logistical magnitude of such an endeavor, but also the emotional weight that’s attached. Thank you again for your continued support.

But… what happened with the house?

I’ll save that story for another time. :]

10 thoughts on “A Year Later: The Emotion of the Stuff Project

  1. Dariane,
    I think you are so brave to come back and let us know what has been going on in your life. I have thought of you often over the past 10 months and wondered what was transpiring. It truly sounds like you are on the way to healing you – the only person you can truly control and heal. Good Luck with everything!


  2. REALLY great to hear your update Dariane. Congratulations on the mass of enormous achievements you’ve managed and very best wishes for your future – if that includes some more posts here, I’ll be delighted; as well as everything else, you are a talented writer! lots kfh X


  3. Thank you so much for coming back and updating us. I hope that you pat yourself on the back for the amount of work you did at your parents’ house, even if it didn’t work out just like you planned.

    If you’re up to it we’d really love to know how everything turned out. And congratulations on being back in school!


  4. Hang in there. There is no prescribed track for one’s life.

    Should you choose to do more cleaning, best wishes. Should you not, that’s fine too. It’s your parents mess, and you don’t have to take ownership.


  5. Thank you for letting me know you are alright. Whether you know it or not, you have made a brave step into helping yourself.

    Some of us have to be reminded …”you ARE the most important person you will ever meet”.


  6. Dariane,

    Thank you for the update. I can’t count the number of times I check your blog for an update since the last time you posted. I was so worried about you. You sounded so much like me when I take on an overwhelming project, and unfortunately, burnout can happen fast and hard.

    It was such a huge task to take on by yourself. I hope you know that you didn’t fail. You may not have completed the task you set before yourself, but you absolutely didn’t fail! Look at what you did accomplish! Fighting an uphill battle is hard enough, but fighting someone else’s uphill battle is on the verge of impossible. Hopefully, your family will realize it’s their responsibility and work through the hoard themselves and learn from it.

    On the bright side, you found yourself in the midst of your journey! A lot of people never find out who they are, what they need or what to expect of themselves in their entire lives. Some don’t even begin searching for themselves until they’re much older than you. Good for you that you’re coming into your own!

    I’m glad you’re in therapy and back at school. You sound satisfied with you, and that goes a long way!

    I hope you continue this blog, but if you choose not to, I hope you start another one and let us all know how to find it! :) Please take care of yourself!




  7. Thank you so much for the update! Also for leaving up the blog, instead of disappearing it when the project didn’t go the way you wanted. I’m glad the attempt was so good for you even if it was painful – making emotional progress is more important than the physical stuff.


  8. I understand your journey. Been there. still trying. I can not explain your courage or kindness for talking about it. … keep me posted please :)


  9. I missed this update and just came back after seeing your latest tweet. I am really glad you went back to focusing on building your own life, a job, education, therapy, you are a champ. Your care and concern for your family is very evident, they are lucky to have you. I didn’t want to see you swallowed up in a problem experts often fail to treat with any success.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *