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Healthy Reusing 101

Updated on November 9, 2009

I am the biggest supporter of reusing and recycling all in the name of cutting down on the trash we throw away and making the world a better place. But, when is reusing not reusing? Can you go too far in not throwing away things? Yes, it's called hoarding.

People who are hoarders never throw anything away. They seem to have an emotional need to gather around them objects that they "may need to use someday". At best, hoarders are called "pack rats" and their homes are cluttered and "messy" all the time. They resist getting rid of magazines, Christmas ornaments, old newspapers, glass jars, clothes that they will never wear again, etc. It is more than sentimentality, they have an emotional attachment to everything they bring into the house. At worst, their homes become fire and heath hazards and the clutter and junk overtake their lives. They guard their secret of hoarding from the outside world because somehow, deep down, they know something is wrong with living like this.

I am not a doctor or psychologist, and I am not attempting to write an exhaustive description or cure for hoarding. I was fast becoming a hoarder some years ago. Under the illusion that I was "saving money" by not getting rid of old clothes ("I'll make a quilt someday") or baby toys and books ("You never know; we might need them again"), or piles of old sheets ("Someday I'll cut these up for rags...but, wait! I might need them for something else first"), the junk was overtaking my life.

A life-changing event started me on the path to healthy reusing. Divorce. I moved across the country and simply could not take everything I owned. I had to start looking at my belongings in terms of "do I need this now" instead of "will I need this someday." Now, I'm not saying I brought only the necessities of life with me. There are many items that over the years have caused me to scratch my head and say to myself, "Why did I think I needed to bring that?". And, I still hang on to things I probably shouldn't.

But, I know that when you are reduced to a bed, a dresser, and the clothes that fit in a couple boxes and suitcases, you really evaluate what is truly important. I think if I had had the resources to hire a moving company all those years ago, I wouldn't be where I am today, in terms of saving. I'm glad I was forced to choose. I have seen people who have suffered a house fire, flood or tornado, and they always say, "Thank God everyone is okay. I didn't lose anything that was really important." And it's true. When you are reduced to the clothes on your back and your loved ones, saving plastic bags or shoes seems so distant and unimportant.

Last year I quit my job. I was terribly unhappy in a job that was simply a bad fit. Again, I felt like the "reset" button on my life was pushed. With all the new time on my hands, I set to cleaning out the attic and began reevaluating what I have. I am not exaggerating when I say I hauled seven mini van's full of clothes, furniture and household items to Goodwill. Each load was so empowering! Where getting rid of unusable clothes and junk used to give me pangs of anxiety, now it it's liberating. I'm giving other people the chance to use what I can't. I'm not wasting anything. I'm passing it on.

Anyone who knows me would probably snicker to hear me say I've uncluttered my life. I'm not into the minimalist look by any means. But, I'm finally getting to the point that I can be brutal about attacking junk mail and hauling my childrens' old clothes to the thrift store. It never occurred to me that I was hanging on to all this junk to make me feel in control of a life that has often been completely out of control. Or, rather, I've always felt that I had no control. I realize that instead of being a piece of driftwood in a torrential watershed, I can actually be in a boat with a paddle. Getting where I want to may be hard work (hey, I'd rather be in a power boat with a drink and big hat, but that hasn't happened yet), but I don't have to just drift with the current anymore.

Taking control of the clutter and replacing old, broken, useless junk with a few new items has given me such a sense of relief. I CAN replace that broken, horrible, nonworking washing machine with a sleek, front loading machine that can actually keep up with the laundry of a family of five, and the world didn't come to an end! I had used an old, garage sale blender for YEARS. It hardly had the power to puree cooked pumpkin and the blade assembly was frozen up most of the time (I didn't want to buy a new blade assembly for such an old blender!). One day I had an epiphany. In order to lose weight, I have gone to a high fiber, high nutrition, low fat diet and started drinking a fruit "smoothie" every day. I needed a blender that would grind six fruits and veggies into a drinkable consistency and my old blender just wasn't working. I packed it off to Goodwill and went and bought a new blender. For the first time in my 22 years as an adult, I am using a new blender. It works!! In fact, I've made so many smoothies since I bought it, the motor seems to be wearing out already. I won't wait so long next time I need a blender. And, I will probably buy a better one yet. Liberating!

If it causes you emotional or physical pain to give away furniture you don't have room for, clothes you haven't worn in years and dishes that are still new in the box, you may have a problem. Face it head on. Don't be afraid. Getting rid of junk won't change who you are except that it will prove to you that you ARE in control of your life. Control the junk, don't let it control you.


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