When to walk away from all of your stuff?
November 6, 2021 5:53 PM   Subscribe

I find myself with a lot of personal affects in a very large apartment that I'm having trouble moving out of. Landlord ended tenancy, and I am living in poverty, disabled but not on disability yet, (had rent assistance but the issue was building safety). The thing is, I had some (but not enough) help moving stuff out, but I still have so much.

I have a comically large apartment I am moving out of into an almost comically small university dorm apartment. I am struggling to do this. I am a 45 year old petite woman with bad shoulders, with some mental health struggles, and I'm flailing here. I have a lot of stuff that needs to be moved, put into storage, or tossed. I am about a week after my move out time, and by the grace of god my landlords have let me be (there is a lot of back story I'm not including to keep this short but there are not new tenants moving in).

The problem is that there is a lot more than I think I can physically move, as well as a lot of stuff I'm just having trouble figuring out if I should or should not keep. I moved in all of it in over time, and had more help, brought things out of storage to save money. I'm now less physically able, older, and two of the people who helped in the past are no longer around. Covid left me disconnected from people too, so I'm feeling lost for getting help. Mind you, I HAVE had help, we were able to get my bed and some big furniture out.

The other issue, I really am struggling with feeling like things have gotten kind of hoarder-y for me. I've fallen into poverty in the time since my husbands death, I especially had a rough go over the past year or so, wasn't able to get PUA, dropped of school again, was really REALLY depressed and isolated, had so little money that I started to hold on to everything just in case. Now it's like i don't have the luxury to figure that out, keep trying to, but I'm already almost a week past when I was supposed to leave.

I am moved into my new place, mostly, because I did find some help for two of the days. But I'm a small woman and there is a lot left. When I still had a lot to move over after getting help with moving a few big items, I tried packing items I planned to move to my new apartment in lots of boxes and keeping light, figuring more trips would be the way to get it done. And two car trips kicked my ass and aggravated my longstanding shoulder problems. So I'm looking around wondering how on earth I can do the rest. Nevermind that there are items still I think are just going to be too big for me no matter what. Some I had help moving in, some I moved in disassembled and put together, which I doubt I have time for.

I even have a storage unit because a friend from out of town paid so I wouldn't have to get rid of things or do this sort of sorting. And the two days I had help, we did move larger items and the smaller items I had time to box into storage.

I'm also just afraid of moving things into storage and they sit, unsorted, becoming more clutter. In fact, that is some of the issue - I've been on the move so much prior to moving in here, that I had unsorted documents that were thrown into boxes then never got aroudn to doing it. I don't know what is and is not important. Now there is even more. :(

Also I have adhd, so its pretty clear that is playing a role.

I've downsized/got rid of a lot already - in some ways there isn't THAT much left, but even if I were just to get the rest boxed up, its a choice between throwing it all together and trying to figure out if anyone can help me move it out, or trying to sort the rest.

The other thing that is weighing on me though is that I have some things for school, for disability, for vocational rehab that are hanging out there, undone, and I genuinely believed I would have gotten more done leading up to the move (yeah, that's probably adhd again, couldn't see how big the task was).

Then there is the other side, there is a lawyer involved through my university's legal clinic. He is encouraging me to get the place cleaned up and empty so I can take them to court over some issues related to my tenancy. So I keep struggling, trying to figure out what to do. He encouraged me to ask help of anyone I could. I tried, I really did, but I feel like whatever friend network I did have scattered to the wind during covid times.

I was in this position once before, and I thought it would take me a few days to finish up. Instead it took close to a month. It was like I couldn't see how much I had to do. Now I do have much less, even with what I have left BUT I'm also just in worse physical shape and have more demands on my time RIGHT NOW.

So when do I walk? How do I make that decision? If I don't, how do I get through the store or toss part? I have ALMOST everything I"m moving into my new apartment here, but there are still items that either won't fit but I know I want to keep, items I boxed up that I'm unsure about, and then stuff that might be replaceable but not now when I'm this broke.

There is also the goddamn adhd. I've a couple times told myself to just box up x, y, z for storage, get rid of the rest. Then, I start working on it, and I realize I *could* use this thing, or I had forgotten about this other thing so should I keep or not? Maybe? Or I have something in the donate box, and now I change my mind.

And again, I have gotten rid of A LOT already, or in some cases made the decision too, and its bagged, boxed, or piled but I can't get it out myself. Its the remainder I'm unsure about, the ability to move what I think I do want to keep, and questioning how to deal with what I'm still figuring out to keep or get rid of.
posted by [insert clever name here] to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I don’t have ADHD, so this may/may not help.
Keep it simple:
Have I used this in the last six months? If the answer is No, it goes into the “give away/trash” pile.
If the answer is Yes, put it in the keep pile.
With only one thing to consider, it may be easier to sort through stuff. Yes, you may get rid of a few things that, down the road, you wish you hadn’t, but the 2-question method really keeps you from the second-guessing.
I wish you peace, and good luck.
posted by dbmcd at 6:01 PM on November 6, 2021 [7 favorites]

If you have a local buy nothing group (usually on Facebook) it is comical what people will take; old eggshells for compost bins, have used shampoo and lotion bottles, ketchup packets for fast food. I give you permission to just throw away items but if you really must have things given away, it can be a great way to do it.

I’ve also see local “mom” groups (not necessarily for moms, but people who are generally riding the struggle bus) where a group comes over and just helps you clean up and sort through all your shit. If someone else could help chime in with a name, that would be great.

As for all the documents you can find, put them in one place, get them to your new living situation and deal with it then.

And remember that you’re not a “bad” person for dealing with an extremely tough time.
posted by raccoon409 at 6:35 PM on November 6, 2021 [8 favorites]

Is there an active church community near you who you might be able to appeal to for help? You could contact them, tell them you're living in poverty and with a disability and in need of some short-term help to move house.

Would the storage your friend is paying for, be big enough to contain the stuff you've still got at the house, if you had a team of willing workers from the church with you for a day to box things up and move them while you supervised?

That does kick some of the problem down the line, but at the moment I'd imagine the pressure of the deadline is probably making it even harder to think and act. If you can at least get out of the house, then you have more time to deal with the rest. Maybe one box at a time, brought to your new place, when you're free of time pressure.
posted by penguin pie at 6:39 PM on November 6, 2021 [8 favorites]

I'm sorry you're dealing with this. It sounds like a lot for anyone to take on.

I would send a text to everyone in your phone who is local to you asking for help, even if you haven't talked to them in awhile. There's a bunch of friends I've lost contact with during covid that I would jump at the chance to help them because I still care about them. If an acquaintance contacted me about something like this, I would also be happy to help out.

I wouldn't worry too much about making the right decision when it comes to keeping or getting rid of stuff. You can always worry about replacing or donating items at a later date. Since you have space for it in the storage unit, to me it makes sense to put the stuff in there until you're in a better place to get to it.

Do you have a local Buy Nothing group on Facebook? I've off-loaded a lot of stuff this way. Post it for pick up only.
posted by pumpkinlatte at 6:43 PM on November 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

Here's a test: how about I said tomorrow was the day to walk away from all of the stuff you have there? Like, call your local charities and see if they'll take everything?

If you're like me, the few things you gasped and thought you really must have are the only ones to take.

Everything else? Call your local Goodwill or Big Brother's or whoever and see if they'll take everything if you meet them there. Your life is hard enough. Having a bunch of stuff you might or might not want weighing on you as you try to move forward with all of the other issues will only complicate things. Good luck!
posted by ldthomps at 7:05 PM on November 6, 2021 [5 favorites]

Almost everything can be replaced. Even if you can’t have an exact duplicate toaster oven or like, the same collection of books or whatever, pretty much anything a person has in their home can be swapped for another thing that does the same job. Beautiful art? You can’t get the same piece again, but you will find more art in the future to love. Jeans that actually fit? Might be a hard one to replace but ill-fitting pants are worth peace of mind. Even things that hold memories of people you may have lost can be substituted by photos of the things, or writing those memories down in a journal.

The thing that stops me from urging you to just cut things loose and slowly get new things to fit your new space is your documents. These are often way more of a hassle to get replacements for than anything else.

If you have a good idea of where they might be, I would put those boxes in the front of your storage space and put “find documents” in your calendar with a half hour window multiple times. If they are really just scattered everywhere among the stuff, make finding them your soul purpose. Shove things around until you have some clear space. Then start in one corner and just move through things with the intention of keeping ONLY the documents you are looking for, and nothing else.

It will feel really hard but the fact is that you are moving to a much smaller space. If you think hoarding disorder is looming for you that should be even more motivation to start as fresh as you can. Psychologically you have to allow yourself to value your own body, freedom to move, and your relationships with other people in the world over the things that are weighing you down. The storage unit is generous but dangerous, especially if your adhd is the type where if you don’t see a thing it floats out of your mind. After finding the few things you truly can’t replace, I would highly suggest selling the contents as a lot.

As for the adhd, there are a lot of techniques that might or might not help you stay on task. The thing that works best for me is lazy pomodoro technique, basically. Set a timer for ten minutes, and during that time do one specific thing, like wash dishes, or go through one box, or sort clothes. Take a five minute break to space out, and then set another timer for a focused task. It can be the same task or a different one. It doesn’t matter if you finished the task during that window or not. Eventually, set the timer for longer intervals, working up to about half an hour. That seems to be the amount of time people can really focus on one thing well. And always take breaks! It really really helps. You might need to set a timer for “get set up to start doing stuff” where you look at what needs doing and think about it with focus, and then take a break before actually starting a task. That’s okay and helps me a lot.

I’ve had to cull my living spaces a few times over the years, and I’ve helped other people too. It always goes faster and better with a friend, even if they are just keeping company and not doing any of the work. If you can reach out to basically anyone for help, do so. You can even set up a zoom call or something so a person is just hanging with you through a screen while you sort.

There will be regret when you realize you are looking for a thing that you’ve gotten rid of. But that thing, whatever it will be, is not the make it or break it piece of your life that it might feel like it is now.
posted by Mizu at 8:58 PM on November 6, 2021 [7 favorites]

So a friend of mine went through something similar recently. She found a "cleaning buddy" -- someone who would sit with her on video chat while she went through one small thing at a time. One corner. One bin. One cabinet. One type of clothing. One shelf. One countertop. That person was just there to listen to her while she talked, and to gently encourage her to keep going. Getting through one thing at a time, with someone there on video chat with you, with at least a 20 minute break between tasks, may help.

She actually found someone who did this professionally. You may be able to ask a friend to do that with you.
posted by erst at 9:20 PM on November 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

I want to suggest an estate sale company. Some of them will work for a cut, so you can't lose money. And it helps make it not your problem deciding whether something is "worthy". I don't know if it would really be practical for what you're looking at but it would certainly feel better for me in your situation than just giving it all away without even looking through it.
posted by Lady Li at 12:31 AM on November 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

So when do I walk? How do I make that decision?

If you walk away and leave a bunch of stuff behind, your landlord is going to have to hire someone to move it all and either store it or dispose of it according the your local laws for this kind of thing, a large hassle and expense which he may try to recoup from you.

So talk to your landlord and explain the situation, find out how he normally deals with these situations. Even if he is not prepared to be helpful it's better to know in advance how he will approach it and what that may cost you.
posted by Lanark at 2:09 AM on November 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

I second the suggestion of an estate sale company.
posted by Sublimity at 4:14 AM on November 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

First I want to say, hey there fellow human.  It sounds like you have been through some hard times.  Like really hard times.  Please accept from me a virtual hug, or whatever form of human to human acknowledgment would land best with you.  I am so sorry about all the shit that has gone down.

I think it's fine to say NOW.  TODAY.  Today is the time to walk away from all your stuff.  You needed to be out a week ago.  This is an emergency.  Put up a message on a Buy Nothing group, or several such with ONE PICTURE and say everything free to the first person who can get there and move it out.  Lots of people make their living reselling stuff and this will be a windfall for them.

Get through the day of that person moving everything out.  It will focus you on what needs to be grabbed and dealt with later.

Don't worry about what might be lost.  People lose everything in fires, etc. all the time.  It happens.  You'll be ok, re stuff.

The deadline is now, you had to be out a week ago.  Today is the time to walk away from all your stuff.

I'm sorry things are so hard and our society is so shitty about dealing out the help.  Hopefully this will be the beginning of good things.  Love to you.
posted by Jenny'sCricket at 4:14 AM on November 7, 2021 [7 favorites]

First of all, I just feel for you so much, as someone who also as ADHD and mobility problems and who has been through some hellish moves. Also I totally get how poverty can lead to some hoarding tendencies - I'm a bit more stable financially now after years of just barely scraping by, but I definitely went through that "what if I get rid of this thing then need it later but can't afford to buy it again? Or even if I can afford to buy it, that's money that could have gone to other stuff?"

I know how executive function issues can make it so easy to get overwhelmed and then it's like your brain just gives you a 404 error every time you try to deal with stuff. I know it's not ideal, but I think you should just focus on getting your stuff out of the apartment. Forget about sorting things out, or whatever. Ideally, you would be able to find a way to get it into the storage unit so you can sort through it later.

Do you know anyone with teenage or college age kids who might be willing to help move stuff for a day for much cheaper than standard movers? Do you have a facebook? Can you post to facebook asking for help or asking if anyone knows someone who might be willing to help you with this for a day? The suggestion to check with a church is a good one. Maybe Unitarian?

Can your friend from out of town spend some time on a zoom video chat with you while you sort out the most important stuff to keep?

One technique that can be helpful is the post it note thing. Get different color post it notes. One color for "new apartment", another for "storage unit", another for trash/give away. Or make it even simpler and just have one color for "definitely need to keep this" and another for "not essential to keep." Then just set a timer for like 15 minutes in each room and run around and stick post it notes on as many things as you can. Don't give yourself time to think or debate. Make it like a game. How many post it notes can you stick on something.

I'm so sorry that you are having to deal with all of this.
posted by litera scripta manet at 4:30 AM on November 7, 2021

Your new university’s student services folks may also be able to help! (They may go by “student services”, “student affairs”, an office of a “dean of students”, etc., and would include the folks responsible for student housing. Your university probably also has a counselling center. Either could put you in touch with any relevant volunteer groups on campus, or with a student group who could put a call-out for volunteers to help move your stuff to your storage unit. Other university-affiliated options: if your university has a Women’s Center or a (feminist) student women’s group. Or, some programs may require students to do a certain number of volunteer hours (eg. this is the case for the Community Development program at my university) and someone at your university could connect you up with students who need some volunteering opportunities.

As penguin pie suggests, in many ways this just kicks the issue down the road, but it would solve the immediate situation in a lower-stress way, and then you’ll only be dealing with one stressful component of the move at a time, which would make it more manageable. The idea is to get help from a more organized group, to make use of other people’s social circles not just your own, and to have help with the executive organizational logistics.
posted by eviemath at 7:38 AM on November 7, 2021

First, I'm sorry you're in this hard situation. I spent two years Marie Kondo-ing my belongings to downsize from a big house to a small apartment, then put stuff in storage and moved abroad with two suitcases; later I lost most of my stuff, which was so painful. A friend I had never met in person helped sort my stuff via videochat and then sent it to me, and I will be forever grateful for her help. And also so grateful to the friends who put me up and helped me when I was so far from my home during COVID and essentially homeless for almost a year. After not having enough, I'm back in an apartment where I now have more than enough and now need to start sorting and donating again. I really wish I were closer by so I could come over and we could drink coffee and eat cookies and just sit together with your stuff so you feel that solidarity that it be OK. Because it totally will be! The fact that you want to make progress is a sign that everything will work out eventually.

I don't have ADHD but I have OCD so I know all about hoarder tendencies: absolutely no judgment there and it's SO MUCH more common than you'd think because those of us who deal with it ourselves and/or with a family member often feel so much stigma. (The good news is that people are being more understanding now!!) For me, the challenge is that I'm emotionally and sometimes physically overwhelmed by all the stuff. I'm hesitant to give stuff away that I might need, especially if things get rough again, and I feel guilty giving away things that were given to me. I see a family connection in all of this for me where there is both generosity and guilt. It's never just about the stuff, right?!

As for you, you CAN and WILL be able to sort, donate, and trash items. I found the old show Clean House to be very positive as was reading the Marie Kondo books and making my own version of her cleanse. You will definitely be able to find a local group like Goodwill (but maybe not Goodwill where you live) to come take bigger items and bags of smaller items: they offer this service to everyone and explaining that you can't take things due to physical limitations will surely make them even more willing to help. I'd try little things like taking a grocery store bag of trash out or putting a few items on the street, arranged well, with a sign "Free!" Deciding to sort 5 things a day. Cleaning and sorting is like a muscle or at least a skill that we can get better with time, so those little victories lead to bigger ones later. For now, can you just focus on the few things left that you need and/or love and open yourself to giving up the rest?

That said, you have a time crunch so I agree that simply getting rid of a lot of the stuff left is best if you can. I think you should also celebrate all the amazing things you've accomplished with your move: YOU ARE AWESOME AND DOING GREAT!! And once this is done -- and it will be eventually -- you will be glad and probably miss very few things! I have written a lot and it's kind of all over but hopefully you feel some more support, solidarity, and encouragement.
posted by smorgasbord at 10:56 AM on November 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

I’m on my phone so it’s hard to type all that i’m thinking, but wanted to say, before i forgot, that , like a poster above, I too have found virtual company plus pomodoro (some times) technique, very helpful for all sorts of dread inducing overwhelming tasks , including stuff sorting .. i’m doing a lot of stuff sorting myself lately - soo feel free to memail me if virtual presence / coworking idea feels helpful. i’d be down for it : ) (same goes for other mefites, if this struck a chord with anyone else reading here ! )
posted by elgee at 11:06 AM on November 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Ooh I love your idea of a virtual working hangout, elgee!
posted by smorgasbord at 11:28 AM on November 7, 2021

Response by poster: I wanted to update and say this choice was taken out of my hands. I did get more out with some last minute help from the friend that helped the following weekend - which was good, because I ultimately was locked out by my landlord after I discovered they entered without notice and permission, started throwing things out, appeared to have taken a bunch of items that had value or utility (I went through the garbage bags and bins and those items were gone), although there was more left as in they started but didn't finish. I didn't go in one day to keep moving things because I was physically exhausted after friends help, and the next day when I returned, that was when I found they had entered. I was pissed because even though I was a hold over tenant, they still didn't serve me papers and they have three additional months of rent they received from covid-19 rent assistance (yes, as I said, there is some more to this story I didn't include).

I took what I could that day, waited to speak with lawyer at legal aid, he confirmed that they shouldn't be doing this because even best case where they believed I had abandoned my property, the way state law and my lease was written, they would have to hold on to my property for a period of time before destroying , and I was still a legal tenant even though a hold over, no court order, etc... plus the overpayment of rent probably meant they shouldn't have been ending tenancy without returning the additional rent to myself or to the housing group that was distributing the aid.

It took me 2 days to speak to legal aid after I found that, and didn't go back in that time. Legal aid confirmed they shouldn't have entered, and they shouldn't have destroyed/taken anything, but since they had, his advice was to get what was personally irreplaceable out, and we'd deal with the rest in civil case, and if they did confront me when I returned to record audio/video (my concern was in part now they might escalate any confrontation). When I tried to return, they had changed the locks. This was an illegal lock out, and I would have been in my rights to call the police for self help eviction, but I just didn't have it in me to fight this anymore and I already was/am feeling pressed for time, so I'm basically going to have to deal with this in court. I know it would have been better to call police and get police report, but honestly I'm running out of steam and could only put energy into what matters for future.

It sucks, there was some items that I really did want to keep that I just didn't get quite far enough. Things like sketchbooks, notebooks that had sentimental value. Some of the documents I was worried about I took out with the friend, but some were left. Everything else, I'd argue I can replace, though who knows how this is going to work out in court (worried this is going to be trying to squeeze blood from a stone).

All this happened with landlords that tried multiple self help eviction attempts when I had covid-19 eviction protection, and while I did get the city involved, all they made them do was undo what they were doing. So this isn't really a surprise ending, but it is really disappointing.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:20 PM on November 20, 2021

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