I can't seem to hang onto anything.
July 27, 2008 5:18 PM   Subscribe

I am a purger. How do I stop throwing away so many things and start collecting?

I suspect most people with OCD are hoarders. I am the opposite. My friends admire me for how minimalistic, organized, and "Zen" my home and computer spaces are. Yet, the flip side is that I constantly throw away things that I later regret tossing. This includes important items too, like a recent state employment department letter.

It's crazy, I know. My first reaction when cleaning house is not, "How might this be useful in the future," but instead, "Is there any way I can get rid of this?" I am completely unsentimental and merciless in purging things. A few years ago I canned a newly-purchased $250 watch because I became tired of winding it every day. I gave away a 5.1 speaker system to a neighbor when I felt the wires were unsightly.

I have improved since then; however, I still admire greatly people who can do what I can't yet do: build gigantic collections of music, books, coins, photos, whatever.

For example, I read a lot. I'd like to have a book collection so I can reference previously-read books, show people who visit my house what I'm interested in, etc. Despite reading hundreds of books in my lifetime, my current collection is a mere ten books... and even those are in danger! I'm sorely tempted to sell them for cash/trade value. They're just sitting around! It bugs me. It feels wasteful, and it takes a tremendous amount of discipline to not get rid of them.

I'm especially interested in hearing from people like me, because I don't know anyone who "purges" like me. I'd also love to hear from people who have big collections, people who can explain the mentality of how one goes about acquiring and retaining things in a deliberate, organized fashion. Thanks!
posted by wastelands to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

I come from a long line of purgers. My mother throws out anything which is not in its appropriate place or fixed, which in the past has meant un-read newspapers minutes after their arrival in the home. My family is constantly saying "What happened to...?". I can never pay for parking because of my obsession with getting rid of change out of my wallet. It's all the same brand of neurotic, I suspect. In my case, I am secretly, on the inside, a shambolic wreck, and I overcompensate by being super organised and tidy.

I've balanced my inclination to throw things now, after I jettisoned one too many things that I regretted parting with - mainly clothes with major sentimental value. I don't think in essence the neatness urge is a problem (it's just about control of your environment, and life), but throwing valuable things that you later regret parting with is. I would say you should create a zone for items in the firing line, be it a cupboard, a room, a box, or a shelf. Put things in here when the zen blindness comes over you, and make a time monthly to re-visit an give them a second thought.

I know that in your mind, you will still know the clutter is still there, lurking in that box/cupboard/room, but at least it's out of your sight. I'm not talking about all items - just, say, documents and things over a certain value. You can make your own rules as you go, but this should work.
posted by lottie at 5:38 PM on July 27, 2008

I should have added that what I wrote above is a first step. Collecting things may not really be in your make-up. I would also say that displaying things you love or value (books/records/artwork/whatever) in an organised and visually pleasing way will help you come to terms with it still being in your home, cluttering up your life.
posted by lottie at 5:40 PM on July 27, 2008

I'm somewhat of a purger myself, though it doesn't sound like to the degree that you are. Especially when it comes time to move (which I do a lot) or give my place a serious cleanin' I find myself throwing out/selling virtually everything I own.

First and foremost you need to pick something that you have an emotional connection to. You need to have a real motivation for keeping it around, I don't think just wanting stuff is enough. You're a big reader, so just focus on that, and start slow. Make a list of, say, your twenty favorite books. Ones that you know you'll want to re-read, reference, or discuss with visitors. These aren't just decorations, these are an active part of your life, and that's the key. They serve an active purpose.

Once you have those twenty make another list and go from there. It might do you well to go ahead and buy a small bookshelf (I'm assuming you don't have one) once you have those first twenty. Might be good motivation to fill it instead of letting the shelves get dusty (function over form...I know one of my personal quirks is that I hate having furniture or shelf space that doesn't really serve a purpose), and you might feel better about the idea if your books weren't just stacked around the place, but had their own organized spot. Alphabetize them, too.
posted by Roman Graves at 5:44 PM on July 27, 2008

Best answer: i, too, am a purger.

my family jokes that when i have my own place, i will have just have a bed and no other furniture because that would be too "cluttery".

one thing that helps me is not being able to see stuff. if i have to keep things (toiletries, documents, books, stationery, etc.) i like to keep it in cabinets, in closets -- wherever i can't see it. it still has to be perfectly organized (closing a door on a mess? i'd have nightmares) but at least i don't see it.

this is not to say that having closets/cupboards means i keep a lot of stuff. i still purge stuff regularly. i am able to keep important things, though, as long as i don't have to look at them. it's tough, especially since i live in a student house -- my room is my bedroom, my office, my place to hang out, etc.

maybe "hiding" the stuff will help..?
posted by gursky at 6:53 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As someone who studies collectors, I think one thing that marks a collector is knowledge of the stuff being collected. Collectors have a passion for a subject that leads them to learn more about it and then to acquire the things that they have learned about. If you don't have such a passion, I'm not sure you can become a collector, because you need to be able to retain an enormous amount of information about the subject, and only passion and time makes it possible to do so effectively. It's one thing to say, "This book might be useful at some point," but quite another to say, "This is one of seven books published by X Press in limited editions with engravings by artist Y, and therefore it deserves a place in my collection." Unless you live in the sticks, a good library with interlibrary loan can turn up most books you might want, so the collecting passion has to go further. Otherwise it's just hoarding.

These days, the virtual world can help. LibraryThing lets you catalogue your books online, and I know some users who use it to catalogue books they have read, or owned at one point, even if they no longer own them. I use a ScanSnap scanner to scan documents I might want to examine later, as long as I don't need a physical copy for legal reasons. I'll photograph memorabilia that I no longer want to keep but that have some nostalgia value. With ginormous hard drives and Spotlight (for Macs) or Google Desktop, you can have as much digital clutter as you want but keep it out of sight.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:07 PM on July 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

I am *exactly* the same way. Like a pack-rat, but at the opposite end of the spectrum.

I sold my entire CD collection on eBay a couple of years ago. I don't own a single CD, DVD, or book. I rent, check stuff out from libraries, stream, borrow -- or as a last resort, buy with the intent to resell or give away when I'm done.

At least once a week I find myself surveying my belonging and asking myself, "Do I really need this thing?" "Can't I hook my laptop up to my TV to play DVDs? Do I really need a separate DVD player?" for example. I've thrown or given away plenty of expensive things that I just didn't like anymore... the thought of tossing it into the back of the closet to be forgotten... I just couldn't do that.

Clutter is so distracting. I don't see any reason why you should change. Try to make a better attempt to only buy things that you *really* need, then there will be less that goes to waste. If you think your friends would like a book you've read, give a copy to them, you don't need your own personal library.
posted by whiskeyspider at 7:15 PM on July 27, 2008

One reason I'm a packrat is that I believe in the "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" philosophy a little too much. Can you remind yourself that keeping some useful stuff is an environmental benefit, because you won't have to buy it again.
posted by theora55 at 7:33 PM on July 27, 2008

I'm thinking that it's one thing to toss/give away/purge consumer goods, but quite another to clear out important records and paperwork (like that state employment department letter). Tossing out that kind of stuff can have some big repercussions.

Do you have a file cabinet or an accordion file to (neatly) keep that stuff, for the long or short term?
posted by Sublimity at 8:13 PM on July 27, 2008

It might help to figure out why you purge. When you start to feel the urge to get rid of things, what thought, feelings and beliefs are driving you? What are you afraid might happen if you don't? For example, horders might believe that they won't have what they need in the future if they let go of anything. Having things around them (even if actually useless) reassures them they wont half to go without.

I'm slightly on the hoarder side so I really don't know what might be driving you to purge. However, knowing why it feels so important to purge will allow you to do allow a little cognitive therapy on yourself - figure out how to argue with yourself when you feel the urge to do something that you know is not what you want for yourself.
posted by metahawk at 9:11 PM on July 27, 2008

Response by poster: Clutter is so distracting. I don't see any reason why you should change.

I outlined why I wanted to change in my post: In order to obtain the pleasures of collecting, such as being able to reference books easily, the aesthetics and conversation piece that a book collection provides, etc. I see benefits in collecting things, benefits which I do not currently enjoy.

Do you have a file cabinet or an accordion file to (neatly) keep that stuff, for the long or short term?

Yes, I do keep super important records in a cabinet. There are some things that are so important (e.g. Social Security card) that they escape even my notorious purges. I used the employment department letter as an extreme, recent example.

It might help to figure out why you purge.

I have known why for a long time. I do it because it gives me a sense of order, cleanliness, and control, which goes along with all the other OCD nonsense. In other words, I do it because it relieves anxiety. Why do I have anxiety? Fucked up childhood? Bad genes? Don't know.

Thanks for the thoughts, everyone!
posted by wastelands at 12:13 AM on July 28, 2008

If you suspect this is part of an anxiety issue, the first step is to really analyse what you are thinking and feeling when you throw stuff out. I have anxiety issues too and stopping in the moment and working out what you are doing and why is really important.

Then, once you know your triggers, pick something small to collect. Really small. For example, books by an author who has only written a dozen or so books that you really love. Buy nice editions of those and put them on display. Start with a collection that's relatively easy to complete. No use trying to collect the entire output of someone prolific like Neil Gaiman, for instance (believe me, at one point I tried) it will only frustrate you and you'll want to give up.

My husband and I clash when it comes to the collections in our home. I tend towards purges and liking things neat, he has thousands of books and records. The collections are not more organised than "sci fi on this shelf", "60s records on that shelf". Gradually over time he has started to become more organised since moving with this many things is an absolute nightmare and inevitably, at some point he started buying copies of things he'd forgotten he already had.

One thing I should note - anything that he doesn't love or is passionate about he donates or gives away. It's just that he loves so many types of music and literature that we have so many things :) I agree with brianogilvie that this is key. We inherited a few collections from a relative that we have no knowledge or interest in, and to us it's just stuff.
posted by wingless_angel at 12:40 AM on July 28, 2008

I'm pretty much a "purger" in much the same way, after growing up in a house stuffed full of junk everywhere. And yeah, it feels awesome to throw stuff away! I get anxious if there are stacks of "household stuff" everywhere. This ranges from books/magazines to computer crud, packaging from the odd purchase, empty bottles/cans... I go around the house every day throwing stuff out. What else am I gonna do, suck down Xanax in my junky house?

When I'm done and I can see all the clean, empty surfaces of everything flat, it just relaxes me. I don't question it (I'm gonna have to pay someone to clean out my parents' giant mcmansion stuffed with "antiques".) Most people I know just have too much crap, packed away in boxes, moved from house to house, never opened. It's a lifestyle choice, man. You don't have to be ashamed about not wanting to be burdened by a house full of junk you don't even wanna look at.

I feel okay about routing out all my CDs/records/books from time to time as long as they're common enough I could get another copy, and I get a few bucks for 'em at the half-price or used-record store.

Magazines, I just throw out. Tough titties, magazines.
posted by rubadub at 11:38 AM on July 29, 2008

« Older Help me be a one man band   |   Dear Fashion Diary Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.