My Husband Isn't a Hoarder, He's Just Sentimental
If my bad habit of extreme laziness made a cubic foot of mess, my husband's bad habit of intense organization led to a 400 square foot mess. Stacks and stacks of paperwork, neatly organized in boxes, drawers and fireproof tubs. Every cancelled check since the first one he ever wrote. Every bill he'd ever received, grouped by vendor and alphabetized. Every major newspaper's coverage of the Oklahoma City Bombing, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 Presidential Election. I'd been in the garage many, many times over the years, but mostly we used it for storage. So I had never really looked.
I suppose I always knew my husband had a problem, if you can call it a problem. He's meticulous and precise, and he never loses his car keys or forgets a doctor's appointment. The way he keeps our checkbook makes me hope for an audit just to render the IRS speechless when they see his bookkeeping. I didn't know, though, that we had let the back of the nightstand, or the inside of the garage, get so bad.
It'd be easy to call Jim a hoarder. But if I called TLC, I know the camera crews would show up, take one look at the garage and its extreme order--and the lack of cat poop and empty egg shells--and walk away telling their executives there's no story here. With the movers impatiently waiting for us to pack up the remains of the garage, I looked around and wondered if Jim was, in fact, a hoarder. The slips of paper he saved about his health insurance from his first job. His orientation packet from University of Southern California film school. Every Star Wars trading card (three sets of each one, he explained; one to play with and two to keep in mint condition for resale). And magazines. Oh, the magazines.
As I looked, really looked at what he had saved, robust a collection as it was, I could see he had made choices. He didn't actually keep everything. He kept things that had meaning to him. When I found the first note I ever wrote him, just a random piece of paper with directions to a restaurant scribbled on it, I realized my husband wasn't a hoarder, he was sentimental, and while I was furious at the amount we had to sift through that day, I didn't want him to change. I didn't want there to be a "New House Rule" in which Jim was forced to throw away things that mattered.
Unfortunately, that wasn't how Jim saw it. He was angry at himself for weeks. After we were officially moved into the house and rid of our old one, he spent his nights and weekends out in the garage going through all his collections. He recycled bins and bins of papers and newspapers and checks and notes. He donated clothes and books and even furniture. I would peek out the window to see him shredding documents and cursing at himself by the light of the moon. I felt conflicted because, while I was loving how little clutter we had, I worried he would throw away too much, maybe even the stuff we really should keep.
Changing environments or life circumstances can modify behavior. My father-in-law quit smoking the day my husband was born. I stopped biting my nails when I got my first job out of college. Lowery gave up the bottle at 11 months when she discovered how she could shove avocado in her mouth by herself.
Jim stopped hoarding his life away once he really started living it.
In the new house I find that, so far, I have done a load of laundry and a load of dishes every night. I keep our jackets hung up and towels off the bathroom floor. We cook more, walk more and rest more, and not because the new house is magical, or perfect, or even that much better than our old house. It's just that the move gave us a chance to reevaluate our behaviors and an excuse to change. There's a difference, however, between a habit and a personality.
After a month of living in the new house I was tiding up the living room and noticed a piece of paper stuck between two books on the shelf. I pulled it out and noticed it was a piece of junk mail addressed to Jim and me, or "current resident." I wondered why Jim stuck this in the books but knowing him so well, I figured it out: It was the first piece of mail we received at our new home. He stuck it between two books thinking this was different from stacking it neatly in the garage. It was a new way of doing an old habit.