October 31st, 2012

_The Hoarder in You_, Robin Zasio (kindle)

Subtitled: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life

I bought this in part because Zasio promises a "clutter continuum" and I couldn't find anyone who summarized it. So here's what I was looking for:

1. "Clear and Clean ... very few personal effects visible and those that those that are on display neatly arrayed". Nothing in the sink, beds made, everything put away, remotes by the TV, closets neat, nothing bought impulsively, finds organizing enjoyable. Pets, if any, well cared for. If I live alone and don't have any project going for a while, this is what my life becomes. I disapprove of it on general principles.

2. "Neat but dynamic", stuff more or less where it belongs, but stuff in process: dish in sink, mail on counter, projects in progress, book or DVD out, closets not perfect. Functional, but someone obviously lives here; it's not a hotel. This is my goal state.

3. "Controlled chaos" things near where they belong but don't necessarily have or are not in their home. Piles of "stuff", double shelved books, laundry backlog, dishes may stay in the sink a while, pet hair visible, careful when you open closets. I spent a number of years here after having kids; I'm attempting to get back out of it.

4. "Clutter Crisis" food from previous meal(s) visible and maybe not on a dining table, shoes scattered, bad food in the fridge, all dishes may be dirty at once, bathroom needs cleaning, closets overfull, people you live with may complain. I scream at people when my living environment reaches this point.

5. "Borderline Hoarding" Litter box nasty, ants, roaches, rooms inaccessible because full of stuff, can't see your desk, but you can walk through the hallways. You kick things out of the way when moving around.

And that's where her continuum ends; presumably beyond #5 it moves into the classic stages of hoarding.

Don't buy the book if this is what you are buying the book for. However, buying the book is absolutely worth while, because the author is phenomenally compassionate and communicates well. She reframes. She manages to simultaneously help people relate to hoarders by showing the shared aspects of the thought processes AND point out the cognitive distortions that lead to a bad living environment. Neat trick.

Zasio is relentlessly incrementalist, which I fully approve of, and I was absolutely fascinated about her descriptions of negative and positive ways to relate to friends/family/people you live with you have more severe difficulties with their relationships with things. She spends a little time and some language of codependency and enabling, but mostly stays focused on the importance of advocating for one's own needs consistently and constructively.

She does not believe in complex organizational schemes, which I applaud, and recognizes that different people have different organizational preferences and believes that those need to be respected.

This isn't a "tips and tricks" book; to the extent it includes tips and tricks, anyone who has read a half dozen articles and/or books about personal organization/decluttering/etc. has as many if not more tips and tricks. My usual strategy is to forage in that kind of book, website or article for ideas, knowing that most of what is included won't be helpful to me (and often knowing exactly _why_, because I've tried it and experienced how it failed), but hoping to find something I haven't tried yet that seems like it might work. Zasio instead is more about getting to know yourself and how you think and feel, learn how to adjust how you think and feel (to the extent it is unhelpful to you), and then learn how you naturally organize things and build upon those innate approaches.

It's great. I cannot recommend it enough. I'm sure there are equally good books out there about hoarding (Frost and Steketee have a few out that look good), but Zasio's book straddles a great line between how-to-get-organized-in-general and CBT-for-hoarders that I, personally, found revelatory.

Also, when Zasio says that more men probably have these kinds of issues but women are more likely to get help for them? Pretty sure she's right about that.

Trick or Treat

Last year, due to "Snowtober" (did I mention that I've put October 29 on my perpetual calendar as a day to prepare for?), Halloween was delayed in our town (as it has been this year in all of New Jersey). Because we were out of state for the snow-delay Halloween date, the kids missed Halloween in 2011, other than some time at R.'s workplace and what T.'s school did for him.

No delay this year, so I took A. around the long "block". I had the presence of mind to bring the wagon, so I wouldn't have to carry her, her candy and the flashlight. So that was good. We had a nice time. T. didn't want to go, so he and R. stayed home and handed out candy at the house. When I got back with A., T. decided that maybe going out and getting candy would be good, and we did a dozen houses but not the whole block. A. was a fire chief; T. was an EMT. I had one of my capes and a top hat. I hadn't figured out what exactly I was; someone guessed Jekyll and Hyde (we're friends; it's okay). I said I was aiming for "generic Dickensian". It worked well: warm, but I could open it up when I got warm.

A. and I didn't do that many more houses than T. and I did -- maybe twice as many. She got tired pretty fast but didn't want to turn around, so we continued and mostly stopped at houses of people that my walking partner and I see people at on our daily walks. It makes the whole experience feel exceedingly "small neighborhood"; I really missed it last year.

T. is sufficiently independent that I don't even have to go to the door with him any more. And not having to walk all the way down those driveways and front paths makes a difference.