Monday, April 25, 2011

I was a teenage packrat.

I was a teenage packrat. And a child packrat. And an adult packrat, through the first half of my 20s.

"This is my teenage queer-feminist bedroom circa 2000 or 2001. I was a packrat among a family of packrats."

On Friday, I submitted these photos to the Teenage Bedroom tumblr site. Forty-seven people liked it or reblogged it! Of course, I feel a little validated, everyone wants their 15 nanoseconds of fame on the web, duuuuuh. And to some degree (I'm just being honest about my feelings), it feels more validating to be validated for a mess I made in high school by people obsessed with teenagers in the 90s (THERE IS A WHOLE WORLD OF THEM OUT THERE! It kinda blows my mind/amazes/fascinates me) than it does to be validated by real adults for my clutter clearing. Or not so much validating as cool. I am situated culturally/subculturally between those two groups. & I really really don't intend this to be an insult to anyone, I'm just really interested in the weird feelings I have about this particular situation!

On being an adult.
It may be cool to make a mess, but I would rather be an adult. I identify as an adult, I'm proud to be an adult and take care of myself and my home in an adult manner. I know a lot of people in my approximate age group do not, whether they are incapable of doing so, or choose not to. Of course, I am sometimes a little envious of that, people who are still out running around and going to late shows on weeknights and stuff like that. But I wouldn't trade it for getting up early and having the feeling that the world is mine. I wouldn't trade eating grease at restaurants for eating fucking amazing home cooked meals, and I wouldn't trade, oh, basically anything for the commitment I've made to DOING THE DISHES AND CLEANING THE KITCHEN every night before bed. Pretty much nothing feels better than waking up to a clean kitchen, and I'm speaking from my heart, man. Seriously.

On being a packrat.
There was no such thing as a clean kitchen when I was a kid. The kitchen sponge always smelled like ass from being left floating in a pot of food overnight, or over more than one night. I despised doing dishes, because it was so disgusting, because the dishes sat for way too long! I remember poking food bits down the drain with a knife because I was too grossed out to pick them out and throw them away.

I grew up in a family of packrats, and as a young person I never learned how to clean and I definitely never learned how to declutter. I remember making Barbie houses and leaving them up for weeks in the livingroom. I remember my mom trying to make me clean my room, when I was in kindergarten, and getting distracted playing with something I found, and her getting soooooooo mad and yelling at me. I remember screaming when I found a spider in a pile of clothes left on the floor. I remember being a little older and going on whirlwind cleaning sprees in the house and getting so mad at everyone in my family for leaving their junk everywhere, and my mom saying that I should just never clean the house if it was going to make me so mean. I remember my mom carting home a large, clear plastic display case from a garbage pile for me to display all my knick-knacks in. I remember my folks bringing musty beanbag chairs back from the dump. I remember my dad constantly yelling at my mom about CLUTTER, especially when they owned a business together, and the front office, which was totally visible from the customer entrance, was a disaster.

I'm more than a little horrified by these photos of my teenage bedroom, even if they have been validated by 47 tumblr users, but they show what a long way I've come! And it's getting better all the time. I don't have any good photos of my current bedroom; I've made a ton of changes towards minimalism since the last time I took photos. Every day I am able to let go a little more. Every day I find myself willing to part with something I always assumed I'd need to keep, for any number of reasons - the same reasons everyone who has packrat tendencies does it: I might need it, it reminds me of something special, I paid good money for it.

On consumerism.
In the summer, I'm going with my mom and my sister to visit my grandparents and my mom's family in Illinois. I wasn't able to go for about 5 years, between the time I was 19 and 24, due to work. The last two times I've been back, I've had incredible guilt, to the point of near hysteria, that we spend SO MUCH TIME SHOPPING, and barely any time with my grandparents, who are in their late 80s and early 90s - which is to say, they may not be around forever.

I was talking to Kaden, again, about how thrilled I was that I had ended my recreational consumerism, and I was going to just spend time with my family on my vacation; even if my mom and my sister spend all their time shopping, I will not. Kaden said he was so proud of me for making such a clean & quick break from blind & blatant consumerism; only a few months ago I'd go browse sale racks at Target just because I had nothing better to do. And I was like, you know why I was able to do that?

On minimalism.
It's because of the word, and the idea, MINIMALISM. Just the word and the idea, seriously, have set me free. I am also doing a ton of decluttering work, and it's not complete, but being able to put that name on what I feel has been, frankly, liberating. For years now, I've felt an underlying ickyness and guilt going to the mall, or "big box stores," or even just wasting my time looking at pretty stuff at locally owned stores. But I couldn't put my finger on why, and our society obviously promotes that behavior, so I would note that I felt icky but it wouldn't stop me from doing it again.

Now that I have minimalism in my life, I can say no to shopping as recreation or entertainment. And I can say no to collecting and displaying as identity. And I'm so fucking happy about it!


deb - Life Beyond Stuff said...

Hi Liina

Do you think that most of us seem to be packrats until we outgrow it and some of us just take longer than others to do that?

Maybe some of it comes down to the way we feel it necessary to surround our children with 'stuff' from the time they are babies. I wonder what would happen if a baby was not given toys but was left to interact with the world around her naturally and then she were kept away from TV. Would a child raised like that grow up with the same obsession around 'stuff'? Rudolph Steiner schools give children a beautifully simple environment in which to develop.

Liina said...

I don't know for sure, but I would guess that being a packrat is a learned habit - that a lot of people learn! I can think of two potential childhood scenarios that would cultivate it: 1) Parent tries to take away something a kid is really attached to, so the kid starts clinging to everything. 2) Kid doesn't want to keep something, but the parent says "Oooh, you DON'T WANT TO get rid of THAT," so the kid, without much experience in discernment, assumes that everything is for keeping.

I don't specifically remember anything like that occurring in my childhood, but it may have! I have a lot of respect for parents who are teaching their children to declutter at young ages - personally, I am trying to teach my mother to declutter ;)

I'm inclined to believe that people can acquire an addiction to stuff at any age, especially in the western consumer society. I think you have to have the tools (skepticism, critical thinking) to see through advertising just to NOT be addicted to stuff - a child may be kept away from advertising, but the moment they see something sparkling in an ad, they'll want it if they don't have the discernment to know that the ad is false.

I don't know this for a fact, but I can imagine someone who grew up deprived still becoming a collector of stuff when they grow up and have some money of their own. But perhaps that is more involved with a lifestyle of lack - maybe if someone grew up without a lot of extra stuff, but a home life of safety and abundance of love and positive experiences, they wouldn't feel the need to be surrounded with stuff. But I still think the critical thinking about advertising is essential to not-wanting.

Deb said...

Very thoughtful response :-)

I'm proud of my mother. She's in her 70s and is now happy not to exchange christmas gifts because as she says "At my age I'm trying to get rid of stuff not bring more of it into this house." And she doesn't even know I'm a minimalist.

My journey with her hasn't been easy but when you do finally get to a peaceful accepting place it is very satisfying.

Jenny @ exconsumer said...

Hey Liina! My teenage bedroom pretty looked similar to yours. :)

I know what you mean about the relief in having a term (minimalism) for the uneasiness you felt participating in the consumerist culture before you...well, stopped. I had that same icky feeling.

Deb may be on to something in that all young people may have the urge to accumulate things, and then need to outgrow it. At least that seems to be the case with the people I know.

I've been attempting to teach my oldest son the truth about advertising since he was very small, and I think some of it is finally starting to sink in now that he's almost seven. To mitigate the negative effects of advertising, we seriously limit our kids' exposure to media.

I got really irritated last week when when my oldest son brought home a free coupon to McDonald's from school. Sure, it was for apple "fries," but we don't take our kids to that restaurant because of how they target children in their advertising. It's disgusting.

Tanja from Minimalist Packrat said...

Liina what a great post. You mention so many things I try not to think about anymore. Like kitchen sponges smelling like ass and floating in dirty water. That wasn't how I grew up (my mom was meticulous) but it was I how I chose to live for a while. Not something that's easy to write about!

I have a clean sponge fetish now. I'm constantly switching the sponges out for a new one (well for me it's a clean sponge fetish... I replace it monthly). I have a little "system". I have the newest one for "cleaner dishes". An older one kept separately for "dirtier dishes like pots and pans", and an oldest one for scrubbing down bathroom and kitchen. I cycle through them monthly with each one going down a notch.

Anyways, thanks for sharing those photos of your teenage bedroom. I keep wondering what the floor looks like and if it was covered with random junk or not!

Liina said...

Tanja, that's a neat sponge system! I just always prop mine up on the ledge behind the sink and it stays pretty OK that way. We also rarely cook meat at our house (once a month or less), so I think that helps with odors.

I am pretty sure the floor was covered! But I am really shocked by the level of "decorating" I had done - clearly I couldn't part with ANYTHING or allow any clear surface!

Buy cialis said...

I think that the bedroom is a bit disorganized but it doesn't matter because I can see that person has excellent poster sin there I want to get those posters to put them on my wall.

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