One generation to the next, we get attached to the things we surround ourselves with. If I had to call it out for why I would have to say it is because my family isn’t good at connecting to those around them. Generations of abuse and emotional distress around human connection have left many with only the ability to connect to things.
I have a nice collection of things. Admittedly I have many that I need to let go of. I wouldn’t say that I am a hoarder, but I have certainly created a backlog of things. Many of which have come from the professions I have tried out over the years. Ways of making money tend to leave you with the supplies and bits and pieces that make up the job.
Since I have lived in 42 homes in my life, (I only count the ones that I stayed in for 6 months or more), I have also learned how to let go of things. I am expert level when it comes to packing. I am also expert level when it comes to assisting others in letting go of unnecessary items. I do have to admit that I have held on to items that could have served someone else long ago. Yet I have spent decades letting go of items that I no longer need or use. My collection would be much larger if I were unable to do that from time to time. I usually try to assess what I want and need a couple of times a year. Each time I do hold on to things that I am yet undecided on.
I was the Dino Lady for over a dozen years. It was a name that I used and created a bit of a persona around. It started with a museum oriented towards children. Then it moved with me to the Seattle area and Dino Day Camps for extra income. I still have boxes of supplies just in case. In the last year I finally let go of the website domain and now I am ready to let go of the boxes.
I suppose that I had thought that I could always take the name up again if needed. I also thought that the supplies were something that I would share with my own children – but I never had any. The same with my Barbies. They have been saved for decades to share with the children I thought I would have. They are now ready for a new home too.
My family likes to call themselves packrats. We have those here in AZ. But we are those as well. In fact, some are more than that and do own the title of “hoarder”.
Since my childhood, my uncles have been collectors. One collected electronics, stereos and car parts. He was always working on something. I remember visiting him at his house and walking through the stacks of this and that that went from the floor to the ceiling. I could not have told you what any of it was. He was an eccentric who even assembled a full race car in his kitchen – only to have to dismantle it to reassemble it outside to be able to race it. The second uncle is a collector of another sort. He laughingly calls himself a junkman and admits that he is a hoarder. Most of what he owns are things that no one else would find value in. For him they are all things that he is attached to and he can probably tell you where most of it came from. He is also what I would call and OCD hoarder. Every collection is together and sorted, shelved, and stacked together. Making it easy to take inventory and keep track of each piece. Not quite the hoarding that you have come to expect watching all those reality TV shows.
My mother kept a collection of things that none of knew she had hidden away over the years. Every year for the last 20 years or so, as her children we would receive items from the collection as she passed them on for us to add to our collections. A few years ago, she did a big purge and let go of things that sometimes she now misses. Some of which she has had to replace, and some have proven unreplaceable. It will certainly make it easier on me when she passes. It also means that each of us has already received anything that we might value or that she specifically wants us to have.
My dad is an admitted packrat. As is my brother. Garages packed full. Sometimes storage units that have been paid for over many years hold items that no one seems to be able to find the time to go through.
Currently I am helping my uncle try - I emphasize try, to tidy and sort in the other uncle’s house. The eccentric one passed away several years ago. The house needed repair then and even more so now. The living uncle has been informed after renting a converted mechanic’s garage for 19 years now that the property has been sold and he will have to move. The only place he has to go is the deceased uncle’s house. With the roof leaking, the ceiling falling in, the house ransacked by thieves over the years no one has been in there and the hoarded items still in stacks through each room, there is much to be done. The living uncle has limited Social Security. So little by little we attack the space and sort and clean as we can. To fully clean it would have to be completely emptied which is unlikely to happen. The timeframe we must work in is short and the hoarding attachment to a family members collection runs deep. With each step I take in the house the now fifty-year-old, carpet sends up plumes of dust and powder as it disintegrates more with every day.
Dealing with what I call a double hoarding situation is frustrating. The living uncle is doing his best to work with me to let things go. But the going is tough. Knowing that we are trying to clear out one hoard for another seems insane. Yet it is not my home, not my stuff, and not my choice. It certainly has me thinking though…
Part of the work that I do in the world is around sustainability. Lately the focus has been more and more on zero waste. This makes me more and more conscious of my collection, and my purchases. It makes me want to have a couple of weeks to go though my house room by room, drawer by drawer, shelf by shelf, box by box and let things go. Knowing that my energy is going elsewhere but in helpful directions keeps me thinking but making little progress in my own situation. At least for now.
So, one more area of life in which to do my ancestral work is now in the realm of things. All the things we collect yet don’t actually need in this life. I will always have things and ways to create beauty. I will never be truly minimal as that just makes everything feel empty to me. But I can let go of lots of things and have a cleaner more meaningful space to inhabit and share. Any maybe, just maybe our family will not pass the hoarding gene on to the next generation.
Definition of Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.
I spent the last two days on a personal silent retreat. Most times I would recommend being guided by someone on such a journey but the one I was taking was one that I knew I needed to do alone. I have done them both ways, with a guide to check in with and on my own. Having someone who you can check in with if things get hairy or you feel stuck is a good thing. This one was so personal that I felt the need to do it on my own. What follows is just part of what came out of my time.
I always thought that I would have children, lots of children. Growing up I just knew that I would have at least four children of my own body. Then I would also likely adopt or foster several or many more. Because of my family background – parents unmarried at the time of my birth, in fact not even together, married but separated before I turned five, and divorced when I was seven I was determined to having a committed relationship before bringing children into it. There is also a history of family bonding attachment disorder on my mother’s side due to generations of mental illness and abuse. With all of that in mind I was ready to wait for the right partner before conceiving.
Needless to say, I haven’t found that partner. Two weeks ago, I turned 48 and it has been four months since my last menses. Before that I had two in three weeks, before that I missed two months, before that I had two that lasted 2-3 weeks each in one six-week period. You get the picture.
So now I am at the end of times regarding having a viable pregnancy or producing a healthy child. And it is all a surprise to me, at least sort of.
I have never been pregnant. I have dreamed of it for most of my life; the dreams would come every few months. Before I became sexually active there was no real idea of conception. After my first partner that became part of the dream too. As time went on, I could dream of conception, nine months of pregnancy, full labor, holding my child, nursing my child and even naming my child all in one night’s “rest”. I don’t ever remember feeling rested after those nights. So much work, so much energy, so much time passing so quickly.
And now today I grieve. I honor and I thank the souls which I felt that I had contracted with. Not for the first time, but for the last.
About 15 years ago I did something similar. I decided to do a personal healing retreat and had many things on my agenda to work through. Lots to process and let go of, one of them being to let go of two of the four souls that I had been committed to bringing into this world. At 33/34 years old I knew that having four children was off the table for my body. I cried then, as I did today. Only then I still had hope and time. Today my time has run out.
I forgot to mention that between all the marriages of my parents I am the oldest of six children. Plus, my mother was a midwife. I attended the birth of several of my siblings and the births of friend’s children. Pregnancy, birthing and children have been a big part of my life and experience. I have spent most of my life working with children – baby sitting at first, as a nanny, working in preschools, elementary schools, middle schools. Running aftercare programs, being the director and event coordinator of a children’s dinosaur museum, creating stand alone summer programs for children and young adults in various forms. I was made for this. I am trained, I am experienced. And yet, it is not to be.
So now in the midst of my acknowledgement and heartbreak I sit in prayer and ceremony. I honor, thank and release those last two souls. They have waited as long as I have. Over the years they would come to me and ask over and over – “is it time yet?” Time and time again my response was, “not yet, sweetheart. But soon. Soon.”
I have broken my word. I have not honored my commitments. I have passively let them slip away.
For the last many years, I have made it known amongst my closest and dearest that I would be willing to do this on my own. Raise a child or children as a single mother. I dated, still hoping. But also realizing that I could/would not be deceitful. That I would have to acknowledge the father even if by the time a child was born, we would no longer be together. I also had to honor those who were clear that they did not want a child or more children. So, in all my honoring I have been dishonorable in my own way.
Never could I have imagined being an old maid – never married – never a mother. Yet here I sit just that.
I am truly clear that I know how to love. I know how to be in relationship. I know what it takes and that there must be compromise and growth throughout.
I am also clear that there will always be children in my life. I can have no life that does not include them in some way. My ultimate happiness comes from spending time with them.
The other side of the coin is that today the pain, abuse and mental instability of the mother line that I carry will no longer be perpetuated. All along I have known that this is part of the work that I incarnated for. I just didn’t know that in order to fully end it I would have to sacrifice my heart’s deepest longing.
I was never a woman who repeated that I wanted to have a baby. I have always said that I want children. I want to watch them grow, become individuals, explore life and find their own joy. I have counseled many women who say that they want to have a “baby”. As much as I love animals, I have always held a preference for children who would grow and progress beyond toddler hood. I find such joy in watching them bloom and makes lives of their own.
Here I sit, during these odd times in a world pandemic contemplating what my life will be like without motherhood or being a grandmother. Reassessing my identity. Redefining my life moving forward with a heavy heart that will always know what could have been but never was.
I always knew that if I moved back to Arizona, I would have my work cut out for me. One of the reasons I was away for so long was the fact that the way in which I choose to live my life was so common place in the Pacific Northwest. The things that I had been working so hard to do and maintain in Tucson such as recycling more items than putting things in the garbage, eating organic foods, carrying my own shopping bags, avoiding Styrofoam whenever possible and even composting are normal everyday things for a Portlander. In fact, Styrofoam doesn’t really even exist in the confines of the city of Portland – it along with plastic bags were banned years ago. Yet in Tucson, it is everywhere. There is no escaping it’s bright white brilliance if you want to take home leftovers or order take out. Or if you want to have a cup to drink out of at the Ward 6 building for a Sustainable Tucson meeting.
This is what Sherri Ludlam from City of Tucson Recycling Program was left to drink out of when she came to speak to our group the week before Thanksgiving, I had seen her only last month in the very same room for a meeting held by Ward 6, our Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik and the City of Tucson Recycling. In attendance then was about a dozen neighbors and about another dozen people from either the city programs for recycling or some of the contractors who actually run the facility here in Tucson. So, in all about half the amount of people who attended the Sustainable Tucson meeting. I found myself less frustrated during the second meeting than the first. Partly because I knew I was among friends and like-minded individuals. Partly because I believe that Sherry knew after the first meeting that taking a hard line and sounding like we were in a budget meeting wasn’t going to go over as well.
While I appreciate that the city budget for recycling has been blown to smithereens by China deciding that they don’t want to pay for our trash any more – what has happened is that we now have to admit that we were really just sending them trash. Yes, it is supposed to be recycling but you know, we are dirty, filthy Americans. Yes, that is right, I am calling us all out. Even those of us who feel that we do our best. Sometimes those who do their best are actually the worst. Meaning that by not fully educating ourselves on what is and isn’t recyclable there is a lot of non-recyclables being put in the bins that should never have been there in the first place. I know the intentions are good, but things change and what we can recycle changes over time. So now is the best time to get re-educated.I am the first to admit that the info put out by the city is confusing. They say that we can recycle plastic, cardboard, paper, and glass. They show us pretty pictures on a nice blue background but there is much that they actually don’t say that would be helpful. When asked why they don’t give out more specific info they say they don’t want to complicate things. That if it is too much info people won’t read it. Well, I think we need to read it! The only way in which we will be able to fulfill our part in the aspects of proper recycling is to fully understand what is and isn’t good. And by that I don’t mean what is and isn’t good for their bottom line. I mean for the planet and for our future.
So, to begin with here are the basics:
Yes – plastics, bottles and containers with numbers 1-7. What they really want for the city is 1&2 but they will take 1-7. Any bottles such as gallon milk jugs, water, soda, etc. should be rinsed – preferably air dried, and the cap put back on before tossing in the bin. This goes for things such as laundry soap bottles too. Please don’t crush them either.Yes – corrugated cardboard – any of those Amazon or shipping boxes. Don’t worry about the tape unless it covers more than 50% of the box. Just remember to break them down and no need to cut them up in pieces. The bigger the better to fit through the machinery at the sorting facility.Yes – paperboard, molded fiberboard - cereal boxes, processed food boxes, egg cartons (not Styrofoam), etc. Again, break them down if you can.Yes – ½ gallon milk containers coated in wax, containers from broth, soups, drink boxes that are foil lined.Yes – ridged plastics such as buckets and storage containers. Even igloo coolers. There are some things in this category that will be dismissed at the sorting facility but trying to figure out just which ones they won’t take is too hard. If in question they ask that you trash it rather than send I to them. You can always call to get a more definitive answer for larger items.Yes- paper – office paper, mailers, brochures, etc. They ask if it is small that you don’t recycle it. It just slips through the rollers at the sorting center. You can always put small slips in an envelope. Just don’t over stuff it or they will pull it off the line wondering what might be in it.Yes- periodicals, phone books, etc. They are easy to sort and if they haven’t been ripped apart, they should be easy to recycle.Yes – newspapers, paper bags – don’t bundle them up, leave them loose so that they can be separated for processing. It used to be a thing for us to bundle the newsprint now they want it to be free moving to make it easier to sort and process.Yes – glass – bottles, jars, etc. Rinsed and air dried, no lids.Yes – aluminum cans from foods– rinse, leave labels on. Also, if you can don’t fully remove the lids. When using a can opener try to open it most of way but not fully so that the lid is still attached. The small, loose metal lids get lost at the sorting facility.Yes – soda cans – rinse, air dry. Please don’t crush it makes it harder for them to be sorted as they become smaller.
No – frozen food boxes! That’s right folks, you thought they were just a box but no, they are paperboard mixed with plastic so that when they are exposed to temperature fluctuations and wetness the boxes won’t collapse.No – plastic lids for containers such as yogurt and sour cream. Those lids are actually made of lower grade plastics than the containers themselves. They are also small and less likely to stay on through transport than tops that screw on. Once loose they will fall through the rollers at the sorting facility or gunk them up and cause shutdowns.No – plastic bags – absolutely not! They are the bane of recycling centers across the nation. If you must take them from the shops, please return them to a participating shop that will recycle them for you. They go to a completely different type of facility to be processed.No – plastic films that cover foods such as the lift off ones on yogurt containers. Those aren’t even recyclable at the shops.No – pizza boxes – no, just no! Anything that has come into contact with food or grease is a no go. Worst contamination you can do.No – bakery boxes, takeout boxes – these have also come into contact with food and grease. If there is a single spot on it it is contaminated. Please put these in the trash not the recycling bin.No – loose shredded paper. This must be put into a clear plastic bag to be pulled off the line and processed by hand. The paper is too small to go through the sorters.No – Styrofoam. The city has no way to recycle this and you will have to look for an alternative facility.No – trash – this includes anything you know for sure won’t ever have another use. Things like used diapers, kitty litter, doggy doo, broken stuff. Furniture, strollers, etc.No – compostable containers. These may be from lettuce or other produce/foods. These are not made of plastics that are recyclable. They are made to break down in the landfill.
What to take to your local shop for recycling:Plastic bags, deflated air pillows from shipping, Tyvek packaging, plastic shipping envelopes, etc. If the plastic had foods in it or has become dirty or sticky, please at least rinse and dry if not clean before recycling. You can contaminate a whole bin while the shop waits for it to be full enough to send off for processing.
I am sure that there is more. You may have even thought of something while reading this. Feel free to reach out and ask questions. I will answer them if I can.Also remember that things change. Do what you can to keep up to date with your local programs - here in Tucson, the surrounding areas, Arizona or your personal neck of the woods. Each city has its own programs and not everywhere in the state will be run the same. Our future is in your hands, so we are counting on one another to use those hands to lift the lid on the right bin.
Also, please remember that plastics, no matter what type, have a shelf life. Each time a plastic is recycled it loses more life and eventually it will become something that will only be good to go into the landfill. Even those plastic bags and jugs that get turned into clothing – fleece, will eventually get thrown away. The more conscious we are about that we buy or bring home the more we can keep out of the landfills and help our Mother Earth stay healthy and beautiful.
Sharia Des Jardins
Sharia has been doing eco/green coaching professionally for the last 4 years. She managed an eco-friendly home and kitchen store in Portland for many years. While running the T-Rex Museum in Tucson - sustainability, ecology and recycling were part of every group tour for the 6 years she was there. She made sure that every staff member ended their tours with the inevitability of human extinction if we continue in the manner of which we are accustomed to treating the planet. She has been educating friends and family for the last 20 years about what they can do. Sharia is also currently affiliated with Jen’s Organic Home and Baby here in Tucson since her return to the city in April 2018 after over a decade of living in the Pacific Northwest. Recently she joined the Core Team of Sustainable Tucson a local non-profit that offers members educational gatherings on a monthly basis.