Hoarder, Interrupted
Jimmy McNamara

Debbie suggests starting with one drawer. She says it’s better to clean one small area than attempt too much and give up.

She once told us to meet in pairs. This brings accountability, she said. I was paired with Cathy, a newcomer who lived three towns away. Cathy needed accountability in getting rid of paper. Most of the women at Declutterer’s Group drive in from distant towns. I think I’m the only local.

I arrived to her big house fifteen minutes late. I had to stop to use the bathroom at McDonald’s. Cathy mentioned in Group she used her bathrooms for additional closet space by hanging clothes on the shower rod, and I didn’t want to intrude. Her house was just as big as the houses featured at the Annual Winter House Tours. I love touring big homes. I’m really good at knowing what to compliment. But I knew better than to ask for a tour. I’m not tacky.

She ushered me into a room completely filled with stacks and stacks of newspapers. A small pathway between the ceiling-high stacks led to a stack-filled couch. We both stood in this pathway in silence. I reminded Cathy that Debbie suggests removing an object if we want to bring a new object into our homes. I slowly placed a newspaper from 1986 into the trash, but Cathy quickly moved it back. I knew then we wouldn’t be de-cluttering. And I wouldn’t be getting a tour.

Cathy suddenly remembered her daughter’s soccer game. I told her my niece might be on her team. My sister lived in the same town, I said. She then started asking questions about my sister. Too many questions, I thought. I later realized she probably thought I was going to spread her paper problem, which I would never do. That’s a violation of Group’s confidentiality rules. She never did return to Group. And she never returned the favor of helping me stay accountable.

One time it snowed, and nobody else showed up. Debbie suggested we grab hot chocolate. I told her I had put an end to yard sales, but I came clean about returning to weekly transfer station hunting. Debbie had no idea that rich towns have special rooms at the dump where rich people leave expensive items they feel too guilty throwing out. I told her I left the transfer station last week with three bags of almost-new clothes. Debbie just listened. She doesn’t judge. She also doesn’t make us talk in Group if we don’t want to. One time another man even showed up, and sat through the whole hour without introducing himself.

Another time I showed up to the wrong meeting. It was some sort of Weight Watchers Group. The woman next to me shared that her cake cravings had come back in full force. She tried throwing cake in the trash. But she ends up digging through the trash later to eat it. So she then tried pouring coffee beans over the trash-cake to prevent the trash eating. But she admitted she’d still later dig it out. I worried I might somehow pick up their bad habits. When it was my turn to talk, I told them I’d pass. The group leader did not like this answer, which made me miss Debbie.

Last month, I drove by Cathy’s big house on the way to the transfer station. I told myself I’d only pick up toys for my nieces and nephews. It was an almost empty parking lot, so I drove right up to the front of the station. I love hunting in peace.

That’s when I saw her: exiting the transfer station, holding three overstuffed bags. I drove away. I glanced back once to confirm my sighting, and Debbie was staring back at me.

I stopped going to Group, but I didn’t stop thinking about Debbie. I sometimes dare myself to drive by Cathy’s house. If I drive slowly, I can see the stacks.