Flotsam & Jetsam


Over the last few years Labor Day has become the annual deep clean and purge weekend around my house. 

After I emptied out the “Harry Potter Closet”, aka the cupboard under the stairs, I took this video and posted to Instagram…

I realize that to some of you this may not look too bad.  My wife and I are far from what might be considered hoarders.  And, I am happy to report that after a trip to Value Village to jettison a few books that have followed me since High-school, some old knickknacks and a few Christmas decorations, everything fit back in the closet.

All of this got me thinking about how we tend to accumulate so much flotsam and jetsam as we go through life.  Flotsam and jetsam are marine terms referring to debris found floating in the ocean.  Flotsam is debris from a shipwreck, jetsam is debris thrown overboard deliberately to lighten the load and avoid said shipwreck.  I guess with those definitions in mind what I have would be considered jetsam (short for jettison) but if I were to hang onto it until I die, that would be more accurately considered flotsam (from the French for floater).

My mother-in-law is moving into a retirement home next month.  She has a lot of jetsam, close to 50 years worth of it to be exact. Much of it has been stored away in the cupboards and corners of her house since she first moved to the city in 1971.  Her husband, my father-in-law, was a hoarder.  When he retired, way back in 2001, he promised to go through everything he had accumulated through life and start lightening their load.  Then he started showing signs of dementia and died before anything got done.  Going through his possessions and paring down a lifetime of accumulation from a three-bedroom home with full basement, to a one-bedroom apartment in a retirement community is not easy. 

typical hoarding household, my mother-in-law would kill me if I showed you an actual picture of her home….

Hoarding is an actual mental disorder that my mother-in-law had the misfortune of dealing with for over 50 years.  According to the Mayo Clinic, 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. 

My father in law would often say that he was keeping things because he thought he could fix them, use them or sell them.  But the economics of collecting, selling and reusing items have changed.  We live in a throw-away and freecycle society. No one pays for used items anymore, regardless of their cost or value.  It’s just too easy to buy new.  Stores like Value Village, where I dropped my jetsam, cater to a niche of consumer that is both cost conscious and wants to support local charities.  The local garage sale has gone on-line and is only good for larger items of a certain value.  It’s more common to find smaller items offered for free. 

Bottom line – it just doesn’t pay to be a hoarder.  Jettison your jetsam now before it becomes flotsam for someone else who has to clean up your crap. 

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