Beth Dolinar

Column Beth Dolinar

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries for public television, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Feeling their pain

May 22, 2014

Cable TV ran a “Hoarders” marathon the other day, but nobody really ever needs to see more than one of the episodes. They’re all the same.

Watch a few minutes of some poor old man climbing over mountains of trash to get to his sleeping spot on the floor, and the merry-go-round of emotions starts to turn.

First, you are horrified there are people who live like this – and that there are enough of these troubled people to fuel dozens and dozens of TV shows. And most remarkably, the people are willing to invite cameras into their houses.

Next, you feel superior and clean and tidy. “No matter how full of extraneous junk my guest room is,” you tell yourself, “it is not that bad.” Also, you don’t have rodents.

The next emotion is a call to action. Maybe it really is time for a household purge. After watching a few episodes of “Hoarders,” I decided it was time to cut through some of my own clutter.

When you live in a big, old house like this one for more than a dozen years, some crusty buildup is inevitable. A couple of closets are now suspect. And so, with a gigantic black garbage bag in hand, I went in. The goal was to toss out at least 10 things – 10 being a nice round number that would produce a fresh, clean closet while allowing for some sentimental object retention.

The first thing I grabbed was a half-full bag of hamster bedding. Our hamster died two years ago. On “Hoarders,” the scene would perhaps include the actual dead hamster. I held the bag of green bedding in my hand for a moment, feeling bad about tossing it when there are probably hamsters in this very neighborhood that would enjoy some new bedding. But how would I find that hamster? And, realistically, would I spend time doing so?

The psychologists on “Hoarders” go through this drill dozens of times each episode. The homeowner is standing there holding, say, a stained and warped Tupperware container; the therapist is trying to get the person to toss it into an open and waiting trash bag, but the homeowner is frozen there, mumbling something about the lid being buried in the heap he’s standing on.

It would be like living in a landfill. I get a little panicked watching, and I swear I can feel my asthma starting up just looking at the dust.

Organizers say the best way to reduce clutter is to hold each item only one time. Pull the hamster bedding from the shelf, make a decision and act on it. That sounds simple, until you start seeing that item for all its possibilities. It’s hard enough to do with a bag of bedding; it’s almost impossible with the little clay bowls and wooden knick-knacks the kids made at school.

Don’t all moms have that fantasy? The one where they lovingly wrapped, laminated, catalogued and boxed every bit of art or craft or drawing or essay carried home from school, to be presented the day the child moved out of the house? And where do I store the dang “earthquake house” they did in fifth grade? The thing weighed 40 pounds. And besides, the kid didn’t even build it. I did.

It was now or never with the hamster bedding. I squeezed the bag a few times, even opened it to smell the fresh, woodsy chips. And then I tossed it into the trash.

One down, just nine more to go. But it wouldn’t be easy.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at



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