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The musings of a recovering finder/keeper

Lee Shuer headshotLee ShuerThe year was 2005, and I had three things I’d never had before: a wife, a cat, and an overwhelming clutter issue. 

My desire for “stuff” began innocently enough. As a kid I collected the usual ephemera, including baseball cards, rocks, pocket knives, Star Wars action figures and art supplies. My acquiring fit social norms: my friends collected, too. If you had cool stuff to trade, you got invited to hang out. Around age 15, everyone else started pursuing other interests, but I did not. The phone stopped ringing. 

I continued to collect comic books, which I read by flashlight every night into the wee hours of morning. This was my routine until I left for college in the 90s, at which time I carefully boxed-up several childhood treasures, sealed them, dated them, and shoved them in the back of a crawl space at my parents’ house.

July 2017 Hoarding Resources Lee photo 1Unpacking Lee Shuer's time capsule from 1993, full of comics from his childhood, was a test of how far he'd come in his relationship to the things that can clutter a person's life.In 2013 I sliced through the brittle masking tape and pried open the cardboard flaps of the first of my two time capsules. What I saw inside was not merely a stack of comic books. I saw my old friends: Calvin, Hobbes, Opus, Bill the Cat, Charlie Brown, Batman, and The Rescue Rangers. I took a deep breath, reached in and began sorting them into two piles. “KEEP” and “LET GO.” That day, there was no “MAYBE” box.

Much of what I had acquired as a kid, and as a socially awkward adult, was meant to impress other people, to give me an identity when I didn’t feel I had one. I realized in that moment, looking at the tiny “KEEP” pile and the towering “LET GO” pile, just how far I had come as a person. 

July 2017 Hoarding Resources Lee photo 2Today, Lee feels his life is in order, as shown in this photo "of my dad (Dr. Herb Shuer) in my home office, the way I always dreamed it could be some day." This shift in thinking about my identity transformed the way I decide what to keep and what to let go, as well as what to leave or bring home. What I do keep makes me happy and doesn’t make my wife Bec unhappy. Now that’s saying something!

Today Bec and I are on the local and statewide hoarding task forces. We develop peer recovery groups and sow seeds of hope around the world; we’re like the Johnny Appleseeds of recovery! We have dedicated our lives to helping people to help themselves and others. 

We want people to know that clutter doesn’t have to be forever, and to know they’re not alone. We want people to know that things can and do get better. We want them to know because there was a time, not so long ago, when we weren’t so sure ourselves.

Up next: Read "Climbing out of a loved one’s clutter together" by Bec Belofsky Shuer.

For more information about resources regarding hoarding, contact the Information & Caregiver Resource Center at LifePath.