We know she’s smart. We know she’s funny. But did you know comedian Corinne Grant is a hoarder? Her new book, Lessons in Letting Go, (available at our web store) is a revealing and honest account of her quest to manage the stuff in her life – not the other way around.
Due to a minor communication error I arrive at Corinne’s house early. Very early. Corinne is flustered: “Ooh, you’re very early”. I immediately feel embarrassed as I pride myself on arriving on time. Not late, and definitely NOT early. It’s an organising sin.
I offer to duck off to run some errands, returning half hour later. Corinne lets me into her home and I find myself standing next to something that immediately catches my eye. Faster than the speed of light, I think “what a lovely fabric/it’s familiar” I blurt out- Oh my god! That dress! I gave you that dress!!
I had completely forgotten the navy and white 60’s maxi frock. It hung for a long time in my wardrobe after I picked it up at my favourite op shop. I finally relinquished it, accepting that it was always going to be ill-fitting as it was one size too big. Thinking Corinne would like it as I’d seen her wear a similar style, I had passed it on to her (“a good home”) but had completely forgotten I’d ever owned it.
I wear it all the time, she tells me. I am still amazed there’s something of mine at her house. Surely this isn’t how it’s supposed to work? What an interesting start!
We trundle off to a nearby café and settle in to talk about the book.
Lissanne: I thoroughly enjoyed this book: an easy and entertaining read. Very early on, I got a sense of how personal this story was and how brave you were to share it. I really bonded with you over this book. I think many readers will feel the same, and they will definitely identify with your story: I don’t know of any other book like it on the market. Do you feel vulnerable having it all out in the open?
Corinne: I don’t feel vulnerable, strangely enough. I think it’s a combination of having done so much stage work, where I’ve talked about myself, that the book feels like an extension of that, and also, just the fact that I’ve written and re-written so many drafts of the book, that at some stage, it just stopped feeling so deeply personal. I don’t believe in doing things by halves, and the story couldn’t have been told properly unless I was honest, and so, that was simply what had to be done.
You say “In the evenings I would waste my time rearranging and re-stacking piles of god-knows-what, trying to find the magical configuration that would enable me to feel like I was in control. The fear of doing something I might later regret over-ruled any desire to throw it out. If I threw out an old placemat, I might all of a sudden find myself completely unmoored from my past. If I threw out a cardigan my mother had given me for my twenty-third birthday, I might destroy the family bond that held us to each other. We don’t call our possessions ‘belongings’ for nothing and without Thomas beside me it felt like my belongings were the only things holding me together.” You spent a lot of time and energy trying to organise your stuff. How do you feel about that now? Do you have guilt about it?
That’s part of the illness I think of being a hoarder…I think it’s a very Western illness. We do place far more importance on objects – we almost imbue them with human qualities. I had an Indian taxi driver once and he was asking me about the book and I was explaining it and he was saying I just don’t understand what you’re talking about, I Just…. And I tried a few times and he said I seriously don’t understand. And I thought, you know what, you’re not going to! We are completely different people, culturally, to you in that respect just be thankful you’re not one of us!
I guess the point I try to make all the way through the book too is that you’re not going to learn to let go of the stuff until you figure out why you’re hanging on to it in the first place. And you really need to get to that the stuff is a symptom of the fact that you’re not dealing with shit in your life. In the book, as I’m shifting things around, I’m doing that instead of facing up to the fact that I’ve just broken up Thomas… Why did I break up with Thomas? Why did I leave him? I should have been focusing on that not making sure that I labeled a box of 20 year old video tapes. Hoarding’s a very good way of avoiding your life and yet, sitting there in the back of every hoarder’s brain is the thought that there’s something, that you’re just not quite on top of things, or there’s something that you’re missing.
And I think that understanding underpins your success, because people who don’t get that it’s not about the physical stuff, they’re never going to get on top of things.
It’s about a lack of identity I think too. If you’ve got a strong sense of self, you don’t need to be relying on other objects to do that for you. That’s what I figured out for myself, anyway.
That once I started figuring out who I was, then the stuff wasn’t important anymore. I could throw something out and not feel unmoored from my past.
That it was safe.
That it was safe, yeah, that I was a confident human being and that I could move through without all of these things like a big doona around me.
You talk a lot about the stuff impacting your world, did it impact on relationships with others or in any way?
Not relationships, but it did impact a lot on my organisational abilities I think, bills didn’t get paid because bills would get lost and that kind of thing, I would have 14 pairs of scissors cos I could never find the scissors…
…and having a cluttered workspace always means that you don’t think efficiently if your space isn’t efficient as well, there was probably a lot of time spent – You know what – that’s the other thing about being a hoarder, it gives you a lot of chances for procrastination, so instead of doing what I should be doing*, I would be doing some ridiculous, insurmountable task like trying to go through and chronically order all of my photographs or something like that. I wasted a lot more time when I was a hoarder. As far as relationships go with people, I don’t think so. I was always conscious of the fact I felt like I was hiding something from people, you know like when I was living with Thomas, there was a storage shed with all of my stuff in it, and I knew that he would hang shit on me for that if he saw it, you can also justify it in your head by going it’s not that I have too much stuff, it’s just that he’s a boy and boys don’t keep as much stuff that girls do, but I wouldn’t say that it impacted on our relationship…except for a small feeling that I was hiding something from him.
*(My first e-comic Liam Runs Late deals with this very issue balancing what we want to do with what we need to do).
I’ve met people who say “I just can’t get rid of clothes, I paid a lot of money for them, Yeah, but every time you open your wardrobe you look at them and feel sick, just give them away. Somebody else will appreciate them and use them. You spent the money, you’re not going to get your money back by looking at them. Sell them on ebay if you can be arsed, but honestly, you know you probably can’t be. Just give the clothes away.
One of my favourite quotes is “Guilt is portable” about the gift that you got from your dad and how you felt ungrateful. But that you kept lugging the item around for years, hence, guilt is portable. I wanted to ask you about how you treat gifts now- giving gifts. Has that changed? Do you have a different take on giving gifts or receiving gifts?
Gifts are always fraught aren’t they? I do try and give gifts to people that they can use, something useful.
I used to hold onto things that were given to me, purely because they were gifts and the way I got around that was sitting down and really seriously thinking about how I would feel if my best friend got rid of the thing I gave him six months beforehand. And I realised that I wouldn’t really care. Or I’d be slightly peeved and be over it within about two hours.
That kinda comes down to the narcissistic thing too – how much importance do you really think you have in this world, that if you give away a candle stick holder, the person who gave it to you will be in therapy for 12 years. Seriously. You’re not that important!
That’s really great. I also love the cache of bookmarks (LAUGHTER) from Sunday School you couldn’t let go of, just in case Jesus saw you do it.
Do you still have them?
I think there’s one, because they’re so cute… they even had a woolly tag. There’s one that sits in the stationery drawer in my desk
I agree. I really loved on paged 18 you said “nothing meant anything if I kept it all.” That’s such a profound statement and it really gave insight into how far you’d travelled in your de-hoarding journey. How would you convince someone who’s at the start of that journey that it’s a road worth travelling?
What I used to do in my stand up show was talk about the refugee experience and ask the audience to imagine if you had to flee in a hurry– it doesn’t have to be refugees, it could be a bushfire- if you had to flee your house in an absolute hurry, what are the two things you would take with you? And people could almost always instantly say what those two things were. Then I would ask, “If you lost everything else, would you be okay?” Once you’ve got that idea of prioritizing in your head–for example, I think I mention jewelry in the book and getting out all my costume jewelry and then the nice stuff from my grandmother–if you found something like that and then lay it all out, you can see how you’re making a mockery of all the good stuff by keeping the rest. You can see the hierarchy there and then keep the important bits.
Also, that notion of a time machine that one object can speak for a hundred. So don’t keep the hundred: that one thing will take you back to that point in time you want to remember. Just hold onto that one thing, there’s no need to keep hold of the others as well.
It’s not about volume, is it?
No, it’s not about volume.
It actually devalues the good stuff then if you can’t find it, if it’s buried, you’re not honouring the object.
What’s your most precious possession or possessions? Your question to the audience is one of my questions too!
I’ve got three. One is my grandmothers photo album, which I just adore, cos there’s photos of her when she was a young woman and the long plaits and the 1920’s pinnies on and all that kind of stuff, it’s an awesome photo album. There’s a teddy bear I’ve had since the day I was born, and for some reason, I’m not really sure why, no, I am sure why, it’s this vase- it’s just a clear vase with a picture of an orchid of it and I got it for my 21st birthday from our next door neighbour, who died not that long afterwards. When I got it, I didn’t like it. I thought it was pretty daggy, so I packed it away in a cupboard and years later-it would have been at least ten years later if not more than that actually-I pulled it out and thought to myself “this is beautiful”. It was just one of those things, I went “Gosh, I can’t imagine how much she must have paid for that, how much she must have loved me to give that to me”. It’s the only thing I have to remember her by and it’s such a lovely thing to remember her by. That’s one of those things that if I ever go away and I have people house sitting, I put it in a safe place… and I’m not precious about things anymore, not like I used to be. That, however, I make sure goes away so it doesn’t get broken.
That’s a beautiful story and I really like that you didn’t like it at first!
So the process of using an organiser – I thought it was really interesting you talked about in your mind what an organiser was – the corporate kind of suit and the white gloves and stuff. That’s a really common perception for a lot of people. Where do you reckon that view comes from, how is that born?
It must come from an idea of something else, because professional organising is quite a new profession, so it’s coming from somewhere else. I’m not quite sure where, but you do have that idea of people brusquely walking in and rearranging things… it’s almost… I really don’t know, maybe it’s something like a psychiatrist, or something like that… when an organizer comes into your house, you are laying yourself bare to someone in a similar way. In a way that you normally lay yourself to a medical practitioner or a counsellor or something like that. That’s really only the other people you are ever honest with and say “These are my dirty secrets” so maybe it comes from there. Where the tut-tutting comes from? Maybe it’s from 50’s television?! It might be from 50’s television. The idea of the perfect housewife. Maybe it’s even that sexist? A Professional Organiser as an uber 50’s housewife. Which they’re not. At all.
[I like what Corinne says about being laid bare. I teach new organisers how to consult with their clients and one of the things I try and get them to understand is how vulnerable clients can feel and how important their “bedside manner” is.]
I know I work fast as an organiser, but one thing that surprised me in reading your book were your comments about the session we did together. You commented that “the speed was breathtaking” and I had a little moment where I went, Oh was I too fast?
I was ready for that at that point, I sort of stood back and had this out of body experience going “It appears I’m alright with this as well!”
Cos I never worked that fast and it did teach me that I could be a little snappier with things.
That is great. Did you let go of anything that you “needed the next day” or did you feel you made good any bad decisions or mistakes? Have you got any regrets about stuff you let go of?
There was one thing that I gave away, a necklace. When I was going through the jewelry and I’d just got to that point– and I’ve learned now to stop before the fatigue point where you think “oh bugger it, just get rid of it all!” Because that’s when you might wake up the next day and go “well, hang on a second, they weren’t rational decisions you made at the end there”. The rational decision to keep everything is just as irrational as chucking it all out without sensibly thinking about it first.
So…I got rid of this necklace and then I saw my sister wearing the same one about three months later – I said, “Who…who gave you that necklace?” And she said “Aunty Ava. Remember? We got them when we both turned 16?” And I just felt sick. I just felt sick. I saw my sister wearing that necklace and I thought it looks really sweet and I couldn’t believe I got rid of it. I really, really regretted it. I even found the company who still made them and I asked them to send me another one, but they ignored me and never wrote back.
Then I was going through something some clothes and in the pocket of a jacket I found it. I hadn’t got rid of it! I don’t know how that happened, maybe I’d imagined that I’d got rid of it – I don’t know – but I found it! And that was the only thing out of everything that I’d regretted getting rid of, and it turned out okay in the end. There are some things I’ve gotten rid of and thought afterward, “Well, you didn’t think that through very well did you?” Where I’ve gotten rid of something that’s inconvenienced me, but then thought, “Oh well, now you have to buy another jacket.” But whatever. It’s not the end of the world. And being free of the stuff, and being inconvenienced once in a while is an okay price to pay.
Not a big deal.
I did, at the start, take photos of things I’d got rid of. That’s a dumb idea. You look back and you go, “Really? I let go of that? Really? I’d forgotten that I’d let go of it!” Don’t take a bloody photo. If your house burned down tomorrow, all those so-called precious objects, you wouldn’t remember half of what was in there anyway.
Great example when I turned up at your house today – that dress that I gave you, – I completely forgot that dress ever existed. And I bought that from my favourite op shop in Kaniva.
It is amazing how much you think these things that have value. You forget them instantly when they’re not around any more.
Yeah. Well, I love the necklace story, and it’s a happy ending, a bit like your book, thank you so much I think the readers are gunna love it!
OUT NOW through Allen & Unwin $29.99
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