This weekend I finished something that I’ve been working on periodically for months. I cleaned off the table in our dining area.
It had been literally piled up with mail and other paperwork—old bills, receipts, bank statements, health insurance statements, etc.
I wrote about the table back in March. My therapist thought I was avoiding facing the clutter because of the anxiety involved in going through the paperwork. He was right.
Every time I worked on even just a little bit of the clutter, my anxiety would go up to about an 85 or 90 on the SUDs scale.
I was afraid of what I would find—an unpaid bill I had forgotten about, an important notice I had ignored.
And I didn’t want to deal with the decisions of what to do with the paperwork after I cleaned it up.
As I wrote in my March post, my therapist told me it was all about the OCD. It was about my scrupulosity.
So I continued to avoid cleaning up the pile.
I would throw away a piece of junk mail every now and then, but I avoided any deep or methodical cleaning. I just let the paper pile up even more.
The pile had been on the table for a few years. I had gotten into the habit of putting my mail on the table. After I opened it, I left it there.
If someone was coming to the house, I could sweep it into presentable piles at one end of the table. I managed.
But the anxiety of having the mess as well as the anxiety of not knowing exactly what was in the pile was always there, sometimes under the surface, sometimes front and center.
So what helped me to finally face the paper?
The approaching Christmas season helped. I wanted to put up a second, smaller tree and use different colors than we used on the main tree in the den. The table was a good place to put the tree.
But I think the lessons I’m learning as I work on my OCD have been the biggest help.
I’ve been learning that facing the fears usually has good results. I’ve been learning that nothing is gained by continual avoidance. I’ve been learning that any anxiety over facing a fear is usually short-lived, and it certainly doesn’t do irreparable harm.
So one evening last week I worked a bit on it. Then I saved the bulk for this past Saturday. I sat down with a trash bag and a couple of banker’s boxes and some file folders and went at it.
I was surprised at how much stuff I could just throw away, and how willing I was to throw the stuff away.
And I was surprised at how quickly the process went after I had a routine going. It took me about an hour to clear the table.
My SUDs score was probably at about a 70 when I started. It quickly dissipated as I finished up the job.
When I had the table completely cleared—that was a good feeling. Then I had a whole space to do with what I wanted. So I decorated the tree and put it on the table.
I don’t have a “before” photo to compare with the “after” photo. I was too embarrassed by how bad the table looked.
But the “after” picture, though a long time coming, is beautiful to me.