Friday, November 5, 2010


There is a show on A&E called "Hoarders," and I highly recommend watching at least of a couple episodes. It is similar to "Intervention" which is a surprisingly compassionate "reality show" about severe drug and alcohol abuse cases, which tells the addicts' stories, then provides an intervention to get them help. "Hoarders" follows a similar format, but focuses on a condition called "compulsive hoarding."

This condition could not be more literally named. In severe cases, its victims hoard so much stuff in their homes, storage areas, and even yards, that the mess becomes a very real hazard. Not only does it make most of the house inaccessible and unsightly to guests, but it poses a tripping hazard (especially on stairs), a fire hazard, and invites vermin which can easily hide in the mess.

Again, watch for yourself to get an extended understanding of the problems it poses. What interested me (and fits within the theme of this blog), is how common mild cases of hoarding are. Substance abuse can be a foreign concept for anyone who isn't an addict, but so many people in modern consumerist culture are addicted to stuff. I believe most of us (especially when we feel strapped for cash) tend to hold on to the most irrational stuff.

I recently emptied out a storage unit after two years. That's two years, during which I made maybe three trips there to get something out. So the point is, it probably could have burned down, and I would have been no worse for the wear. There are infinite, good excuses for keeping the stuff: some clothes for charity, which never quite made it there; a couple shelving units, which could come in handy; old baby stuff... oh, the memories!

Ultimately, I donated, recycled, and trashed about 90% of what I was paying to store. No, my case isn't severe. Yes, I could afford the payments. That's not the point. The point is, I accumulated stuff I didn't need which put a dent in my resources (including the time it took to unload and sort it all). It's a waste. Why do we do that?

There are two prominent reasons for hoarding, as I see it. The first is that the hoarder has an emotional attachment to the items. We all have mementos that would appear to be junk to anyone else. Every meaningful relationship or event leaves some physical trace. The problem comes when we need to hold on to so many of these, that their presence gets in the way of new memories.

The second is that the person has a scarcity mentality. Aside from the memories attached to these items, the hoarder connects an exaggerated value to each. "It might come in handy!" is an example of this. The question one ought to ask himself is this: "Do I suppose that this item will become useful enough, soon enough, to warrant my storing it?" This is especially true for large items and/or those that will degrade with time (i.e.: shelving units or cars). For smaller items, I'd add the question: "Will I be able to find this when the time comes that I need it?"

In America, anyway, most of the time, its easier to just go buy whatever you need when you need it—even a cheap used item is as close as the internet. Indeed, this is what we do, despite already having the item we need packed away somewhere. That's not to say you shouldn't accumulate assets—items that increase in value, if not usefulness with time. The point here is to learn to tell the difference before you put it into storage.

Mainstream media caters necessarily to the masses, and is sponsored by consumer products. This apparatus of the machine has a vested interest in spreading the general belief that buying stuff creates happiness. As soon as a product goes out the door (of the factory, the big box store, etc.), its company no longer feels responsible for where it ends up. Media creates sadness, so that marketing can sell happiness—that's the bottom line.

The troublesome thing is, this is not inaccurate. You do feel good when you buy stuff, hence the addiction. Like substance abuse, this belief creates baggage—literally. With such an emphasis on buying what ultimately ends up as trash, is it any wonder that some people try to squeeze every last ounce of value out of each item? Any wonder that cars sit on blocks, waiting to be repaired? Any wonder diet books and exercise equipment stack floor to ceiling, awaiting the "right time"?

It doesn't surprise me that once we buy what we don't need, and store it until it can be used or discarded properly, that we wouldn't do the same with everything that comes into the mess. Bills we mean to pay, get lost. Trash we mean to recycle, gets buried. The mantra is "buy, buy, buy, hurry, hurry, hurry!" until our living space is as cluttered and disorganized as our minds.

STOP! Take a deep breath. Get the mess off your mind, by getting it out of your house and your life. By all means, keep the memories—just lose the mementos.

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