What causes hoarding?

While on Christmas vacation, I indulged in some of my more less-productive pursuits, including… watching TV.

*gasp – shock – awe*

One of the things I watched was A&E’s television show, Hoarders.  Basically, the show is a stylized documentary series which depicts the stories of real-life hoarders.  From what I understand, each episode  features two different families and their attempts to deal with their hoarding problems.  The show provides some analysis of their hoarding symptoms and attempts to help with their hoarding by providing a clean-up crew and a professional organizer.

cluttered room

Photo credit: puuikibeach via Flickr

The episode that I watched featured (1) Dennis and Nadene and (2) Erin and Malinda.  At the start of the show, both families were introduced as being at-risk of losing their homes due to unsanitary and unsafe conditions.  Here’s the link to the full episode: http://www.aetv.com/hoarders/video/dennis-and-nadene-erin-and-malinda-17127119#17127119

The first family, Dennis and Nadene, was an older couple.  The husband has some depression issues and collects guns and the wife has some minor mental health issues.  Yikes.  The part that stuck with me was when they remarked, “It’s an organizational problem” and “We’ve just outgrown the house.”  This is a sentiment that you might hear from anyone – friends, family, colleagues.  It was a bit of an understatement in the case of Dennis and Nadene, but as the show mentioned several times, a hoarding problem doesn’t start over night.

It made me wonder, when does a few pieces of sports memorabilia turn into a collection?  And from there, when does it turn into a clinical case of hoarding?  If someone has a big collection, but keeps it organized, how can you tell if there are symptoms of hoarding?  To be sure, for Dennis and Nadene, it wasn’t just sports memorabilia – there were also knives, guns, knick knacks, and an ungodly number of clothes.  There was so much stuff that the husband rarely ventured beyond his bedroom.

The second family featured two sisters, Erin and Malinda, and their mother.  They live together in a house with a gaggle of cats and during their intro, they remarked that they could not afford to lose their home because: “We’re not wealthy.”  To me, they ARE wealthy – they have a nice big house with three bedrooms and a chunk of land.  But with their hoarding problem, they were funnelling their wealth into stuffed animal collections, crafting supplies, and quite a bit of soda, judging from the boxes and empty cans.  The thing that got me about these people was the fact that their hoarding became not just a space problem, but a health problem.  One of the daughters had a huge infestation of bugs in the her room and the majority of her clothes, furniture and stuffed animals had to be tossed due to contamination.  What good is stuff if it is unusable due to neglect?

I’ve been on a slow but steady march to get rid of stuff.  While it’s pretty easy for me to get rid of clothes (I don’t buy many and generally wear them until they are worn or horribly dated…) I have a really hard time parting with stuffed toys and books.  Actually, a recent guest to the new condo remarked, “Are you guys parents?”  *hangs head*  For now, everything has its place but would it ever overwhelm the bookcases and spill onto the floor?  I hope not.  My intense hatred of creepy crawlies is another huge reason why I like to maintain a clean house.  No bugs if there’s nothing for the bugs to eat and nowhere for the bugs to hide!  I was totally creeped out when they lifted up her mattress to show mounds of live and dead bugs.  It made me go and wash my sheets.  Ugh.

After watching the show, I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to feel horrified, hopeful, or a bit of both.  Obviously, the television show is not equipped to provide treatment for hoarding.  While both families did manage to get their house in better shape, it was pretty apparent that the two day whirlwind clean-up that was done only scratched the surface of the psychological problems behind their obsessive compulsive accumulation of stuff.  I found it hard to sympathize with either family, but it did make me even more determined to purge my own small piles of junk.  While I don’t have very much stuff at all compared to a lot of other people, I do find that as I get older, my stuff weighs on me more heavily.  When I do manage to get rid of something, I feel a lot freer.

How do you deal with accumulation of stuff?  Do you maintain any collections?

Posted in: Home, Minimalism and Frugality

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