Hoarder mentality

I did the unthinkable last night and watched the first episode of Britain’s Biggest Hoarders:

It was truly horrifying. Immediately after watching it, I felt the need to clean and cull.

So I cleaned the kitchen bench.

And the stove.

I culled some paperwork that had just been sitting around on the buffet.

And I threw out some paperwork too that I didn’t need any more but that had been just lying around.

I dusted.

I tidied.

And I sorted.

I don’t know why watching a show about people with rubbish piled high to the ceiling would make me feel the urge to clean and cull, but it did. Up until that point, I was thinking Uh oh, maybe I’m a hoarder too. Because I do find it hard to let go of possessions that have been with me a long time.

But you know what? Watching that show sorted me right out. It was just sad. First I felt horrified at all the dirt and mess and clutter (well, it was beyond clutter but I can’t think of any other name for it!) and filth. I felt disgust and repulsion at the people who lived that way, their lives controlled by the rubbish they collected around them. I felt no pity.

But the more I watched, the more pity I felt. These were ill people. People who had no life. People who were lonely. People who were depressed. The pity in me grew, and I felt a kinship with my fellow humans who I could see were in distress and who were suffering.

I don’t understand hoarding. I don’t really understand what it is in all of us – or at least most of us – that stops us from letting go of possessions long after their worth has passed.

What I do know is that watching these people in their extreme clutter helped me see that my own possessions really are just stuff. Unless they’re of active use to me, or to someone else in my family, they’re a weight around my neck.

I learned a lot from the hoarders I saw on the show above. I learned that our addiction to our stuff can be toxic. It can be poison. Wisdom comes from knowing when to hold, but also when to let go. 

4 thoughts on “Hoarder mentality

  1. My sentiments exactly! I watch these shows as well and feel such compassion for extreme hoarders. I am also at a loss for understanding how they let their possessions (and even trash) turn their homes into prisons of clutter. Our stuff is just that…stuff. When we put more significance on our possessions than they deserve, we get ourselves into trouble.

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    • Sometimes it’s so hard to let go of things. My problem is items that were gifts. Ironically, if it’s things I bought for myself, I generally it easy to let go. But if it’s things that I inherited or that were given to me, it’s not so easy! I’m gradually getting to a point where I see it all as just “stuff”, but it has taken a long time to get there.

      One thing i’m proud of is that I’ve taught my kids to not attach too much to things, but instead to focus on relationships and people instead. They’re growing up to be people I’m proud of – much better people than I was / am. But maybe that means I’m a better person than I give myself credit for 🙂

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  2. I’ve watched a lot of these kinds of shows and read some really interesting books (non fiction, memoir and fiction!) on hoarding. And yeah, it always encourages me to tidy up things I’ve been letting build up!
    I think we all have a collecting impulse to some degree – it’s a survival impulse really. We have just never had the means to hoard crap until relatively recently in our human history, and most cultures have rules that work against hoarding (which must exist for a reason! subsistence communities reward and encourage squirreling away supplies, but then you also have the potlatch and other shared feasts). And of course what’s reasonable to keep depends on your space – most farmers hoard a lot of parts and things for just in case, but that makes sense. But if you do that in an apartment, you’re going to get into trouble. We adapt to our surroundings so we go clutter blind, and we humans are spectacularly skilled at deluded thinking!
    But most people who have hoarding problems have specific triggers – usually terrible losses. They may have sought comfort in things to a lesser extent in the past, but after they lose something very important (usually a loved one, and/or a role in life – a sense of belonging and worth) they fixate on the things to fill the emptiness. Not all of them hoard garbage – there’s a bunch of different types of hoarders – but they all let the stuff get in the way of living well. There’s usually have a whole raft of issues including OCD and/or depression. It’s definitely a mental disorder. It’s really sad, and it’s really hard to cure.
    And it’s especially frustrating because the things that they value so much end up getting lost and neglected amongst the crap. I have family members who are high class hoarders – no goat trails or filth or anything, but they sacrifice their own health and safety and so much more for collections of stuff… it makes me crazy! The things that really matter to their kids are impossible to find, but they have all these collectibles and collections. Gah!

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    • Yeah, I got that impression too – that a lot of the hoarders had emotional and mental issues that were just too big for them in some ways, so they used their stuff as an emotional crutch to deal with life. I found the hoarder shows very sad.

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