Sued51's Blog











{March 19, 2013}   Inside the Cluttered Mind of a Hoarder

dumpsterI’ve reached that age when many of my friends are dealing with cleaning out older relatives’ homes. We talk about it a lot. I”m downsizing, myself (not voluntarily, it is important to note). The issue of accumulated possessions is taking over my mind like a hoarder’s stuff takes over their homes, and the resulting picture is not pretty. Why do we collect stuff and why do we hold onto it?

I’m not a psychologist (although I have a BA in psychology) and I haven’t extensively researched the subject because it hits too close to home (my beloved father suffered from it). I can’t even say I’ve watched the show, “Hoarders.” I tried, but it made me nauseous. This post comes from my gut, my intuition, and from my own feelings.

First and foremost, hoarders have spent their lifetimes amassing their possessions. It took a lot of money and work to collect all this; it is their “life’s work.”  I see this watching the TV show, “American Pickers.” Usually the people with barn after barn full of stuff say they have been collecting it all their lives, and they are proud of it. It is the sum total of their life.

I’m guessing that my feelings at being forced to downsize are very similar to what hoarders experience when someone forces them to clean out their homes. I spent a lot of money and energy accumulating my stuff; I spent many years at jobs I didn’t like to buy these things, and now I have to give them up. It’s devastating. If my life were a formula, it would look like this:

Energy + Stress + Boredom + Putting up with misery and disrespect = Things.

And when you get old and your things get old, they become unwanted, worthless, dumpster-worthy. How does that change the formula?

Energy + Stress + Boredom + Putting up with misery and disrespect = 0 (ZERO)

Having an outside party come in and determine what is worth saving is a humbling experience at best, a humiliating and heartbreaking experience at its worst. It’s possible that none of it is “worth” anything. Try putting your precious treasures up for sale on Craigslist or at a yard sale, and you face similar enlightenment…if you don’t want to “give” it to them, they don’t want it. I have come to the distressing conclusion that the only true intrinsic value of things, as well as people, lies in their serviceability to someone. I imagine this is what the hoarder thinks: My life has come down to this. Isolated and alone as a lot of them live, they identify with their “stuff.”  When other people make the decision to throw the hoarder’s stuff in the dumpster, they, in effect, are throwing the hoarder in the dumpster as well.

I also think some hoarders have a misplaced need to “rescue” things; it gives them self-worth. This could be a conscious rationalization or an unconscious thought. The rest of the world is the “enemy” that wants to toss these treasures in the dumpster; the hoarder wants to “save” them (in more ways than one). Thus they end up with items other people have discarded; these items become their community, their “followers,” their tribe. They are creating their own museum, preserving history, holding onto the world as they knew it.

And we, the caretakers, the “normal” ones, think we are smarter than them, somehow better than them. We are better able to judge the worth of things. But the hoarders are well-aware of the “games” we play — throwing things away when they aren’t watching; getting them to tell stories to distract them; slipping something inside something else and spiriting it away– we think they won’t miss these items amid the clutter. In reality, do they miss the particular item? Probably not. Do they feel that something isn’t right in their world, that someone has taken something from them? Yes, they do; you have stolen a piece of their life, passed judgment.

When my father was alive, I read articles about helping hoarders get rid of things. One suggested taking pictures of the items and listening to the hoarder’s story regarding that item (and there usually is one); this makes it easier for the hoarder to let go. Logic says, they can look at their items in a photograph without cluttering their house. What then happens to the pictures? They still end up in the dumpster when the hoarder passes away.

The caretakers/family feel embarrassed, angry, insulted: why does the hoarder need that stuff when he or she has us? WE are what they should consider important. The answer is: where were you when the hoarder was amassing the stuff? It doesn’t happen overnight. Whether you were unaware or turned a loving blind eye, you weren’t dealing with the real problem.

Nobody wants to look it in the face, but it is all about loneliness, lack of connection, and the feeling of a wasted life. Is this the legacy of capitalism?

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TBM says:

Love the last question–hadn’t thought of it that way

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sued51 says:

TBM,
Thanks for your comment. In well-off countries, I think we take “stuff” for granted and our values are confused and distorted.

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Peter S says:

I’ve seen the ‘Hoarder’s show, and it’s interesting how each one has a different motivation. Some will part with things if they are convinced that someone will use it, while others can’t bear to part with anything. We have a family member who we think is a hoarder. Not to the level that is shown on the ‘Hoarders’ show though, thankfully. To try to help reducing some of the stuff in the house we will ask if she would be willing to part things, such as 40 year old children’s toys. No, she’s not ready to part with that right now, sorry. We’re thinking that by removing things from the house, she fears that it’s a sign that she’s going to be forced to leave the house too someday.

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sued51 says:

That’s insightful, Peter. I’m sure she feels that way…I think hoarders sometimes wonder about your motivation for wanting to clean out the house. When we realized how little time my father had left, we stopped pushing him. We wanted him to enjoy the end of his life without feeling threatened by us wanting to get rid of his stuff.
For myself, I get emotionally attached to things because of the people who gave them to me or the memories associated with them.

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Peter S says:

I get attached to books, especially ones received as gifts.

I think you’re right about how people can feel threatened by a clean up by even the most well intentioned relative. Nice of you to leave your Dad in peace.

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I understand what you are saying, it is not always clear-cut. The ‘throw-away- mentality, the other extreme, is equally wrong. I guess the middle path is the best.

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sued51 says:

Yes, I do think the middle is best…but it is hard place to be because you are still passing judgments that are personal ones. One man’s trash, another man’s treasure…

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Interesting post, there is a lot to think about here.

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sued51 says:

Tell me what you think…:-)

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It’s something that I really don’t understand as I tend to get rid of everything.

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sued51 says:

I hope I helped you to understand a little. 🙂

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It is interesting to me, how we all process things differently.

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Happy Easter Sued 🙂

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