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Should I Keep It?

I sometimes think about the trips my family took to my grandfather’s house when I was younger, usually when I’m watching an episode of Hoarders.  His living room was clean but cluttered, souvenirs of his travels on every wall and in each corner.  The kitchen held hundreds upon hundreds of sugar packets, single-serve ketchups, coffee stirrers, and other treasures from fast food restaurants; collecting these was a habit he picked up from his mother.  His bedroom was filled with stacked boxes, newspapers, and milk crates filled with miscellaneous items.  This was the one room in the house that seemed inhabitable; there was no walking room and the stacks looked as if they could topple at any second.

Hoarding is “a complex disorder that is made up of three connected problems: 1) collecting too many items, 2) difficulty getting rid of items, and 3) problems with organization.”  Hoarding is “considered a subtype of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  There are varying levels of hoarding behavior. A diagnosis of OCD of the hoarding type is made when there is significant distress or disruption to feelings of self-worth, interpersonal relationships, education, occupation, housing, finances, legal issues, or health as a result of hoarding behavior.”  Symptoms include saving worthless items, buying certain items in excess, assigning equal value to all objects, experiencing severe anxiety when attempting to or actually discarding items, losing the use of the home due to clutter, and neglecting the cleaning of the home.  The anxiety and stress website also states that there is a strong genetic component to OCD of the hoarding type and it can begin showing signs in a person as young as five.

My father was always referred to as a packrat when I was growing up.  If not for my mother sneaking things into the trash when he was at work, our garages and basements would have been full, his closet overflowing, and our attic packed to capacity.  As a child, I collected beanie babies, Happy Meal toys, Legos, Troll dolls and anything else I thought was worth having.  To have a collection was a symbol of status to me and I wanted something to show off to people and something to admire on my own time.  As I got older, I collected sports memorabilia, furniture, refused to get rid of clothing or shoes, and clung to silly things as if they were a part of me.  In the early 2000s, I moved and couldn’t afford a truck so most of my things went into storage.  I ended up losing the unit (rent was more important) and all my belongings went up for auction.  A few years later, a shady landlord used a loophole in my weekly lease to lock me out and I lost quite a bit yet again.  It was these two events that I believe stopped me from becoming a hoarder or at least having serious hoarding tendencies.  The loss of all my belongings and my ability to be fine afterward forced my mind to rewire a bit and stop putting so much importance on silly material things.

There is a theory that the hoarding impulse is a “natural and adaptive instinct gone amok.” The animal instinct to hoard offers advantages; the Arctic gray jay stores away about 100,000 mouthfuls of berries, insects, and spiders, according to Discover magazine’s site.  One in twenty people are said to have hoarding problems, typically showing signs at age 13 and having it become a serious issue in their 20s or 30s.  If a parent is a hoarder, the child may not only be genetically susceptible, but may be influenced to hoard due to the cluttered environment they grew up in that was presented to them as normal.  Tragedies, such as a death in the family or a disease, can also trigger a hoarding impulse.

Because it is so common, I think it’s important to look at the signs of possibly being a hoarder; if you experience any, it’s definitely important to know as soon as possible so you can begin taking steps to heal your mind and declutter your home:

1.  You are unwilling to throw anything away.  “Hoarders find sentimental value in things that most people consider junk and would have no problem throwing out. The items can vary in age, quality, quantity and purpose. Even when hoarders try to clean up their mess, they struggle to actually throw anything away and get upset at the thought of losing their collection.”  My grandfather treated his newspapers this way, often saying that if they were gone he would forget important events from months and years past.

2.  You hold on to items that are used, need repairs, and have no sentimental value.  “Hoarders will keep just about anything they think they’ll use one day. Many of the collectibles have no tangible value, but the hoarder will defend having something like an 8-year-old receipt because it marked a day in their life.”  My great-grandmother would save the plasticware from fast food restaurants to mark a good meal with a friend or even one alone.

3.  Your house is too cluttered to use the living areas for their actual purpose.  “If eating at your kitchen table or sitting on your couch is an unimaginable idea because of the amount of clutter taking over these living areas, you may be a hoarder.”  I’ve seen one too many episodes of Hoarders where the person is unable to use their own restroom due to the amount of items they have stacked in their bathroom.

4.  You struggle to do basic activities.  “If you find yourself struggling to do basic, everyday tasks, such as showering, cleaning, cooking and exercising because the clutter and state of your home prevents you from doing so, you may be a hoarder.”  Cleaning house is a big enough task by itself; I couldn’t imagine trying to vacuum around stacks of boxes, fold laundry when I have piles and piles of clothes covering chairs, or doing dishes when so many other items surround the sink.

5.  You steal and/or never return borrowed items.  “A common trait among hoarders is borrowing items and never returning them because they are lost or the borrower doesn’t wish to return it. Hoarders may also resort to stealing so they can add more things to their collection.”  A friend of mine in middle school had a family member who hoarded; visitors to their house had a tendency to “lose” items they didn’t keep an eye on.

6.  You avoid having any maintenance workers come to your home.  “If you have a leaky faucet, a rodent problem or need the cable guy to install something, but won’t do anything about it because you are afraid to let them inside your house, you may be a hoarder. Hoarders avoid having workers over out of embarrassment or fear that their stuff will fall on someone. Also, hoarders may be afraid of workers calling the health department, The Humane Society or child and adult protective services to report their unsanitary home.”

7.  You don’t have visitors over.  “Hoarders tend to live an isolated life because they are prisoners of their home, and they like to keep it that way. Hoarders don’t have visitors over because of the embarrassment they feel when people see their clutter.”  If the items you value so highly are also items that greatly embarrass you, it is definitely time to rethink the value of said items and whether the decision to keep them is the intelligent one to make.

8.  Your home renders you immobile.  “There are often narrow walkways through the stacks of clutter, but most of the rooms are filled to their capacity and completely unlivable. This kind of immobility is hazardous to your health and could lead to obesity if you are unable to move around your house.”  Not only is this a personal hazard, but it endangers other family members, including pets and children, people who have no choice about where they live and in what condition.

9.  You feel anger, stress, and anxiety about letting go of possessions.  “Those who hoard may have trouble with making decisions, procrastinating, perfectionism and staying focused long enough to organize their house, while continuing to add things to the collection just in case you need it one day.”  Personally, there were many useless things I once held on to our of fear that I would need it one day, would miss it too much, would regret getting rid of it, or wouldn’t be able to be proud of what I still had because things were missing.

10.  You have dozens of animals.  “If you find yourself collecting more than the average number of pets and are unable to provide the minimum amount of care for your pets, you may be a hoarder. Hoarding animals is a serious type of animal cruelty because owners are imprisoning hundreds of animals at a time, and neglecting them of proper nutrition, sanitation, shelter and veterinary care.”  I didn’t hoard mice, but I did accidentally buy a male who impregnated my three female mice and resulted in around 50 babies.  I got rid of them but shudder to think what would have happened in a hoarders hands given how fast they reproduce and they proved to be clever enough to escape certain cages.

HELP STOP HOARDING

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About Jamie C. Baker

“Long time no see. I only pray the caliber of your questions has improved.” - Kevin Smith

Posted on January 4, 2012, in Crazy People, Fear, Life and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Nobody is going to take my bed of dead cats away.

  2. My parents were not too bad back in the day, but my Dad loved to hoard parts. He was a major appliance repair man so once a week or so we would go behind the new appliance stores (with permission) to where they stacked up the old junked units they pulled from people’s homes and he would strip them of their valuable parts. When he did repairs, he would offer the customer a used or new part and charge them accordingly, since some parts are outrageously expensive and a used one is just as good. Of course, this just makes sense.

    I think this started him on a bad path though, because he would start collecting old brass fixtures, or bits and pieces of “classic” machinery, or even random hardware and he would just put them anywhere. One of my mom’s classic complaints which I witnessed many times, was that he would borrow her car and over a few weeks the floor and back seats would be covered in old parts, new parts, screws, bolts, nuts, washers, tools, gaskets, brass fittings, dishwasher doors, cast iron pieces of old stuff that was for god knows what. It would get to the point that she forbid him from using her car because he would leave it that way.

    Alternatively, he would carry all of that stuff inside and just put it somewhere. The little dish you put change in on your nightstand was the size of a meat locker in my Dad’s mind. Within days it was piled high and overflowing with used versions of everything from Home Depot’s plumbing and electrical department.

    I remember years ago before I accepted that he was going too far with his collecting, he was at my apartment with my mom visiting me and I saw in the kitchen a collection of containers. It was the little boxes something you buy at Best Buy comes in maybe, or a little cute tube container that something at a boutique shop might come in. I was picking them up to throw them out and he said, “Why are you throwing those out? Those are perfectly good containers.” That was when it dawned on me that this collecting thing was an issue…a harmless one…not a HOARDERS one…but still.

    Then as my parents got older, they just started holding on to everything. They were going to sell their house several years ago and I advised them to get rid of all the clutter; knick knacks, chotchkies, cherub collectibles, stamped ceramic thimbles, yellowing doilies, mismatched furniture, etc… They called me to tell me they rented a large garbage dumpster and they were finally tossing out everything in the house. I thought that was a great idea. A few months later I flew in for work and I visited them, walked into the house and was expecting to see a few sticks of furniture and some wide open space but when I walked in…I looked left, I looked right…and it looked like NOTHING had been thrown out. Despite this, they insisted they had discarded “so much stuff” and tossed “so many boxes.” And yet, I was still dodging chairs sticking out, being careful not to knock the tables and cabinets filled with Precious Moments and trying to find a place to put my suitcase down that I wouldn’t trip over later.

    After a few years, several rented trash bins (I am told) and a few visits where it looks EXACTLY like it did before I left home, I just gave up.

    I am sure as you get older, you want to hold onto more because usable stuff you toss out means you have to buy it when you need it and on a fixed income that is something you want to avoid. I get that. But honestly, their quality of life suffers for it and I don’t think that is a good trade off. All of that STUFF in their house is preventing them from selling it, which is keeping them in a very cold part of the country when I have offered so many times to help them move and help them find a cute little place out here where it is warm. They talk a big talk, but they won’t walk the walk, and every time I go in that not-hoarder-but-crazily-cluttered-house, I just sigh.

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