September 21, 2009


In my canasta group, we have a silly, inside joke.  As someone is pondering their next move, the rest of us will sit around and heckle her for holding too many cards- our favorite taunt is to call that person a "hoarder".  One gal, in particular, is adept at this amassing of cards and even worse, knows what the rest of us are attempting to collect.  And it is the delivery of the line itself that is essential to our taunts -  "HOAR *cough*cough* der!" 

Recently, I have been watching the A&E show, Hoarders. The show strikes a strong, personal chord with me because I have a close Family Member with a serious, deep-seated hoarding problem.  As with many garden-variety hoarders, it began quite simply in the basement and then proceeded to snake its way through  the rest of the house.  There are entire rooms in the house that are virtually inaccessible because the piles of stuff streaming out of them literally block the doorways.  Even more importantly to me is this: the Family Member lives in the house of one of my most cherished Loved Ones.  And it is the Loved One with whom I am most concerned.  The potential mold and vermin.  The fire hazards and the escape routes which are now blocked from entry AND exit.  The stress of being surrounded by all these piles and not being able to help the Family Member who has a serious mental problem and who needs professional help.

This is where I need to make a crucial point, folks:  You cannot simply take the hoarder's stuff and throw it away. The hoarder will possibly have a nervous breakdown and ultimately, simply throwing their stuff away does not solve the underlying issue.  You could create an even worse situation.

I feel helpless in the face of the Family Member's problem and its effect on my Loved One.  I feel helpless as the rest of the family gossips in whispers about the situation.  I feel helpless as I try to talk to the Loved One about the Family Member getting professional help.  And every so often, I take furtive pictures around the house with my camera.  Documentation.  If I ever need to present this situation to a judge, I want my case to be strong if I ever need to intervene on my Loved One's behalf.

So, I watch A&E's  Hoarders with a helpless fascination.  I understand the frustrations of the hoarders' family members and friends.  But even more so,  I understand the compulsion on the part of the hoarder to keep things.  To affix a perceived value on what is essentially a worthless item - be it a cheap trinket or actual trash that someone else might throw away.  Having a recycle bin has helped me with this.  Holding a garage sale nearly every year has made me assess the impermanence of things and has allowed me to be okay with it.  Going to the used bookstore to trade in books at least monthly has helped me decrease the amount of books collecting dust.  Knowing the library is always available allows me to Just Let Go since books are my greatest weakness with which I struggle the most.  Donating items to charity has also given me that freedom to Just Let Go. Designating my own basement as a virtual storage-free zone, save for holiday and seasonal items gives me peace of mind that I am keeping the Hoarding at bay.

I always feel as if I am on the brink of just hopping that runaway train which leaves a trail of junk, trash and tears. 

That thought terrifies me. 

And now?   I shall go throw that empty gum container in the trash because we have no use for it.


Melanie said...

A few months back (or maybe longer) I saw an episode about this on Oprah, I was stunned, I had no idea people lived like that, all that said it sure gave me a kick in the pants to get moving , I had bins and bins of the kids clothes, and while I rightly kept Drews (in case I had another boy) I didnt and it was time to start purging. I still havent done enough of it.... its laziness on my part, not my wish to keep it all... procrastination is not a good thing!

D. Jain said...

I've been inside a hoarder's home before, and it's incredible how much junk can be packed into a room. And it's very sad. The one I went to was actually after the person had died, and the family was left with the job of emptying the place out.

Moving really helps me get rid of stuff. I have a tendency to hold onto junk or useless things with "sentimental" value. I threw away a ton of stuff on this last move that I'd been holding onto since high school. Not even important things, just weird reminders and keepsakes that I couldn't even remember the history/meaning of any more. It felt good to clear a lot of it out.

Christine said...

A show about hoarders? Really?

My experience of course is with animal hoarders and I feel fortunate that it's recognized as a mental illness within the veterinary and animal rescue communities.

It was interesting last year when they pulled 800 dogs from one home. I knew the wife and she was NOT a hoarder although people assumed she was. She was an out-of-control breeder (main difference: she would sell the dogs, a hoarder will not part with the animals, period).

It's a really sad way to live, particularly when you throw in animal feces and bodies, etc. I feel fortunate that the hoarders I've worked with have all been single people, because I think I might have a different reaction if kids were in the house.

Olivia said...

The father of a friend is a hoarder. She is an only child and she dreads having to deal with it whenever he dies.

I think moving somewhat frequently, and knowing we will move again, keeps me from collecting too much stuff.

MommyWizdom said...

I have found that there are two kinds of people in the world; there are the hoarders and there are the tossers, who became that way because of the hoarders. Interesting isn't it? I'm leaning towards your corner right now!

Great post - I had no idea there was a show! But, I'm not surprised.