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He calls it simply “the project”.
August 8, 2011 6:28 AM   Subscribe

“The irony is [that Greg’s parents] were saving this for him,” she says. “Every little baby bottle, every little scrap, every rock that you see. In their minds they were doing it for him. And it’s just turned into this beast." Inheriting the Hoard is the story of Greg M., a man whose parents were hoarders, and his year+ struggle to clean out the house they left behind.

Greg hoped the job would take him six months. Updates from Greg and his partner Sidney.

After the first year, Sidney provided a progress report on her blog in which Greg estimated he was about 50% done.
posted by Georgina (209 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite

 
The tape recorder is obsolete. But it holds memories. He has trouble putting it down or letting it go – despite the specter of corroded batteries leaking out the back. Greg places it back on the pile. It’s a “keeper” item, at least for now.

Greg needs help.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:35 AM on August 8, 2011 [28 favorites]


Legally, could he have decided to not get involved with the house? Just leave it as it is?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:36 AM on August 8, 2011


re: his dad and all the books - it's interesting to think about how the digital age has changed the nature of hoarding in a sense. How many books and movies and songs are we all storing on hard drives? Hundreds of thousands, surely. If I had a copy of every paper book that I have on my computer sitting in my house, I would look like a crazy person. (I still have stacks of books everywhere anyway. Sigh.)

I think the fact that Greg wants to spend time going through every item in the house speaks to his own hoarding tendency, tbh. I just cleaned out my mom's house and was extremely ruthless with what was thrown/given away. I feel lucky to have escaped with just about 15 storage boxes of photos and papers - and my mom was nothing even remotely close to a hoarder.
posted by elizardbits at 6:48 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the fact that Greg wants to spend time going through every item in the house speaks to his own hoarding tendency, tbh. I just cleaned out my mom's house and was extremely ruthless with what was thrown/given away. I feel lucky to have escaped with just about 15 storage boxes of photos and papers - and my mom was nothing even remotely close to a hoarder.

Yep. It would be so quick and easy to hire a couple of guys and rent a dumpster for a few days.
posted by The Michael The at 6:49 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Very well-written. This is one of those great magazine articles that starts with a protagonist doing some really interesting stuff, and as you get deeper you realize the protagonist may in fact be in trouble, and at the end there's ambiguity about how the situation will wind up resolving itself. I don't know why I like this format so much, but I really do.
posted by Jon_Evil at 6:50 AM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hoarding is a relatively unstudied disorder, and the progress being made on it in the last decade or so is really exciting.

There probably is a genetic component, so that along with the behavior he learned while growing up there makes it unsurprising that Greg tends to have some of the same difficulties as his mother, on a smaller scale.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:51 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Greg could be a hoarder. He could also feel like he's doing penance for failing to help them before. Or homage to the people they were. Or that he'll understand them or their illness better if he sorts through the remains. Or maybe he doesn't have much better to do and hopes he'll find some treasures. The article said there were some valuables in there.
posted by DU at 6:51 AM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hoo boy.

I'm pretty sure I could get that house cleared out in well under six months if it were my full-time job, though I'd hire someone to do the eBay selling, or at least not bother to try to sell things unless they were of signifcant value, i.e., over $50. I feel terrible for Greg. His parents already loaded him down with issues which were already making his life harder, and then they leave him with this millstone of a house. No wonder he's sinking.
posted by orange swan at 6:53 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hoarding is a relatively unstudied disorder, and the progress being made on it in the last decade or so is really exciting.

IANAP, but isn't it a form of OCD, more or less?
posted by jonmc at 6:54 AM on August 8, 2011


elizardbits: "If I had a copy of every paper book that I have on my computer sitting in my house, I would look like a crazy person. "

Interestingly, I doubt that'd be the case if you had a room like this, which speaks to the sort of income-dependent nature of this thing we call hoarding: people with lots of space to keep lots of expensive items are called collectors or wealthy, people with little space to keep lots of cheap items are called hoarders.*

* There's no doubt that hoarding as a behavior puts a ton of strain on the people who suffer from it and their family members. But as a "pathology", it strikes me as the end result of a consumption-driven culture.
posted by Apropos of Something at 6:54 AM on August 8, 2011 [25 favorites]


He needs somebody without the bias of memory or emotion to sort through that stuff and throw out 99.5% of it. The risk of shoveling it all into a dumpster is that a first edition of The Lord of the Rings might be buried under that crap, worth seven thousand dollars...
posted by thewalrus at 6:54 AM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


That was the common classification for a while, but some of the primary researchers studying it think that it should be out of the OCD umbrella and on its own, and that it has many similarities to impulse control disorders such as compulsive gambling.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:55 AM on August 8, 2011


The article said there were some valuables in there.

Yeah, but how does the relative value of them balance out with: the amount he's still spending on storage every month; the amount of time and energy he's spending on this; the emotional distress; the stress on his relationship; &c? I mean, what's the point of some good silver (or whatever it might be) if he becomes a depressed alcoholic, as indicated in the "an update from greg" post?
posted by elizardbits at 6:55 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


(That's in response to jonmc)
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:56 AM on August 8, 2011


But as a "pathology", it strikes me as the end result of a consumption-driven culture.

It's as much a result of that as a gambling addiction is a result of easy access to a casino. There's something in the brain of the hoarder or the compulsive gambler that is just not working right from the get-go.
posted by griphus at 6:59 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


If Greg is exhibiting hoarding behavior, and he has the time and the resources to do so, a slow and steady clean-out has been shown to be better for long-term mental health than a mass dumpster-toss. A fast clean-out solves the immediate problem (a house full of junk) but doesn't do anything for the behavior which causes the house full of junk. From what I've read, psychologists and therapists who work with hoarders encourage them to consider why they keep some objects, and whether that purpose is best served some other way.

One of the big issues with the television show Hoarders is that they make the great dumpster-toss seem like a beneficial process, when really it's an option of last resort.
posted by muddgirl at 6:59 AM on August 8, 2011 [33 favorites]


* There's no doubt that hoarding as a behavior puts a ton of strain on the people who suffer from it and their family members. But as a "pathology", it strikes me as the end result of a consumption-driven culture.

I'm not going to argue back and forth about this, but it is a very real pathology. It affects the poor and the wealthy (see the Collyer Brothers). Some hoarders acquire their stash from picking through other people's trash, which is not in any way congruent with cultural norms of consumption, in fact, quite the opposite.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:59 AM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't know why I like this format so much, but I really do.

I like the Sisyphean dimension of the story: man believes himself stronger of will than his parents by not becoming a hoarder, yet his parents have the last laugh from beyond the grave. Tragedy at its finest.
posted by kithrater at 7:00 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I should also add to my last comment that it doesn't seem like Greg is getting professional help, and I personally think that's very dangerous (or at least I know that it would be dangerous for me to attempt such a project without sliding into the same sorts of hoarding patterns that are both genetic and learned).
posted by muddgirl at 7:05 AM on August 8, 2011


But as a "pathology", it strikes me as the end result of a consumption-driven culture.

I'm not going to argue back and forth about this, but it is a very real pathology.


It can be both real and the result of consumption-drive culture. Did hunter-gatherers ever suffer from hoarding?
posted by DU at 7:08 AM on August 8, 2011


If Greg is exhibiting hoarding behavior, and he has the time and the resources to do so, a slow and steady clean-out has been shown to be better for long-term mental health than a mass dumpster-toss. A fast clean-out solves the immediate problem (a house full of junk) but doesn't do anything for the behavior which causes the house full of junk. From what I've read, psychologists and therapists who work with hoarders encourage them to consider why they keep some objects, and whether that purpose is best served some other way.

I got the impression that this is exactly why Greg was so insistent on doing this by himself -- to physically work through everything as a sort of catharsis. Unfortunately, it seems to be sucking him in to the same "wait, maybe this is valuable" tendencies that his parents had, but he seems to have a little but of self-awareness that "this is a problem in myself too, and I need to deal with it".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:08 AM on August 8, 2011


The statement made in the article about him not being able to grieve -being occupied with the cleanout - hits home with me.

I, too am avoiding that emotional turmoil by holding on to boxes and boxes of stuff and equipment that were my hubby's. Dealing with the stuff means dealing with the emotions and meanings we attribute to stuff.

Saying that he could just hire someone to take it all away doesn't help with his emotional issues.
posted by mightshould at 7:11 AM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


it strikes me as the end result of a consumption-driven culture

My own grandfather's hoarding was excused by the opposite, in fact. His thought process was that every item has a use - that it's a waste to throw away a perfectly "useble" (ie, broken) item. He would go to yard sales and hear that people were just going to throw out, say, rusted tools, and he'd think "Why, I could fix those up like new, keep them out of the landfill, and save myself some money." But once the tools made it back to his shop, the immediacy faded, they got "stored" somewhere for when he "had time" to work on them.

For him, it was the opposite of consumption. He wanted to save items, not consume them.

Did hunter-gatherers ever suffer from hoarding?

How could we ever possibly know this?
posted by muddgirl at 7:12 AM on August 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm by no means a hoarder, nor is my family, but stories like this both intrigue and worry me, because it somehow feels so familiar...

I'm not sure if it stems from anxiety, frugality, or regularly having to improvise fixing stuff on the regular, but somewhere along the spectrum of those three factors, it becomes HARD to throw things away. Throwing out empty bottles or tiny containers or the like seem like a no-brainer for most people, but when you feel like so much of your life is a situation wherein you KNOW that dental floss container you threw out 2 months ago would have been PERFECT for whatever it is you're doing /working on right now; (not to mention having a perverted sense of conservation and environmentalism "this plastic will just sit in a landfill, look at the number on it! They don't recycle anything above 2 you know!") it seems as wasteful and offensive as throwing away unspoiled food.

After I moved out of my folk's house, I lived in an apartment for 8 years, and when I moved out of there last December, the sheer amount of shit I threw out was ungodly. Even worse was sorting through it. I actually had to force myself (like hold-my-nose-don't-look kind of force) to throw most of it in the trash, because if i took more than a moment, the chorus of "This still works / I could sell this / I can fix this / maybe someone can use this / I might need this in the new place" would start in and I'd have another pre-PS/2 mouse or 15" CRT or sturdy shoebox in the "maybe" pile.

Maybe it's this bias, but I think that people who tut-tut at Greg for not getting outside help are a little off base: Sure it's a whole ton of shit, but it's also his dead parents's stuff in his childhood home. That's gotta be rough, hoarder or not, and who wants someone else rifling through your folk's crap?

Maybe I have a problem after all?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:15 AM on August 8, 2011 [27 favorites]


Sorry, pathology was poor word choice. I was trying to express some frustration I have with the different ways we judge rich people and poor people for the same activities. In my mind, it's similar to how the label "alcoholic" gets disproportionately applied to poor people.

Still, there's something to be said for the role of culture in all this. If hoarding is an impulse control disorder like gambling addiction, what's an appropriate way to avoid triggers? It's relatively easy to keep yourself away from places where people gamble, slightly harder but still feasible to keep yourself away from places where people drink or use drugs. Where in the US - hell, the world at this point - can you keep yourself away from people who buy too much?
posted by Apropos of Something at 7:15 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


* result was a poor word choice.
posted by Apropos of Something at 7:16 AM on August 8, 2011


I doubt that'd be the case if you had a room like this

That is basically my dream for my new house.
posted by elizardbits at 7:17 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


My own grandfather's hoarding was excused by the opposite, in fact. His thought process was that every item has a use - that it's a waste to throw away a perfectly "useble" (ie, broken) item.

*nods* My grandparents hung on to quite a few things they didn't need to as well; I always chalked it up to "they were alive during The Depression."

They weren't hoarders, really, though -- but the one person I've ever met whom I'd call a "hoarder" was the mother of an old boyfriend of mine; she also happened to have been a child in Germany during the Third Reich, in a family that was not entirely sympathetic to the Nazis, and while I never got the story I suspected there was a lot of unresolved hardship there in her childhood which was manifesting itself in her not throwing anything away.

Neither were victims of "consumer culture" -- rather, both my ex's mom and my grandparents were victims of "there was a time when we had less than nothing."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:18 AM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I always chalked it up to "they were alive during The Depression."

Interestingly enough, the blog of the girlfriend has this as a potential answer for why:

"From what she said, it was her mom constantly criticizing her [mother-in-law-the-hoarder], the only girl, in a farm family, in the depression era. That's a major factor, at least. Not that we ever discussed her hoarding, but that's what I gather. And why SHE gathered."
posted by kithrater at 7:20 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


My dad grew up quite poor during the Depression, and he really could not bear to throw away anything that had use or could be fixed. Since my dad was good with his hands, this meant a lot of things. He passed some of that on to me. I have gotten a lot better over the years (moving every few years makes keeping dubious stuff less attractive), but I can sympathize with the urge.

My dad died recently, and I managed to avoid taking home pretty much anything from the estate, but now I am getting pressure from my eldest brother to take some of the furniture, despite the facts that a) I don't have any place for it, b) it won't match what I do own, and c) it will cost more to ship than buy something that would actually fill a need. So the whole process seems very familial to me -- "just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in."
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:20 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, this bit from Sidney really strikes me:
There is a part of him who could just live in the house as-is and be perfectly content.
I don't think that non-hoarders can understand how comforting a hoard can be. I always imagine it like a dragon in a tiny cave filled with gold (except the gold is really stacks of magazines or empty cereal boxes). One of the women profiled in Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things speaks very eloquently and insightfully about how different she feels about her hoard when she's in her house (safe, protected) vs. when she's outside her house (anxious, ashamed).
posted by muddgirl at 7:20 AM on August 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


Reading this thread, I'm also realizing what a distorted picture I've gotten of hoarding watching that dumb TV program on A&E, which really does seem to be jumping up and down on the poor for sport. I'm gonna take my not-your-or-anyone-else's-psychiatrist perspective offline now, and in the future, try not to be such a social determinist.
posted by Apropos of Something at 7:23 AM on August 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm so glad I'm not cursed with this, because I would clear out that house in two days. One day spent calling garbagemen for quotes, one day to thank them for a job well done. My mom's house is nowhere near this bad (the basement is about 10% of this) but that's exactly what I plan to do with it. I haven't seen any of that stuff (in the basement) in 15 years so obviously I don't need it or want it.
posted by desjardins at 7:27 AM on August 8, 2011


This kind of thing hits very close to home. I used to do computer service work for a family friend who was very into genealogy research and history in general. Her house was extremely large, but every single room was filled with stacks of books and papers. There were little pathways you could travel through each. One little path to the kitchen, another to a spot on the couch, half a window, and the computer. The old CRT monitor was itself supported on stacks of books and papers.

She's probably since passed on, and I sometimes wonder what was involved in clearing out that place. She lived alone, had some family nearby, but they weren't any better themselves.
posted by odinsdream at 7:28 AM on August 8, 2011


For those of you pondering your own tendencies, the Clutter Image Rating scale is a series of images you can compare your own living spaces against. I came away with "wattayaknow, looks like I've gone beyond just 'messy'."
posted by benito.strauss at 7:28 AM on August 8, 2011 [22 favorites]


mudgirl has a great comment about how comforting the stuff is...it seems so valuable because we give it worth that's not monetary but emotional.
posted by mightshould at 7:28 AM on August 8, 2011


This honestly scared me. I could be Greg in the future. When that times comes, I hope I remember this and hire some people. I know I have those tendencies and have to fight them most days. Living with people helps keep me in check (as does living in New York- space is at a premium here). But I fear clearing out my parents' place when the time comes.

I'm glad for the digital age. I helps immensely. I wonder if this phenomenon will decrease as more and more of our possessions are simply files on discs. If all your books are on a hard drive, it is hopefully easier to keep the study clean. But I'm not sure how this applies to people with this gripping their lives.
posted by Hactar at 7:31 AM on August 8, 2011


My wife's parents are both hoarders, and we often discuss how we're eventually going to deal with it. They moved for her dad's work and so now have two houses... the new one where they live and the old one where they shove all their new 'treasures' on top of all the other stuff.

The 'valuables' argument comes up all the time. Mom can't let anyone clean out a room because they don't know what might be valuable. The problem is that a book (that LotR first edition, maybe) that's been sitting in a hoarder's house is not worth $7,000, because it's practically being held together by dead silverfish and rat crap. The only thing that I've seen in that house that might be remotely worth keeping is a sword her grandfather brought back from Japan... and I made sure to stash that somewhere safe years ago.

Mom also brings a big bag of stuff to every family gathering, stuff that she's 'cleaned' from the house, and tries to give it away. It's usually clothes or computer bags or purses that she just had to have but has no use for, and usually nobody wants it, and I think it just goes back to the house.

The good thing is, Mrs. Huck500 is absolutely brutal about anything that's not utilitarian, because of living in her parents' house. Our house is completely free of clutter, which is how we both like it, thank god. When it's time to clean the mess, we'll rent dumpsters and quickly throw out the 99% that's old magazines, newspapers, blankets, etc., and there's no doubt in my mind that we'll end up keeping almost nothing.
posted by Huck500 at 7:32 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think he's a hoarder himself, and I don't think he failed to honor his parents. Or at least we can't know that from the information we're given, and the fact that he's trying to deal with it rather than walking away and leaving it for someone else to clean up makes me doubt that.

I think he's got a king-sized grieving issue, compounded by the fact that his mother couldn't or wouldn't make any physical preparations about her stuff when she was living.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:33 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


income-dependent nature of this thing we call hoarding: people with lots of space to keep lots of expensive items are called collectors or wealthy, people with little space to keep lots of cheap items are called hoarders

I disagree that hoarding becomes collecting just because you're rich. I don't care how big your house is, when your collection is covered in animal feces and dirt, and when you have to climb over it to get to water and food, it's a hoard. 20,000 books, no matter your tax bracket, in an otherwise uncluttered house and normal living conditions, indexed and sorted and shelved, is a collection--perhaps unhealthy but not a hoard. Add to that the inability to throw away bottle caps and rocks and an inability to remove insect infestations and it's a hoard.

Now someone like Leno or Seinfeld who has a warehouse full of classic cars is a collector. If they were poor they may have been boarders, who knows? Are there wealthy people who's wealth allows them to not be hoarders? Probably. But there are lots of things that money gets you. It seems to me that hoarders are a specific personality type plus some traumatic event that triggers hoarding. If you have wealth, that trigger may express itself differently. But I've seen rich hoarders (a family friend had to deal with his inheritance, and a mansion near my house we walk our dogs past)... Their hoard is more expensive, but their houses are just as packed with unused items, receipts, empty bags, etc. Their money is just buying them time.
posted by jeffamaphone at 7:35 AM on August 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm 31, I am a minor hoarder. My father had a bit of that tendency, too. I didn't know it until I was a teen-ager or in college, when my mom was helping me box up some things, and she mentioned that when my dad moved in with her, he had a trunk of random junk, including doctors appointment cards from when he lived in another country. To me, that sounded like a memento, but she thought it was useless.

Luckily, I married a lady who is glad to simplify things. She has no vested interest in my box of old Snapple bottles (but they're pre-nutrition labels! And only a few of them have old mold on the insides!) and scraps of everything accumulated from my childhood. I got away with a few boxes that I dragged around with me from place to place.

Going digital is great - I took pictures of those Snapple bottles and recycled the lot of them. I thought about going online to see if someone might want them, but my wife wanted them gone post-haste. When they were gone, I felt better. Getting rid of things can be nice.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:41 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


My now passed exMIL was a "clean" hoarder - there was no messy garbage saved and most things were in nice boxes or storage bins, arranged neatly and secure from landslides. But we still had to go through narrow paths to get anywhere; there was no way one could even touch the walls in the hallways the boxes were stacked so high. She still saved everything, including items she stole from us (her granddaughters photos, toys, and outworn clothing). When she passed, there were large boxes filled with nothing but old prescription bottles. We didn't even bother to try to find our belongings, it went all to charity.

I get teased a little for my "hoarding food" tendencies; I was raised LDS and tend to keep a few months food in the pantry. I also have TOO MANY boxes of craft supplies which will be sorted in the next month - I just moved recently, prompting the decision that I've got too much stuff. But never has a pathway been needed. My Clutter Image Rating is closer to 1 than to 2.

My ex, however, is getting more and more like a hoarder as he gets older. And not the "clean hoarder" his mother was; his place is disgusting. I worry some about him, mostly because we're still legally married and I'll have to deal with his crap when he passes (which won't be too long from now with his extreme health issues; doesn't take care of his health either.) Maybe I'll find the stuff he stole from me in the years since we've parted.

This stealing stuff trait in him and his mother - is this a part of hoarding? They don't take valuables, just stuff that would have memories attached that they can justify as "saving", not "stealing".
posted by _paegan_ at 7:43 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Like the Empress says, there is a distinct generational bump in this kind of behavior among people who were alive in the depression and saved stuff because they might really need it one day. I enter my mom's massive collection of carefully de-labeled mayonnaise jars into evidence, and note that occasionally she actually does use a couple of them for something. So it's not that she's trying to preserve them in their pristine state or anything.

Greg's parents' case is obviously light years beyond that, but there are milder forms of this behavior that look very rational in the situations from which they arose.
posted by Naberius at 7:45 AM on August 8, 2011


Over the next four weeks, I'm going to have to clean out an apartment that was occupied by my brother, and my father before him, and my grandmother (and grandfather, and aunt) before him. My family has been there for 45 years, and though none of my family members were hoarders, there's three generations' worth of stuff to contend with; some of the objects in the apartment date back to the nineteen-teens.

And yeah, I'm not a hoarder by any means, but I do have certain, let's say, tendencies. Like seeing sentimental value in objects, and not wanting to throw them away. Or wanting to photograph the historical items I come across (A pamphlet from the world's fair! Electrical textbooks from the 1920s, with awesome diagrams! A guide to civil code from the 1950s!), even though I'm tossing them.* Or wanting to donate stuff, instead of just throwing it out—even though that involves pushing one tiny shopping-cart-load at a time to Goodwill or Housing Works, each of which is about a mile away.

We've gotten rid of a lot already, but that was the easy stuff. Now we're getting to the point where I have to go through a fuckload of papers—some of which are personal journals and birth certificates, others of which are phone bills—and ostensibly useful items, such as the sizeable cache of awesome tools left behind by my father and grandfather, both of whom were construction workers. And then there's the stuff that's perfectly reasonable to keep, like my dad's paintings, but which is going to require us to get a storage space, because neither my brother nor I can afford a NYC apartment that has closet space.

So, yeah. I have great sympathy. I can appreciate the mercenary, toss-it-all approach, but I've found that there's some value to the stresses of sorting before tossing. It provides a body with a way of getting to know the departed one last time, and a means of literally letting go.

*I would totally spend time reading at a blog documenting the objects left over in someone else's parent's house. And I'd probably end up finding it through Metafilter.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:45 AM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


income-dependent nature of this thing we call hoarding: people with lots of space to keep lots of expensive items are called collectors or wealthy, people with little space to keep lots of cheap items are called hoarders

That's like saying people with money and means are 'foodies' and the poor have 'eating disorders'. You're comparing two completely different things that just happen to act through a similar medium. Leno isn't a hoarder because he has a warehouse full of cars - if he had a warehouse full of every random bit of garbage he saw, ever, and built a nest in it... THEN he'd be a hoarder.
posted by FatherDagon at 7:45 AM on August 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Shoulda burned it down.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:47 AM on August 8, 2011


My father destroyed a historic home that had been in the family for four generations (and also created a very unsafe and uncomfortable environment for me to spend large parts of my childhood in) with his compulsive hoarding. He'd always had a problem throwing things away and staying organized but it went completely out of control after my parents' divorce. (And I do mean the fire hazard, rooms with nothing but narrow passages between unstable towers of junk stacked six feet high, mice making nests in your bathtub sort of out of control. I can't describe much more. It gives me the shakes just to write about it.)

I would have to agree with the others here who say his rationale for the hoarding was not based on some mindless need to consume things but rather on a need to save things that might have some future use -- to rescue things other people didn't want. He was very good at fixing broken things, after all -- in fact he got paid to fix other people's things -- vending machines, television sets, cars.

I always thought that maybe the main reason he got so bad after my mother left him was not so much that she wasn't there to rein him in anymore, but that he was so upset about being utterly unable to save his marriage that he became fixated on saving everything else. He's a narcissist and when I was growing up he always hated feeling like he wasn't the one in control of any given situation. It's counterintuitive to people who haven't experienced hoarder psychology firsthand, but I think the out-of-control junk collection actually made him feel more in control of his house.

It's very hard growing up in a hoarder's house. I wouldn't be too quick to judge this guy on how he's chosen to deal with the mess his parents left behind. All his childhood memories are wrapped up in those piles of useless junk in the same way the childhood memories of a person with totally sane parents might get tangled around a certain old kitchen table where the family used to play board games, or a tire swing. Before you say he should have just dumped it all in the trash without looking, consider whether you would willingly burn down the house you grew up in without even going inside one last time.

Personally I'm relieved that my father's house was condemned and torn down before I knew what had happened (we don't speak anymore, for entirely different reasons than the hoard). But that doesn't mean I don't grieve for some things that were lost in the destruction of that house. Family photos. Favorite childhood books. My great-aunt's heirloom roses. It's true that things are just things, but losing things that feel like tangible fragments of your life to a hoarder's excess can feel a lot like a natural disaster.
posted by BlueJae at 7:49 AM on August 8, 2011 [25 favorites]


If I had a printed copy of every ebook on my laptop, it would fill a half dozen 2500 sq ft houses to the ceilings. Some things are better hoarded digitally..

Anecdotally, I saw a directory listing on another forum I read of somebody that hoards movies and TV shows in various video formats. They're up to 26TB of active storage on RAID6 arrays (multiple arrays!) and growing.
posted by thewalrus at 7:50 AM on August 8, 2011


I don't care how big your house is, when your collection is covered in animal feces and dirt, and when you have to climb over it to get to water and food, it's a hoard.

Jeffmaphone, I think the point was that, if you've got enough money, you can afford to keep your collection in better condition so there isn't animal feces and dirt everywhere, and you can afford a big enough house, or even dedicated structure, that you don't have to climb over it to get to the fridge.

In general, what would otherwise be accepted as mere eccentricity becomes problematic mental illness when it bumps up against the edges of other aspects of "normal" life and begins to interfere with your ability to function in that normal life. Money tends to give you a hell of a lot more room for your eccentricities to run and play in.
posted by Naberius at 7:50 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


_paegan_ - my grandfather was a "clean hoarder" too, and I think my family was fortunate in that he married a very neat and tidy woman who essentially negotiated a truce - he had full run of the basement and garage, as long as he kept everything out of the house (according to Stuff this is actually a pretty common negotiation).

if he had a warehouse full of every random bit of garbage he saw, ever, and built a nest in it... THEN he'd be a hoarder.

I wouldn't presume to diagnose Leno as anything, but on the other hand this betrays a common misperception about hoarding - just like anything, there are degrees. Greg's parents are certainly on the extreme end of the scale, and I hope that eventually we can start to recognize and help the early stages of compulsive hoarding BEFORE it reaches these final stages. I'm sure my grandfather would have reached this point eventually, if his tendencies hadn't been recognized and carefully monitored.

I mean, it's not like most hoarders WANT their stuff to be covered in rat feces. They generally have extreme emotional attachments to objects, and initially want to keep everything clean and organized.
posted by muddgirl at 7:51 AM on August 8, 2011


Armchair psychoanalysts may want to read up on the Endowment Effect. It's interesting (and sad) how much of themselves people can put into what they own. For one reason or another, they projected their personalities into their stuff (and really, who doesn't have a lucky pair of Chucks or a shirt or some other totem). It gets to the point where they can't part with stuff because it's become a part of themselves, silverfish and all. To discard the bad would be to risk the good.

As for our protagonist, well, that's part of the problem. He can't just throw it out because he recognizes it as part of his mother. The biggest part, I'd venture. He probably already lost the rest of her long ago. It's all been invested in objects (almost like Horcruxes).
posted by Eideteker at 7:55 AM on August 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


The book Stuff, that muddgirl mentions above, is fascinating and if you have any interest in the psychology of hoarders, I recommend it. The biggest surprise I took away from the book is how tenacious the disorder actually is. Apparently psychologists routinely exclude hoarders from their 'cured' statistics, because often, they just can't be. Clear out a hoarder's house and they'll have it filled up again tout suite.
posted by sugarfish at 7:57 AM on August 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Quoting bumper stickers is often a dangerous prospect, but two come to mind:

-The things we own end up owning us.

-Less stuff. More fun.

I wish this guy luck, I woulda called something like the cats from Storage Wars to come bid on it. Cross my palm with cash and roll up your truck.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:58 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eideteker, it IS so much like horcruxes! I wonder whether Ms. Rowling knows a hoarder?
posted by BlueJae at 7:59 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


My father is a hoarder. My mother is a collector and an enabler and after 42 years of marriage, doesn't see the hoard anymore.

I think this is key. They don't really see it.

For those of you who are saying that you would just go over and get a dumpster, there is so much more to it than that. I'm not sure that I can even explain it fully as the daughter of a hoarder. One problem I am expecting as my parents age is that my brother is showing major hoarding tendencies and the idea of "getting a dumpster" is going to come up against a major wall of resistance there.

I am 40 years old. I have tried to help. To say that it has been less than a grain of sand on a shore is an understatement. My father will not let me get rid of anything and my mother will not let me talk about it to either of them. It will not end until they are both gone, and even then, it may not be over.

It is not about rich or poor. It is not about the stuff. It's about mental illness.

Thanks for letting me vent a little.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:00 AM on August 8, 2011 [13 favorites]


> It's interesting (and sad) how much of themselves people can put into what they own.

Yeah, while watching those exploitative shows about hoarders I was struck with the sense that something in their cognitive structure is reversed from normal. "Normal" people tend to form memories and identities around their own internal models of the outer world. The hoarders tended to have their memories and identities directly pinned to objects in their physical space. Even just moving something to another room causes them panic. Not because they are necessarily obsessive about placement, but because their neurological basis is on that particular arrangement.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:01 AM on August 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


I wonder if any hoard reduction studies have been done for:

a) control group of hoarders taking placebo pill

b) group of hoarders taking common anti-OCD medications

c) control group of hoarders taking no medication whatsoever.
posted by thewalrus at 8:02 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's like an external manifestation of an incredibly well-detailed internal "memory palace".
posted by elizardbits at 8:03 AM on August 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Another thought: Even in situations where a hoard which must be disposed of/liquidated contains possibly valuable things, the US has such a vast surplus of common consumer goods sloshing around in a nation of 300+ million people that used items have almost no value. That microwave you bought last week for $75? It's worth maybe $20 used, and good luck finding anybody that wants to buy it. The time and effort involved in putting individual things on craigslist or ebay is just not worth it.
posted by thewalrus at 8:04 AM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Jeffmaphone, I think the point was that, if you've got enough money, you can afford to keep your collection in better condition so there isn't animal feces and dirt everywhere, and you can afford a big enough house, or even dedicated structure, that you don't have to climb over it to get to the fridge.

But like, it's not a collection. It's a disconnected series of items, the majority of which are useless. It's a crappy dining room table set from the 80s, a white keyboard from the 70s, photo-enlarging equipment from the 30s, boxes of receipts from the past 30 years, random lamps, a showbox full of handmade Barbie outfits, a garbage bag full of rancid perfume, a hollowed out emu egg, etcetcetc, all shoverd in one room. It's not "If Johnny the Poor-Hoarder was rich, his stuff would be displayed in better condition and therefore they wouldn't be a hoarder", it's "If Johnny the Poor-Hoarder was rich, he wouldn't display any of this stuff. He'd just hoard more stuff."
posted by 23skidoo at 8:05 AM on August 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


Before you say he should have just dumped it all in the trash without looking, consider whether you would willingly burn down the house you grew up in without even going inside one last time.

Yes, I would, if it were less stress than cleaning it up and selling it (and if it weren't totally illegal and dangerous). Judging me for my cold, heartless anti-sentimentalism is just as bad as judging a hoarder.
posted by desjardins at 8:08 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nuke the site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.

???
posted by thewalrus at 8:08 AM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


On the hunter-gatherer front, I can't really see hoarding tendencies as survivally-oriented in a semi-nomadic lifestyle that, from all evidence I've seen, doesn't allow for a whole lot of physical possessions in general.

If you can't carry all your hoard AND contribute to the tribe's continued survival when it needs to shove on, you're probably gonna get left behind. Maybe your fellows aren't gonna go above and beyond to drive off that big predator that's about to eat you.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:10 AM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Before you say he should have just dumped it all in the trash without looking, consider whether you would willingly burn down the house you grew up in without even going inside one last time.

If that house was stuffed to overflowing with actual treasured memories and utterly worthless shit stored side by side as though they were of equal value, then yes, I would light the match and never look back.
posted by elizardbits at 8:10 AM on August 8, 2011


Congratulations! You won the genetic lottery! Give yourself a pat on the back and spare a tear for us wretched lot.
posted by muddgirl at 8:14 AM on August 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Before you say he should have just dumped it all in the trash without looking, consider whether you would willingly burn down the house you grew up in without even going inside one last time.

My brother in law and I have joked about lighting the match. I don't like my parents, though I will still go through the house. I know I will. I will rent the dumpsters. I will personally throw away every piece of paper, every circa 1970's luggage tag, every scrap of sample fabric.

Unfortunately, I know there is stuff "worth something" in there. Perhaps this means I have hoarding tendencies too, even though my living space is so minimal people call it a zen haven. I know my dad bought two sets of Star Wars figurines in 1977. One to give to my brother to play with and one because they might be "worth something someday".

I can't help it. I'm going to have to be Greg to some extent.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:15 AM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


But like, it's not a collection. It's a disconnected series of items, the majority of which are useless.

I
get that, and you get that. The Hoarder doesn't get that.

Which I know is kind of your point. But it just felt important to stress that there's more going on here than "rich vs. poor".

Actually, I wonder how much things like eBay, "The American Antiques Roadshow" and what-not have done to exacerbate things. You hear a lot about the valuable whatever that's been shoved up in someone's attic and now it's been appraised at several thousand dollars; what you don't hear about is "but it was also kept in a spotless clean environment". So people have vague notions of stuff being "antiques" but no really guidance when it comes to how to care for things, or how the condition of a piece can affect it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:15 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'll be Greg. Sad but true. Man... my day just got alot more dreary.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:18 AM on August 8, 2011


Comparing hoarding to collecting strikes me as pretty dismissive, akin to comparing alcoholism to having a wine cellar. Hoarders and alcoholics may call themselves collectors, but to pretend that collectors are just rich or privileged would-be hoarders/alcoholics is to fundamentally not understand the disorder.

Also, not everything can be reduced to "society." Hoarding is not a result of a consumption-driven culture, it's a result of a mental disorder.
posted by callmejay at 8:22 AM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have been burgled twice. In 2006 the condo I then owned was burgled, and in 2010 the house I currently own was burgled. In the 2006 robbery, the thief took about 30 CDs and most of my jewelry, and in 2010 the thief took most of my jewelry plus the box it was in.

Since the second burglary I have noticed a certain reaction in myself.... in that I keep buying jewelry. I made a list of the items I wanted and bought all but three of those things by December 2010, and I just keep buying jewelry. I'm on Etsy every day doing searches. It's a little odd because it is atypical of me, as I am normally much more inclined to be spartan than self-indulgent when it comes to buying stuff. But the second robbery really seemed to trigger something in me that said since such meaningful personal items had been taken from me (including the gold necklace I bought the day after the 2006 robbery to make myself feel better about having been robbed, sigh) I was damn well going to indulge myself and buy whatever I wanted.

It's not what I would call a problem, nor is it at all likely to be. I am ordinarily not a hoarder at all. I hate clutter and having stuff around that I don't use and am an enthusiastic weeder outer. I'm not blowing my budget, I have gone through my jewelry collection and culled items I ended up not wearing, and I've decided to start limiting my purchases. But I think I have a little better understanding of hoarders now, because I've felt that "Mine! Mine! YOU CAN'T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME!" reaction in myself.
posted by orange swan at 8:23 AM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


On the other side of the world, trash is money. If sorted into different materials (wood, paper, metal, plastic etc) it could be sold. They'd come and take it away for you. Stuff can be repurposed, reused, recycled and resold. There's always someone who needs an old suitcase. How much of this is human nature, to conserve, to not waste? And how much of this has emerged from a system designed to throwaway and replace, based on active production and consumption?
posted by infini at 8:25 AM on August 8, 2011


I'm pretty sure I fall somewhere on the hoarder spectrum, as my parents and grandparents do it too, and I also have other obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and for me, it seems to be a combination of "this could be useful" and a lack of organizational skill, plus a lack of motivation or patience to actually do the organizing. Procrastination is a huge factor for me, and for others, too, I suspect.
My grandfather has whole disused chicken-houses full of stuff that he bought cheap to "fix up" or because it was "such a bargain". But when you (Grandpa, not me) have twenty broken stereos in the basement, and a kitchen cabinet full of flashlights with dead batteries, it's clear that you never will get around to fixing any of that stuff.

I'm in the process of moving after living in the same apt for 7 years, and it's a chore, largely because the potentially important things are shuffled by time with the obviously useless:
The kitchen table is the landing pad for mail, but also for anything I take out of my bag or my pockets, and if things like a hat go unused for a few days, those things get buried in junk mail. I understand the process that will make this not happen, but it always reaches the huge task stage before I try to enact that process. There are many ways in which I am not lazy, but there are so many ways in which I am.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 8:25 AM on August 8, 2011


"Eideteker, it IS so much like horcruxes! I wonder whether Ms. Rowling knows a hoarder?"

Yeah, I kept trying to think of a fictional allegory for investing yourself in a physical object, and it hit me just as I was about to hit Post. Also: hor-crux => horde => hoard (!!! SEEKRIT UNLOCKD !!)
posted by Eideteker at 8:26 AM on August 8, 2011


Ha! This is gonna be me someday! Cleaning out my parents' place, finding myself wondering if the entire run of Gourmet magazine might actually be worth something. I'm kind of looking forward to it, like when you have a scab that you know is gonna be hella satisfying to pick, even as it causes pain.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:28 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I will say this, also: living in New York City has been a bit of a boon to me and my hoardy tendencies, for three main reasons:

1) lack of physical space in which to amass a Really Solid Hoard.
2) the Strand will buy books I'm not super-attached to.
3) curb alerts on craigslist mean I don't feel to bad about letting go of something potentially valuable, since at least someone will get some use out of it.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:30 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


My parents have made a deal with me -- they still have a whole lot of stuff from my grandparents' house that is officially valuable (they had an appraiser in to confirm this), but it wasn't selling where they are and the dealer gave it back. So it's in their garage, and they have asked me to help get rid of it; they'll send me stuff and I have to do the selling legwork, but I can keep the money.

The first box is sitting in my bedroom now, and this is giving me the impetus to get off my ass and start doing something about it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:33 AM on August 8, 2011


There's both a genetic factor and an environmental factor to hoarding in squirrels.
posted by binturong at 8:34 AM on August 8, 2011


I'm with Greg on this one. I have a tendency to save stuff, but city living cured me of that particular quirk.

However, a few years ago, I started selling off parts of my book collection, and it was *#&ing liberating. One of the perks was that I knew that the books were going to new homes, and that I was being (minimally) reimbursed for them.

Now, I live in a shared apartment; my portion of which is quite small. I also like to have guests over, which means I need to keep the place decently clean. I need to make a trip to Goodwill one of these days, but for the most part, every purchase needs to be countered with the question of "Where am I going to store this/what will I need to sell/toss to fit this in the apartment?"

Also, if you don't own a car, these questions become a whole lot more pressing, as the apparent bulk and weight of your possessions becomes far more apparent.
posted by schmod at 8:38 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Clear out a hoarder's house and they'll have it filled up again tout suite.

I've seen this happen. My mom remarried and her new husband's mom (in her 80s by then) was a hoarder. My mom is an anti-hoarder, basically. So she geared herself up, sent MIL on vacation, and got rid of tons of shit.

One year later, it was almost as bad again. Seems new MIL just upped her shopping addiction/dollar store addiction to fill up the empty space.

I'm closer to anti-hoarder than hoarder; I actually refuse to store stuff in basements or attics because then I'll forget about it, and it will molder away, plus I hate dust and vermin that always collect in those places. My kid's growing toy collection bought by his loving but semi-hoarding grandparents makes me twitchy.

For a while, I was stymied by buckets of junk mail that needed to be shredded, because those office supply store shredders burn out/clog up too easy. But then my husband and I discovered the joys of burning shit in the fireplace, and life is better now.

I have some sympathy for hoarders, but when I see shows about them, I can't help but wonder if they shouldn't be moved to a facility where they can be prevented from burying themselves in filthy junk/get treatment. But of course we live in America, where we don't help our mentally ill, we make reality shows about them.
posted by emjaybee at 8:38 AM on August 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


My wife's insight on the difference between hoarding and collecting is that collections are ultimately designed to be displayed and admired, even if it's only by the owner. Hoards on the other hand, are just there.

I have dealt with two friends, both with a lot of stuff; one has tons of knick-knacks, curios, antique toys and the like crammed into a huge old maze of a house. However, it's all more or less neatly arranged on shelves or hanging as displays; it's meant to be seen and in some cases played with.

My other friend I helped with the cleaning out of their house when they had to move, and it was a horror. Old games, costume scraps, books, toys...all piled together with no care as to whether it was broken or organized. The place was

filthy, and with two traumatized cats in the mix, it smelled horrible. I remember debating whether to take the couch/cat urinal to the dump, our just set it on fire there.

I have to wonder, all the hoarders I've known have been in various forms of SF/fantasy fandom, ranging from gaming to cosplay. Is there something about the fannish mentality that encourages hoarding? Because it seems to me to be much more common in fandom than on regular society.
posted by happyroach at 8:40 AM on August 8, 2011


My parents do have what i'd call mild hoarding tendancies and over the years my brother and I have purged items from the house without their knowledge. (It has to be done this was or our mother will go through the trash and haul it back in. She does this even if it is your own room you are purging.) For example, when they went on holiday to mexico we threw out dining room chairs my mother had received for free and had been intending on mending "next weekend" for more than 10 years.

The biggest purge we did was when as teenager/young adult our father press ganged us into reshingling the garage roof. Our father thoughtfully arranged for an industrial sized dumpster to be parked behind the garage so that the construction debris could disposed of. What we disposed of was a large portion of the contents of the garage half filling the dumpster with loads of rotting books, water logged shoes, boxes of general junk and a broken 1970's electric piano. We covered the junk with the old shingles and it was all hauled away.

6 months later our father idly mentioned that the garage looked bigger.
posted by Gwynarra at 8:43 AM on August 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


We currently seem to have a real moral panic going on about hoarding. Maybe because it's something that's recently popped up to the front of our cultural consciousness or something, I guess, with the nasty reality shows and so forth. And there are always helpful people who chime in to suggest that hoarders throw their stuff away, and even, in those shows, there are sometimes family members who 'helpfully' clean up their relatives' houses by, effectively, breaking and entering into their homes and robbing them with no apparent consideration to how that might affect them. Which: Yes, pretty much everyone lower on the hoarding spectrum would get rid of more stuff than the hoarder did. We know, but that revelation doesn't really address the issue.

It's certainly understandable that it's getting attention in the media. It is shocking to see some some of the hoards they have on those shows and on the internet, and to imagine that there are people who live in those conditions.

But ultimately, on an aggregate, hoarding is probably far less damaging to society as a whole than purging. Sure, people who fall on the other end of the hoard/purge spectrum live more comfortably on an individual level, and are less likely to hurt their families and friends directly; but on the whole, they're contributing far more to all of the serious problems we have with consumer culture. It's not TV-worthy or anything, because we don't have the shocking images of people tossing out and replacing consumer electronics every time a battery dies.

And what concerns me is that the net effect of those exploitative shows is to increase the overall smugness on the purging end of the spectrum, despite that not really being something to feel righteous about.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:44 AM on August 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've found that there's some value to the stresses of sorting before tossing. It provides a body with a way of getting to know the departed one last time, and a means of literally letting go.

- posted by evidenceofabsence


Eponytragic.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:46 AM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've read a lot about this as my brain works very similar. One thing I was struck by is the fact that originally the thought about hoarders was that they put more emphasis on things than people. On working with hoarders they have found that one of the biggest reasons many people hold onto seemingly meaningless junk is not that the junk is itself important but that the junk holds a memory. A memory of a connection and times with a human being who may be distant or lost.

Human beings have always used objects in symbolic manners and it's in fact the basis of language itself. Currect research has found that there are many different types of hoarding behaviors and they can be motivated by different things.

1-An issue with memory. A person may feel that if they loose the objects that remind them of the memories with people they love, they will not be able to pull up the memories themselves without the stimulus. Another memory issue is that hoarders and chronically cluttered people want to make sure their objects are visible. If the object is not visible they are afraid they will forget it exists and forget to make proper use of it. From brain studies it's likely that some of these people really do have issues with memory or may have had difficult and distant relationships/loss in which they were needing to find a way to maintain connections. In our culture we have this idea that "letting go" is the goal. That is not substantiated by research which has found that in many cultures where people have ongoing relationships with the dead (in the form o prayer, pictures, or objects to maintain the connections) their outcomes can in fact be perfectly healthy and possibly healthier. If a persons house is covered in feces, their coping mechanism is presenting a danger to themself and others and therefore another method of coping must be sought. However honoring the desire to maintain the connections to memories and loved ones of the past is a better option for hoarders than eliminating the possessions and attempting to force the person to "let go".

2- An issue with cognition. Some studies have found that some types of hoarding/chronic disorganization may in fact be more correlated with ADD than OCD. Studies on hoarders have found that on issues of categorizing objects into categories such as "throw away", "trash", "tools", "kitchenware", "books" etc is mentally difficult for some people who have problems with executive functioning. If I remember right, there were also issues with creating steps and plans of action and following through-- and also potentially problems with moving in general-- i.e. metobolic problems that affect the ability to move up and down and find energy and motivation to sustain a long term cleaning activity when the executive functioning is simultaneously making it difficult to understand what should even be done during the cleaning activity. I'm going on my memory of the studies so I'll go try to find them as they are pretty interesting. Ah here we go.

"Fewer than 20% of HD participants met criteria for OCD, and the rate of OCD in HD was higher for men than women. Rates of MDD and acquisition-related impulse control disorders were higher among HD than OCD participants. No specific anxiety disorder was more frequent in HD, but social phobia was more frequent among men with HD than among men with OCD. Inattentive ADHD was diagnosed in 28% of HD participants and was significantly more frequent than among OCD participants (3%). Conclusions: These findings form important base rates for developing research and treatments for hoarding disorder. "
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21770000

" The aim of the present study was to compare neuropsychological test performance in HD patients (n=27), OCD patients (n=12), and healthy controls (n=26). Consistent with previous research, HD patients showed an attenuated ability to sustain attention and poorer employment of adaptive memory strategies compared to healthy controls. HD and OCD patients did not differ significantly on these measures, although moderate effect sizes suggested that hoarders showed somewhat greater attenuation of attentional capacity. Rates of true impairment on any particular neuropsychological test were fairly low across all three groups, although 67% of HD patients (compared to 58% of OCD patients and 42% of healthy controls) scored in the impaired range on at least one measure (odds ratio=2.22). Results are discussed in terms of emerging conceptualizations of HD as a distinct illness."

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21764138

"Hoarding status was also associated with greater BMI scores, with individuals in the hoarding group being far more likely to be classified as obese compared with the nonhoarding group. Our findings may provide a distinct avenue through which hoarding and BMI could be linked. These findings are suggestive of a complex gene, body weight, and psychopathology relationship wherein a primitive, survival "thrifty gene" strategy may be conserved and represented in a subgroup of humans manifesting severe hoarding."
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21668081
posted by xarnop at 8:48 AM on August 8, 2011 [29 favorites]


Jeffmaphone, I think the point was that, if you've got enough money, you can afford to keep your collection in better condition so there isn't animal feces and dirt everywhere, and you can afford a big enough house, or even dedicated structure, that you don't have to climb over it to get to the fridge. In general, what would otherwise be accepted as mere eccentricity becomes problematic mental illness when it bumps up against the edges of other aspects of "normal" life and begins to interfere with your ability to function in that normal life. Money tends to give you a hell of a lot more room for your eccentricities to run and play in.

I don't think this is generally how it works. If you give a hoarder a bigger house or a special warehouse for their hoard, they don't magically organize all their stuff so it doesn't consume their living space, they accumulate even more stuff and fill their bigger house to the brim. It's not a matter of being too poor to keep animal feces and dirt out of their house (plenty of people are poor and manage to maintain sanitary living conditions just fine). The problem comes when you're so obsessed with hunting for more books or bottle caps or margarine tubs or whatever that you don't bother to notice the dirt and the rat feces. Normal people notice that their home is filling with rat feces and are distressed about this, even if they cannot afford a professional exterminator at the moment. Hoarders are too busy adding to their hoard and don't even let the exterminator in the front door when the landlord is paying for it.

Besides, there's a very big difference in the collecting habits of a collector vs. a hoarder. Collectors are selective. Give a book collector a couple boxes of old books, and they'll pick through them for the few that are of some value or significance. Go to their house, and they might have 20,000 books, but they can point to each one and tell you why it's special or significant. Similarly, a coin collector has no interest in the general contents of my pockets; that's why they are collectors and not the warehouse at the local US Mint. Collectors are obsessed with organizing and restoring their collections, while hoarders dump it all in a pile and go out looking for more stuff.

Sure, there are degrees, and there's certainly a point where big time collecting becomes small time hoarding, but in my experience, the distinction is a lot larger. Calling hoarding "collecting for poor people" seems really dismissive of an incredibly debilitating mental illness.
posted by zachlipton at 8:55 AM on August 8, 2011 [13 favorites]


There's hoarding, which is like buying/gathering stuff for no reason and saving it, and there's not dealing with stuff which is insidious and what we have. Piles of "do-it-later" papers and artwork and stuff that just kind of builds up because there's something more interesting to do. Honestly if I think about it it drives me nuts but most days it's just backgrounded because there's stuff going on.

We still don't know if we're going to stay in this house for the long term yet, but either way we've got to deal with the piles.

(We're both from poor families and some of it is certainly the "that could be useful sometime" thing, which is not helped by frequently being able to dive into the piles to find a thing which IS useful in lieu of going out and spending money on a replacement.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:58 AM on August 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


But ultimately, on an aggregate, hoarding is probably far less damaging to society as a whole than purging.

I kind of see what you're saying, but the fact is, once they die, that stuff is purged anyway. They are only delaying it. And by not giving away/selling at least some of it, they are shortening its useful life--there's no saving or even recycling something fouled by cat piss and bugs. But if you have three couches and give two away, then they at least get used.

And some hoarders do seem to buy a lot of stuff they don't need. It's not just old stuff they save, but new stuff they buy and never use, at least in some cases.

I mean, yes; we have too much stuff. And we have far too few resources for getting rid of old stuff--I came up on this recently when I had some old leather shoes too worn to donate, but there is no way to recycle them, so I had to put them in the landfill. It's wasteful and wrong and I felt bad about it. But making my house an interim landfill is not a solution.

Someday we'll be able to dig up all the old landfills and reuse the materials trapped inside, unless we off ourselves in the meantime.
posted by emjaybee at 9:00 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Not dealing with stuff" is often an important aspect of pathological hoarding - as xarnop implies (and Sidney mentions specifically in an early blog post), it's often a function of having difficulty breaking down large tasks into the component steps.
posted by muddgirl at 9:01 AM on August 8, 2011


Also note that most hoarders would take issue with the characterization that they're "gathering stuff for no reason." IME there's a reason for nearly every object acquired.
posted by muddgirl at 9:03 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Every time I read something like this or watch one of those tv shows I get the urge to start throwing things away. I know I have hoarding tendencies (though not even close to this scale) but my wife and I have been clearing out our basement little by little. I tend to hang onto things forever. Just last week I threw away the boots I was issued in Basic Training (in 1987). I couldn't tell you how many van loads of toys, clothes and gadgets we've donated to Goodwill (a fair percentage of which were never used/worn). A case can be made that shows like "Hoarders" exploits the mentally ill but for us it was a wake-up call.
posted by MikeMc at 9:09 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


To continue to brain-dump in the comments, I think it's also important to note that nearly everyone will find that they have some indication of compulsive hoarding - they have trouble dealing with their mail, or they acquire craft supplies faster than they complete craft projects, or they shove boxes of mementos in the attic, or they have a clothes-strewn bedroom.
posted by muddgirl at 9:09 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's like how everyone learns about OCD and then worries about some ritual or superstition that they perform (and then start labeling any slightly anal behavior as OCD).
posted by muddgirl at 9:10 AM on August 8, 2011


An elderly couple we know have no children, and they took in several families and our children as their informally-adopted children and grandchildren. They are like parents to us.

The wife died 18 months ago, and the husband decided this spring to retire and move out of the rental house they'd lived in for 18 years. The wife, and to a lesser extent the husband, were minor hoarders. Everything was tidy and organized, but there was a lot of it.

The husband was paralyzed where to even start, so we adopted adult children (about 8-10 of us) took on the task of doing the bulk of the work. In one monumental weekend (while the husband was away), we filled a 16-foot dumpster with junk and made decisions about what to do with items of value. We boxed a lot for charity and distributed some of the furniture and things of sentimental value amongst ourselves. It was physically demanding and emotionally difficult work. Many tears were shed, followed by a few margaritas together at the end of the weekend.

After that weekend, each family put in some miscellaneous time to deal with certain things and the husband was able to complete the work with a friend who he hired as a laborer.

These people are both very dear friends, and the wife, Pat, was a veritable saint. But I have to say, my memories of her will be forever tainted by the work it took to clean out her house.
posted by tippiedog at 9:11 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


My mom had hoarder problems. She was mostly an animal hoarder, she thought she was a rescuer. We lived out on the edge of the city, where college students dumped their cats when they left town. She got up to about 7 cats when my Dad had a fit, took all her cats to the pound, and divorced her. I can't say I blamed him, since she had a cat litter room where she'd just put down some newspapers and pour a bag of litter over it. It was about a foot deep when my Dad demanded that it stop. When they got divorced, he was merciless on her hoard of stuff, dumping most of it in the trash, but she "rescued" enough to continue a substantial hoard. But I had moved out and gone to college before she got bad with the hoarding.

As she got to her late 60s, she mostly had hoarding under control, although I did have to go several rounds with Publisher's Clearinghouse to stop them from sending her offers through the mail that she ordered and hoarded. I personally think that Publisher's Clearinghouse is designed to deliberately take advantage of hoarders. Then she got ALS, and my sisters were intent on clearing out her house and settling her affairs before she died, claiming it would make her life easier. I blocked them. I said she was comforted by having her stuff around her, at a time when she was becoming a prisoner in her own body. Let her have her stuff, for the short time she had left. We can deal with it afterwards. But I couldn't stop them from meddling occasionally. My older sister decided her philodendron plant needed repotting. It was a scraggly plant that had one tendril growing up a tall wall, then across the skylights, a total of about 40 feet. She decided to cut it up and put it all into one pot. It was thick and lush and 3 feet tall, and I'm convinced that repotting it was the one thing that most sapped my mother's will to live. She died a few weeks later.

So then, my sisters descended on the house, coming from all over the country. They raided the house for everything of value that they could carry. I demanded that they wait until a full inventory could be done, so we could be assured that everyone had an equal share, per her will. But they all insisted that the most valuable things had been promised to them. They took what they wanted, the most valuable paintings, persian carpets, etc. and I got nothing. And then they left. I got stuck with cleaning out her house.

It took me 3 months to clear out the crap, and two industrial sized rollaway dumpsters. The only thing of value I got was her personal Fiestaware collection, and I was crestfallen to find that my sisters had swiped the most valuable pieces. But I forgave my mom for all her hoarding when I found this box of my childhood toys. I heard that my dad had trashed all our toys when they divorced, but she saved some of them. This was the last box I found, piled way underneath other boxes of junk, when I cleaned out her house.

I intended to just photograph my old junk, post pics on my blog, and then toss it all. But I just couldn't toss it out. So now it's at the bottom of a pile of boxes of my own small hoard, underneath some boxes of my mom's useless cookbooks, her art books, and my own crap like boxed up punk magazines from the 70s. Well at least my hoard isn't growing (although I should organize my 4.5Tb of assorted computer ebooks and videos someday).

It's unfortunate that my blog is kind of broken due to a security upgrade that hosed everything. The comments are broken, but if you could see them, you'd see I got a note from Rudy Rucker. He said he had a few boxes like that in his attic, now he knew what to do with them, blog them and toss them. I didn't have the heard to tell him that he'd find it so difficult to toss them after photographing them.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:11 AM on August 8, 2011 [19 favorites]


it's often a function of having difficulty breaking down large tasks into the component steps.

Yes. That's certainly my problem in a lot of areas.

there's a reason for nearly every object acquired.

In my case, that's only partly true. I do have a lot of weird crap that I acquired for reasons that are opaque even to me, except that there's something pleasing about it: color, shape, material... It really is like shiny things and crows, sometimes.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 9:12 AM on August 8, 2011


heard>heart
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:14 AM on August 8, 2011


One thing I was struck by is the fact that originally the thought about hoarders was that they put more emphasis on things than people.

And when people are thoroughly disappointing or abusive, a thing can be incredibly comforting.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:14 AM on August 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


My mother was a clean hoarder. Her house was always tidy but the the garage, attic, closets and basement were filled with tons and tons of stuff. When she had to go to a nursing home and we needed to put the house up for sale, we did a quick triage, saved the photos, china, silver a few pieces of furniture and hired a service to get rid of the rest. They filled a dumpster with 3/4s of it and had an estate sale for the rest. What didn't sell in the sale went to charity. The sale raised almost enough to pay for the cleaning.

The lesson is to not do it yourself. Hire people who don't care about forty year old birthday cards from an aunt you don't remember.
posted by octothorpe at 9:18 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe an idea for people who have a lot of stuff on digital storage is a program that simulates animal excrement in stored media. Like, you're reading an ebook and it inserts a picture of something that looks like a malformed Hershey kiss every so often.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:19 AM on August 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


I wrote a long, rambly comment that comes down to this: Just buy less stuff. Way less stuff.
posted by theora55 at 9:21 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


By the way, as difficult as it was to clean out the house of our adopted parents, we adopted children had an emotional attachment to very little of the hoard. I can't even fathom how hard it is for this guy and others who have to clean out their own parents' hoard, and how bitter (yet guilty about feeling bitter) they can feel.
posted by tippiedog at 9:22 AM on August 8, 2011


> I wrote a long, rambly comment that comes down to this: Just buy less stuff. Way less stuff.

Tell that to a junkie and see how they listen.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 9:24 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Seconding everyone who recommended reading Stuff.

I used to watch the hoarding TV shows and think, Jesus Christ, just take the plunge and junk the crap and kickstart your life again! They're here to help you! What's stopping you?

Then I read Stuff, and it presented hoarding not from the angle of "yucky problem to be fixed" but from the perspective of the hoarders themselves. I gained so much compassion and understanding from reading that book - hoarding as building a protective nest, hoarding as a result of emotional attachment issues, etc.. Now I can appreciate the mental illness that underlies a lot of the problem, and I'm a bit embarrassed about my previous attitude.
posted by cadge at 9:25 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wrote a long, rambly comment that comes down to this: Just buy less stuff. Way less stuff.

You clearly haven't read the post or any of the comments following. If you had, you wouldn't have posted this ridiculous and unhelpful comment.

tl; dr: Read more. Way more.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:26 AM on August 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


Can't every problem be solved this way? Compulsive eaters: Eat less! Compulsive cutters: Cut yourself less! Compulsive gamblers: Gamble less! Compulsive hair-pullers: Stop pulling out your hair!
posted by muddgirl at 9:31 AM on August 8, 2011 [16 favorites]


I'll definitely support the link between hoarding and ADD. When I don't want to deal with a particular thing, like my tax return, at a particular moment, I'll "hide" it under some other papers. Out of sight, out of mind. I also keep a lot of stuff just because I can sense a dim usefulness for it, although I can't think through a plan in the present for making sure that usefulness is achieved.

"Hiding" will later create problems
when I am prompted to do the hidden thing (I've learned to be obsessive about prompts the same way i've learned to think through the PRECISE way I will use something before buying it, and to throw away everything after the legal requirements for keeping documents - five years - has passed) and I can't find it anymore. The nice thing
posted by subdee at 9:34 AM on August 8, 2011


Can't every problem be solved this way? Compulsive eaters: Eat less! Compulsive cutters: Cut yourself less! Compulsive gamblers: Gamble less! Compulsive hair-pullers: Stop pulling out your hair!

Indeed! It seems that theora55 has just solved all addiction problems in one fell swoop! Why hadn't any of us thought of this before????????
posted by Sophie1 at 9:34 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


...about having a small apartment is that there are limited places for stuff to be "hidden". (As well as limited space for storing stuff.)
posted by subdee at 9:36 AM on August 8, 2011


I wrote a long, rambly comment that comes down to this: Just buy less stuff. Way less stuff.

I wrote a long, rude reply that comes down to this: You should stop giving advice about things that you don't know anything about.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:39 AM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Interesting, I still own every peice of computer equipment I've ever purchased. Including multiple 1541 5 1/4 drives, and a 1650 300 baud modem and every book,maybe 3000, I've ever purchased including beat to shit paperback copies of the hobbit I bought when I was 10. I would consider those collections though.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:40 AM on August 8, 2011


One thing I was struck by is the fact that originally the thought about hoarders was that they put more emphasis on things than people.

I was just housesitting for an elderly couple for a week, taking care of their pets. On top of the piano in their living room, arrayed with a collection of tchotchkes like teddy bears, little animal figurines, and other touristy crap, there was a big sign that said, "the best things in life aren't things." Oh their whole house was filled with things. That was the ultimate irony, one more thing that disclaimed the idea of accumulating things.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:42 AM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


There's a support group for people who have been affected by hoarder parents. People who grew up in a hoarded house, people whose parents became hoarders later in life. Life partners of such people are there, too, like Sidney. It's a safe space. Non-judgmental support from people who know the shame, the pain, the urge to keep it a secret so as not to embarrass the hoarder parent. Look for the yahoo group called Children of Hoarders.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:49 AM on August 8, 2011


Charlie Don't Surf mentioned his mom was mostly an animal hoarder... and I think this is sort of an important point to note: we keep talking about things and objects and consumer culture, etc., but I think the whole point about hoarding is very often quite the opposite: these are absolutely not just simply things or objects to the hoarder; they have paralyzing emotional significance.

The reason (one reason) they are hoarding is not so they can have a whole bunch of stuff and feel sated or rich, but because the items fill some emotional need and sometimes a sense of obligation (I conjecture). They feel like they are saving otherwise rejected and discarded things in the same way that an animal hoarder feels that they are saving each creature's life... they believe that only they are willing to do it; that only they care enough. Like many animal hoarders, other hoarders may often even be well aware that they don't have enough space, enough time, enough resources, or even the requisite physical ability to deal with all their saved items/animals, but they feel that if they don't do it, no one else will rescue (fix, repair, redeem, return to health/usefulness) these cruelly abandoned items.

Tippiedog says "An elderly couple we know have no children, and they took in several families and our children as their informally-adopted children and grandchildren. They are like parents to us," and this, again, to me points to that overwhelming urge to adopt/save/hoard out of a feeling of giving a home to the lost or abandoned out of love.

When the urge is sufficiently modulated, these same sorts of people can be considered to be the best of humankind – literally saints, in many instances... so I think it is a very complex issue in which the line between someone we consider pathological/damaged and someone we admire and even view as heroic may be much finer than we imagine.

Not a hoarder by the way, or even related to one, and certainly no expert.
posted by taz at 9:58 AM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think the pile-on to theora55's comment is a little unfair. Perhaps viewing it as a restatement of subdee's technique will put it in a more favorable light.

Seems to me like we've all got the hoarding tendency to some extent; early recognition might spare some folks from full-blown pathology.
posted by whuppy at 9:59 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even in situations where a hoard which must be disposed of/liquidated contains possibly valuable things, the US has such a vast surplus of common consumer goods sloshing around in a nation of 300+ million people that used items have almost no value.

Oh man, this is so true. Just try to get rid of furniture. I have a house I rent out and just about a year ago the couple skipped out and left most of their furniture. It wasn't great furniture, but it wasn't that bad and I could barely give it away.

And this was after I had just gotten it cleared out from my mom's hoarding. It took me years to get rid of her stuff, I spent a couple of years selling her crap on eBay, which actually worked out as it paid all of the bills on the place and then some but in the end I had to have a marathon estate sale and I still ended up putting some stuff out on the curb. She was what was referred to above as a "clean hoarder" until my dad died. She basically had one room that was full to the ceiling with crap. After he passed away, she filled up the rest the space.

When my grandmother passed away things were easier. In my mom's case I looked around and saw that a lot of the stuff wasn't crap and I thought (correctly as it turned out) that it was reasonably valuable. Even so, when I sold stuff on eBay I set the minimums very low and if somebody sent me money, I sent them the item, even if I thought it was worth a lot more. I just wanted it to go away. In my grandmother's case, I looked around and saw it was exactly the same pile of crap from 40 years earlier, with a lot more crap piled on top. I hired a company that specialized on clearing out apartments like that and it was gone in a day.

Now i have my own minor hoarding problem, since my house was a bit cluttered to begin with and then I took some of my mom's stuff home. Not a lot, but too much. It's a little hard for me to get rid of stuff, but having had to clear out houses and apartments of dead relatives has give me a new perspective on what should and should not be kept.
posted by lordrunningclam at 10:03 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would call both my grandmothers horders. My paternal grandmother had been through the depression, dressing her kids in feedsack clothing and selling eggs for two cents a dozen. And she was never one to have much of an aesthetic sense. So she threw out very, very little. (Fortunately she also bought very, very little so it never got to be a huge problem.) I remember her, one summer day in the mid-eighties, showing me the spire of hair she had cut off in the twenties when she bobbed her hair. I remember her spending most of a day ironing small pieces of scrap fabric and packing them away carefully in a carboard box, though she had no plans to use them for anything. Then when I wanted to use just a little of one of those pieces of fabric for a craft project I was doing, she got very angry at me. No!!! That would be so wasteful to only use a little bit of it!!! She would never let my dad take down dilapidated, unused outbuildings (such as the one in which she used to keep geese, even though she no longer did) on our farm because that would be wasteful. She wouldn't let Dad chop down a dead old cherry tree that was in the centre of one field because "it might come back to life one of these years". When my brother took over the farm, he chopped down the tree and ploughed up the swath of land where it had stood. She was incensed.

My other grandmother had issues with food (was obese and bulimic) and always thought she had to have loads of food in the house lest she starve — though oddly she never had gone hungry in her life. (She only actually raised three of her seven children, and they were all obese from a very early age because she made them overeat massive quantities of food.) When she died, she had fifty boxes of cake mix in the house and about the same amount of everything else. She'd put up dozens of jars of strawberry jam each summer even though there was so many jars left from the previous years, some of them turned to brown sludge from age.

I will never be like them, in no small part because they served as such a negative example that I feel such total aversion to hoarding. Neither of my parents are hoarders, and I wonder that more children of hoarders don't break away from it.
posted by orange swan at 10:03 AM on August 8, 2011


I read this thread with great interest thinking to myself "thank god I don't have any problems like that." Then I realized I still have my NES, Super Nintendo, Master System, Megadrive, Playstation and a shitload of games for them that I haven't played in years and years, some of them ever. I'm a guy and I have the Barbie game for NES that I can't even remember why or when I bought because it would feel weird to throw away a game cartridge!
posted by sveskemus at 10:07 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh their whole house was filled with things.

Reminds of an elderly acquaintance of my father's. He goes rummaging every weekend even though he already so much stuff in his trailer he's had to have someone come in and install supports under the floor to keep it from collapsing. I've only seen it from the outside (covered porch lined with shelving units full of ceramic statuettes) though my father tells it's filled with shelving units loaded with tchotchkes with walking paths to get around. He seems to be pretty happy though, he'll invite people and what not so he's not keeping it a secret.
posted by MikeMc at 10:09 AM on August 8, 2011


Oh their whole house was filled with things. That was the ultimate irony, one more thing that disclaimed the idea of accumulating things.

I found, for me, the best thing was reading books about consumption. Clear Your Clutter type guides seemed focused on big, American houses - not so applicable to one person living in a shared house who needs to keep most of their stuff in their room. Oh, and bipolar disorder which often manifests itself in wanting to start projects or if-I-get-this-then-I-won't-need-another-one-of-this-and-life-will-be-better. However, you need to give someone money to get a book about consumption, because it's not well represented in the library.

charliedon'tsurf,what was your reaction when you saw your vac-u-form - that you could have a play with it, or sell it online for cash? I've used this question a lot when deciding whether to keep something. Am I keeping it because I like it, or because it's an 'investment'/worth money/involved spending a bit of cash? Rationalising is hard.

I have a bag of scrap fabric - not the stuff that's neatly stored in a box as it's cut for something I'm going to make next free weekend, but the leftover bits I might use one day. I'm going to go home and throw that out. Managing the mess means I never get time to do these things I want to do, because of the nagging feeling that IT'S NOT FINISHED YET.
posted by mippy at 10:11 AM on August 8, 2011


Seems to me like we've all got the hoarding tendency to some extent; early recognition might spare some folks from full-blown pathology.

No whuppy, we don't. Hoarding is a mental illness just like addiction. To say that everyone who smokes pot has addictive tendencies is just not true. To say that someone who has a bit of a clutter issue is a minor hoarder also isn't true. That's the reason for the lash out regarding thora55's comment. Early recognition of hoarding might signal that someone needs to start therapy but cutting up credit cards or not going to the mall isn't going to stop hoarding and is an incredibly simplistic way of looking at a complex problem.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:11 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


People with hoarding relatives: As far back as I can remember, my mom the hoarder would always talk about some silly thing like a Coca Cola tray or some other silly pop culture object that she used to have and was then worth a lot of money, which she wished she kept. She also would recall something I used to have and asked me if I still had it or what happened to it, because it was worth a lot of money to collectors now. I used to have a Spiro Agnew wristwatch when I was in Junior High School. She would still bring that up 30 years after I'd tossed it. apparently at some point it was a valuable collector's item. To me it was a busted cheap watch.

Does this seem like familiar behavior? I think that was the original basis of her hoarding. She was afraid to find that something she had gotten rid of was actually a valuable collector's item.
posted by lordrunningclam at 10:12 AM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


The authors of stuff were om the Diane Rehm show recently. My wife gave me "the look" after every other comment. They shoot down the class/culture/OCD theories pretty handily. linky.
posted by mecran01 at 10:12 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, my dad once broke several of my toys in front of me because he wanted them to be thrown out, and if he broke them, I wouldn't 'mither' to keep them. It sounds pathetic now, but I still remember how frustrated I felt watching him put pressure on the Play-Doh machine until it gave way and snapped, and then telling me 'It's broken. It gets thrown away.' (My brother, who is ten years older than me, still has several of his toys carefully boxed up in the loft. I was never allowed to play with them, no matter how much I wanted the Lego Technic. None of my toys still exist, save a Glo-Worm of immense sentimental value which my mum thankfully wouldn't let anyone throw out.)

When people have tried to help, I've found it hard to separate reason from that horrible feeling of my intelligence being insulted. I wonder if in many hoarders there is a similar feeling - of things being taken away from them, ideas, sentimental value, hopes for the future. If I keep that tablecloth I bought in 2004 for the flat I planned to but never had in 2005, then am I saying I'll never have a place big enough to use a tablecloth?
posted by mippy at 10:16 AM on August 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


my mom the hoarder would always talk about some silly thing like a Coca Cola tray or some other silly pop culture object that she used to have and was then worth a lot of money, which she wished she kept.

I try and remember that the reason these things are worth a lot of money now is because nobody else kept them.
posted by mippy at 10:17 AM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Heh, i remember wishing my grandma was a hoarder every time i heard of the stuff my family used to have and she gave away because that's what you do with crap that's old or doesn't work anymore.

I think i even went on to claim jokingly that every family should have a storage unit and drop crap over there to be re-discovered 30 years in the future.

What's with all the hoarder spotlight these days?
posted by palbo at 10:17 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Then I realized I still have my NES, Super Nintendo, Master System, Megadrive, Playstation and a shitload of games for them that I haven't played in years and years, some of them ever.

That's why hoarding is so compelling--there is a universal drive to feather your nest, and we all do it (to degrees). It's very resonant on a personal level to many, many people--either because we see a relative, friend, neighbor, or we see it in ourselves.

No whuppy, we don't. Hoarding is a mental illness just like addiction. To say that everyone who smokes pot has addictive tendencies is just not true.

Fair point, but the question isn't whether the person who has an occasional toke is an addict, it's whether that person has an addiction in other areas of their life. I would be surprised if the average person does not have something, be it football, shopping, internet porn, WoW, good grades, eating, whatever, that they have some level of compulsion towards. I find it continually surprising the lack of charity people have towards capital A addicts when we all have them.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:19 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


desjardins, where on Earth did you read judgement of unsentimentalism in my comment? I was only pointing out that a person would have to be entirely unsentimental to chuck everything in his or her childhood home without trying to save or even take one last look at a single thing inside it, and most people aren't entirely unsentimental. It's wonderful for you that you would have no qualms about burning an entire home full of the ephemera of your family but it's not how most people feel.

Here is the tl:dr version of my previous comment, since I'm pretty sure you did not take the trouble to read the whole thing: Children of hoarders going through their parents' crap to find something to salvage are not all also hoarders themselves and are not really that different from people who search through the rubble of a home destroyed in an earthquake to see if they can find just one picture of their grandmother or their favorite dog. In most cases they would benefit more from your compassion than your judgement.
posted by BlueJae at 10:22 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, i think i might have some very mild hoarding tendencies to go with my mild OCD tendencies. The nostalgia of looking at old crap and associated memories is great.

But anyway, if you want to get rid of that all you have to do is move a couple of times, i rarely ever buy crap now, the rule of thumb now on things that are not evidently necessary is that if i wouldn't take it with me if i moved, then i don't want to have it around.
posted by palbo at 10:22 AM on August 8, 2011


You won't get any argument about real, serious hoarders from me, emjaybee.

My point is that in many cases, I think the pendulum's swung too far, and that the moral superiority of some on the purging end of the spectrum is not helpful. I'm talking about the type of people who say that if you haven't used something in [two months, a year, some other time frame], you should toss it; or whose answer to something that needs repaired is to throw it away and get a new one. And I see a lot more of that attitude in the wild, with a soupçon of condescension, than I do of serious hoarding behaviors. The media naturally focuses on extreme cases of hoarding behaviors because they are very media-friendly, but that just feeds into some kind of moral panic in which any behavior that falls anywhere short of straight up purging and minimalism is considered suspect.

It is perfectly reasonable for someone who has the available space to stock up on necessities, or to have materials or projects around that they're not doing anything with this very minute. It is not unreasonable or irresponsible to have hobby materials around, or to store something you only use occasionally. But there is a seemingly burgeoning number of people who put forward the notion that anything like that should be purged and then replaced if and when you're ready to use it; and that it's better to throw something out and replace it than it is to repair or modify something you already have.

So when I see people put forth the idea that they're doing someone a favor by covertly purging someone else's hoard and it's OK because they didn't seem to notice, I try to put myself in the hoarder's shoes, and conclude that yes, there are things I have that I wouldn't notice were gone right away. Right now, I know I have a sweater that I need to knit the arms for and that it's too hot for me to even look at right now, a few electronics projects I haven't worked on for a while, and a variety of materials that I have put away for future, as yet undetermined uses. I'm not even arguably a hoarder, but I cringe when I see those types of attitudes toward those who are. I can't imagine the violation I'd feel if I realized that someone close to me had tossed out something of mine without my knowledge or permission, and I have a hard time fathoming how someone can lack any real empathy on that count. Are there really people who wouldn't mind someone else coming into their homes and throwing away anything they didn't personally see the use for?

True story: I once had a houseguest find a Pantone Matching System booklet in a drawer in the guest room and cut it up for some kind of craft project, then toss the mangled remnants into the trashcan. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I assume she just didn't recognize it and thought it was some kind of paint chip booklet I'd gotten for free at a hardware store. I never told her, but I still get sick thinking about it, because I don't use it often enough to justify the $200+ it'd take to replace it.

It just seems that the morally superiority of those on the extreme purging end of the spectrum contributes to a sort of demonizing and pathologizing of perfectly normal, responsible behaviors as well. I wonder if my houseguest thought I was a hoarding paint chips or something, and assumed that she was, if not doing me a favor, at least not doing any harm by purging some little-used thing I was storing in my guest room.

I don't think you'll get much argument from anyone that real, serious, life affecting hoarding is a problem, and even a relatively common one. But I'm saying that I don't think making it a moral crusade and tossing around judgment and facile solutions like "throw everything away" or "burn it down" is in any way productive. In fact, what I'm saying is that indulging such extreme and unnecessary attitudes probably does more harm than good, because it perpetuates this increasingly common notion that it's morally suspect to conserve.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:23 AM on August 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


A month ago, my folks came over to help me clean out my house to get it ready to sell. In the garage was tons and tons of crap my ex left behind almost 4 years ago. He was a hoarder, in the pile of shit were 20 empty coffee cans, at least 2 dozen empty salsa jars, and various other things to store things in. Plus the multiple camping stuff that had been left to mold and random shit that he swore were "valuable."

When my dad agreed to help me out, he bitched at me for not doing it sooner, because you should just "throw junk away, less stuff means more peace." I agreed, but I knew deep down why I hadn't dealt with it, not because of some attachment to the person but because every single piece of crap he left behind reminded me of how pissed off and ashamed I was that I ever spent time with him, let alone allowed his useless crap to define how I lived my life.

When we started loading the truck with the stuff from the garage, Dad started bitching about how Mom won't let him throw things away and how it would be so much better if she would let him get rid of the useless shit in their house. He warned me that I'd have to do this same kind of clean out when they pass, all because my mom keeps "useless" stuff.

As things started to go on the truck to the dump, Dad would ask, "Are you sure? This is still useful. This chair could be refinished. This tent's still in the plastic, you don't want to keep it? You could use this, why throw this away?"

To everything I would answer, "It's junk Daddy, chuck it. I can't use it and I don't want it."

When we got to the dump, he was asking the old man who worked at the dump if he wanted to keep almost every thing we threw away. The old man would shake his head and say "If you bringin it here, it's junk."

It was almost physically painful to my dad to throw those things away, and when I mentioned it to my mom, she said, "Yep, he won't let me throw anything away."

That's when I realized, you can't blame other people for making you keep stuff. You have to love your family and friends enough to say "I love you, but this stuff is not staying. I love you far more than the stuff, but the stuff gets in the way of making a life."

I still have to remind myself almost daily that it's just stuff and if I can't use it, I don't need it.
posted by teleri025 at 10:27 AM on August 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


I don't claim to know the mind of boarders, but many act as if things have feelings. It is a latent animism regarding made things.
posted by yesster at 10:28 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


this is really hard to read because I see my near-future in it. my parents are aging and the hoarding's only getting worse. I'm visiting right now, and not a day goes by without an argument about stuff, despite my very best intentions to disengage. the disorder's a minefield of aching places.
posted by changeling at 10:31 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hoarders. (Autocorrect)
posted by yesster at 10:33 AM on August 8, 2011


This post and thread have sufficiently motivated me to get to work on de-cluttering in preparation for my upcoming move.

So, thanks!
posted by utsutsu at 10:35 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


My grandmother on my mother’s side was a hoarder, and when she was eventually moved to an assisted living facility it fell to my mother and her sister to clean out the house and make it suitable for sale.

For those of you wondering why it would take six months to clear a house of junk, when a couple of days and a dumpster would do the trick, please consider the following: Like many of the hoarders discussed in this thread, my grandmother’s tendency towards hoarding was likely the product of living through the Depression. She did not trust the banks, and she did not have a clear system of organization for her clutter. My mother found over $15,000 in cash hidden in a pile of old newspapers. My aunt found my grandmother’s prized jewelry stashed in an old coffee can. Home ownership papers and medical records were discovered in a stack of calendars twenty-plus years out of date.

Cleaning up after a hoarder, particularly one with whom you have an emotional connection as powerful as that between a parent and child, is not a weekend project. It takes a lot of time, and very often a lot of frustration and anxiety and heartbreak. I couldn’t do it.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:36 AM on August 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


Changeling: I'm sorry you're having to deal with this. The only thing that has helped me is to disengage, as you are trying to do. I visit very infrequently and when I do, I don't comment on anything. Not a magazine, not a butter dish, NOTHING. I act as if none of it is there because in the 23 years I have lived outside of the house, I have tried everything and nothing has worked. I tried asking them to go to therapy, teaching them how to use ebay, assisting them in their cleaning efforts (oh, the fights!!!) and my sister has even limited access at the house to their granddaughter, but nothing has worked. Good luck to you.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:36 AM on August 8, 2011


If we didn't all have the tendency, Toy Story 3 would have tanked at the box office.

Full disclosure: I'm about 2 years past a major, not-fully-voluntary purge. If you can leave behind your kid's favorite #1 Christmas present from 2005--even one he's outgrown--with zero difficulty, then I don't even wanna know you.

OTOH, the weeklong document shredding party was not only pure catharsis, it turned up a $40 gift certificate from 1992.
posted by whuppy at 10:46 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yep, this hits way too close to home . . . a lot like visiting my parents' house. I never could have friends over, and now I deal with it the same way Sophie1 does when I visit. No one has been able to physically get into my childhood bedroom in years, because after I moved out 20 years ago my mom started to fill it with crap. My youngest sister inherited the hoarding behavior, and her house is unbelievable . . . nowhere to sit, can't use the bedrooms anymore, can't get the the washing machines, etc. Oddly, seeing my sister like that has caused my parents to slowly start to get rid of shit and clean up their mess.

But yeah, clean up a hoarders hoard and it gets refilled with crap and fast. Years ago I took truckload after truckload of garbage out of my parents' basement, with my dad's blessing (that is his main hoarding place . . . to my surprise he didn't want to see what I was chucking, just wanted it gone) and got the whole thing organised. Within two years it was filled to the brim again.

I tend to be bad about getting rid of stuff at and can accumulate junk in unused corners of the basement and closets, but the fear of ending up like my family causes me to go through major purges on a regular basis. After reading this, I think it is time for another one . . . . shudder . . . .
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:53 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


taz wrote: Tippiedog says "An elderly couple we know have no children, and they took in several families and our children as their informally-adopted children and grandchildren. They are like parents to us," and this, again, to me points to that overwhelming urge to adopt/save/hoard out of a feeling of giving a home to the lost or abandoned out of love.

When the urge is sufficiently modulated, these same sorts of people can be considered to be the best of humankind – literally saints, in many instances... so I think it is a very complex issue in which the line between someone we consider pathological/damaged and someone we admire and even view as heroic may be much finer than we imagine.


That's a good insight. I'll have to think about that. Thanks.
posted by tippiedog at 10:54 AM on August 8, 2011


One note: I have several boxes of stuff that I am only gowing through now, after years of being very protective/defensive about them. They are all physical items that I have kept since childhood, which is in a place a long way from where I live now. My family all still live there, however, and these physical items always provided a link back to them.

As I get older and make my own history with my own family, the power over me that these Things have diminishes. And I have come to realize that it's not the object I value so mauch as the memory that it evokes. (At the same time, I also recognize that my memory isn't so reliable, and is filling up quickly, so that's a problem.)

*sigh* Back to the basement I go, I guess, trash bag in hand.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:00 AM on August 8, 2011


The International OCD Foundation now has a Hoarding Center/resource page available, for those who'd like to check it out. They've got an assessment form (warning: PDF format) for those who'd like to take it/share it with others.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:03 AM on August 8, 2011


My mother-in-law was in no way a hoarder, but she had belongings that meant a lot to her (a normal amount, I'd say, for our society). For reasons too long to go into, when my mother-in-law died a couple of years ago, my wife inherited many of them and felt a great obligation to love these things because they meant so much to her mother.

After the experience of cleaning out our friends' house that I recounted above, however, my wife has begun to rethink this and separate out the things that she has held onto because her mother was attached to them and the things that she's actually emotionally attached to. She's begun to get rid of the former. This is a healthy part of the process of mourning her mother's death.
posted by tippiedog at 11:08 AM on August 8, 2011


>Hoarding is not a result of a consumption-driven culture, it's a result of a mental disorder.

It seems to me that it is particularly a result of our 10-12 thousand year old culture based on agriculture and the hoarding of food. This culture at it's root has always been about hoarding food and other valuables. Now with our society operating the way it does I find hoarding unsurprising to say the least.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:11 AM on August 8, 2011


My next door neighbors are hoarders. Their tiny apartment is filled with junk stacked up to the ceiling. I saw their couch when I moved in next door about four years ago and I haven't been able to see it since. The only semi-clear spaces in their place are on the bed and around the stove.

I like to think I am the opposite of a hoarder. My sparsely-furnished 475 sq ft apartment feels light and airy and even my closets are neat and organized. Yes, I was feeling pretty superior until I remembered that I have days and days worth of music on my computer that I have never even listened to. I hoard it. I also have many records I have never taken out of the package. You never know when I might want it! It's pretty easy to conceal my problem.

My neighbors kick ass. They are intelligent, kind, feisty, witty. The meals that they produce from their junk-filled kitchen are amazing, even if they have to eat them in bed. They are interested in art, history, biking, and a whole host of other things. The junk may define their home but it doesn't define their person.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:12 AM on August 8, 2011


happyroach: I have to wonder, all the hoarders I've known have been in various forms of SF/fantasy fandom, ranging from gaming to cosplay. Is there something about the fannish mentality that encourages hoarding? Because it seems to me to be much more common in fandom than on regular society.

Well, I know a couple of my friends in the SF/fantasy/RPG axis who have a serious action figure addiction--as in virtually every flat surface is covered with them, one of them has several display cases almost overflowing with them and the other is contemplating getting a 2-bedroom apartment so that they can have one bedroom just for their collection, they'll plan their daily schedules around online auctions, etc.--but they're much more organized and specialized than the classic hoarder; they may have several figurines of Galactus, but they can discuss the history, development and distinguishing characteristics of each in mind-boggling detail. My own collecting, on the other hand, is more like hoarding, in that not only are my own comics and books in a state of disorder, but I've done things like buy comics and then forgotten to read them, and sometimes even bought an issue that I already own. It's not just comics and books, either; I've had to stop looking at Woot because I've bought gadgets that I have no real use for--why did I get that USB turntable? Well, someday I might come across an LP that I'd want to rip to MP3s... The compulsion to get stuff that I don't need and keep stuff that just adds clutter to an already-cluttered life is pernicious and difficult to break. Which leads me to...

ernielundquist: It is perfectly reasonable for someone who has the available space to stock up on necessities, or to have materials or projects around that they're not doing anything with this very minute. It is not unreasonable or irresponsible to have hobby materials around, or to store something you only use occasionally. But there is a seemingly burgeoning number of people who put forward the notion that anything like that should be purged and then replaced if and when you're ready to use it; and that it's better to throw something out and replace it than it is to repair or modify something you already have.

They're classifying hoarding as an addiction, and the standard treatment trope for addiction is to eliminate the addictive substance/behavior if at all possible from one's life.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:21 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]



Also of note: I am adopted. My biological mother began having cognitive problems after her father died. at eleven. If I had not met her, I would never have known that my tendencies are exactly the same as hers. I was not reared with people who have such tendencies and so the biological component to these types of mental functioning is compelling to me. I was fortunate in that I have always viewed it as a problem and therefore have zero tolernace for allowing it to hurt others. That said, that hasn't always meant that buckling down and putting forth greater intensity toward being "better" at orginization has resulted in the assumed results one would think would happen as a result of greater effort. I also found that no medication or diagnoses has yet changed the difficulty. It's been a slow process of doing a great deal of research and working with myself and finding what works and what doesn't.

I am also fascinated by the trajectory of the disorder: meaning I can see quite clearly how life events in my biological family members seem to correlate directly with the degree of the problem and the degree of the problem in their children. Meaning that I believe (and research seems to be backing this up) that "genetic" problems are in fact ORIGINATING in life events that affect the parents biology and genetic patterns and also influence the development o f de novo mutations in offspring. They are not simply random mutations passed on to offspring accross generations but a fluctuating problem that improves and worstens based on the environments each ancestor in the gene pool was present in. See: epigenetics.

See also, de novo mutations in mental illnes. Recently: 50% of genetic alterations that cause schizophrenia are NEW mutations in the offspring NOT inhereted from parents, meaning that the maternal environenment contributed to the type of mutations that result in schizophrenia and those mutations tend to happen as a direct result of maternal conditions that can be measured ie: high stress, trauma, abuse, inflammatatory cytokines, influenza and disease exposure, toxins in diet etc etc etc.

Mental illness doesn't come from nowhere. That philosophy is at odds with science which finds that all molecular phenomena are a serious of predictable cause and affect. There are forces that control rates of mutations and types of mutations and when those forces in our bodies are disrputed, higher mutations and specific types of mutations will be more likely to happen. Further more gene functioning is altered throughout the lifespan through various exposures and environmental conditions. (And those alterations can affect the biology and genetic functioning of offspring.) Further more, our bodies have ways of REPAIRING these types of genetic damage or alterations. Within four generations of healthy environments, rats tend to revert back to their original functioning(after one rat was exposed to an epigenetically altering environmental condition). What I mean to say is that, even if your parents had this type of damage, certain repairs may have been possible in your body for a variety of reasons and your body may have better gene "health" than your parents. You also could have it worse depending on how conditions prenatally and in your childhood environment interacted with your bodies biology.

Foam pants: I think one reason cognitive deficits are hard to pin down in this type of functioning is that we assume that cognitive impairments will impair all aspects of mental functioning the same. That can happen, but more often certain areas of the brain are more damaged than others, and often areas of the brain that are NOT damaged try to take over for the struggling areas of the brain which might result in higher cognitive functioning in some areas of the brain. Meaning that certain high functioning and even brilliant people may be more genuinely impaired in certain areas of functioning than they or those around them realize.
posted by xarnop at 11:23 AM on August 8, 2011


The only way to deal with something like this is to let someone unattached to the family do the pruning first, with a list of specific items from Greg that he already knows are there and that he wants. What he doesn't know is there, he will never miss.
posted by davejay at 11:28 AM on August 8, 2011


> Yes, I was feeling pretty superior until I remembered that I have days and days worth of music on my computer that I have never even listened to. I hoard it.

A salient point. Hoarding will, and already has, gone digital: collecting music, movies, music videos, pictures, games.... How will we view that shift? It'll become harder to detect hoarding when the symptoms are hidden on small digital-storage devices.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 11:29 AM on August 8, 2011


I will spare you all the details, as we seem to have quite enough personal stories in the thread.

But I will say that I have / had several hoarders to deal with, from an antique collector / hoarder like the Collyer brothers to an animal hoarder with over 200 dogs to the more stereotyped hoarder seen on reality tv.

It seems to me the common thread is the old forest / trees dichotomy. We see piles of stuff. The people we are calling hoarders cannot see the piles. They see only the individual items. Whether the decision is to buy or not buy a new Hepplewhite or a new plastic Jesus, the piles of similar stuff and the lack of anywhere to put them does not enter into the purchase decision. Similarly, once the new thing is in the door, it's not seen as contrbuting to a mess. It is still -- and only -- it's own thing.

Try to help a hoarder and there are basically two strategies: bulldozer or editor.

Bulldozing takes any participation away from the hoarder, and after all, it's their stuff. Too, you might accidently discard something of real value or importance.

Editing shows you how the forest / tree problem works. Ask, "Can we sell / throw this out? How about this? Surely, this, you have four of them. . . " The anwer is always, "No, not that. Not that one. Not that either. . . "

It's my observation that saying, "Just throw some of this out, and don't buy so much junk!" is about as helpful as saying, "Just eat!" to an anorexic. Even when they know there is a problem, they aren't perceiving this aspect of reality quite the same way. Somehow the image in the funhouse mirror doesn't look distorted.

 
posted by Herodios at 11:31 AM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


lordrunningclam: "Does this seem like familiar behavior? I think that was the original basis of her hoarding. She was afraid to find that something she had gotten rid of was actually a valuable collector's item."

As an ex-hoarder, that sounds like a justification for hoarding more than a root cause. I used to hoard newspapers and magazines (among other things) and justified it at the time because I did legitimately need to keep clippings of stuff I wrote - somehow applied to waist high stacks of papers and mags I'd never written for!

Re: the cultural causes of hoarding some people have suggested - rampant consumerism, childhood poverty, sci-fi fandom (?!), etc. - my hoarding stopped cold when I went on antidepressants, so I'm inclined to see it as a straight up mental illness thing. Of the millions of rampant consumerists, folk raised during the 1930s, sci-fi fans, very very few turn out to be hoarders.
posted by jack_mo at 11:32 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, man, Halloween Jack, that is exactly it. I love it when someone says something so simple and obvious that I feel sorta dumb for not noticing.

So maybe, to make a limited use analogy, hoarding disorders are like eating disorders, in that things and food aren't something we can reasonably cut out of our lives entirely, and disordered behaviors exist on both ends of the spectrum.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:33 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Greg needs help.

I finally read the whole article and I'm not seeing a single reason why he shouldn't just hire a cleaning service and ditch the lot of it. He's losing a fortune in pay since he had to take a leave to do this stupid task and for what? He's just torturing himself.
posted by octothorpe at 11:46 AM on August 8, 2011


My own grandfather's hoarding was excused by the opposite, in fact. His thought process was that every item has a use - that it's a waste to throw away a perfectly "useble" (ie, broken) item. He would go to yard sales and hear that people were just going to throw out, say, rusted tools, and he'd think "Why, I could fix those up like new, keep them out of the landfill, and save myself some money." But once the tools made it back to his shop, the immediacy faded, they got "stored" somewhere for when he "had time" to work on them.

This was my grandparents' viewpoint. It trickled down to my father and my uncle. I live in one of my (deceased) grandparents' houses, and just being able to bring my belongings into the house took more than 3 weeks of doing nothing but throwing things away all day long. I still have things in the attic that belonged to them, but the house isn't in my name, and my dad has an emotional breakdown when I tell him I want to empty the attic. Emptying the six storage rooms took more than 3 months in total - and most of the furniture was emptied into another storage space my dad managed to pull out of thin air.

It's a huge job, even if you're ruthless in throwing away items. Why would anyone keep a 40-year-old mildewed set of overalls, or a rotten 100-year-old level? I have no idea. I think it's trash, and when my dad dies, along with my uncle, and my cousin, both properties will be completely emptied. The second property is 10 acres. I might call American Pickers.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 11:49 AM on August 8, 2011


The thing I find most sad about all of these extreme hoarding tales is that all of them appear to replace emotions with "things." Instead of having real connections, conversations, emotional interactions with their friends and families, these hoarders place such a high value on their hoarded items--and they value those items and what they represent (frugality, safety, comfort, etc.) so much more than their own flesh and blood.

Even Greg is looking at the crap in his parents home as a romantic representation of his parents, e.g. the broken tape recorder "reminding" him of his dad.
posted by Kokopuff at 11:54 AM on August 8, 2011


I suppose I would be remiss in this milleu if I failed to mention this self-valourizing episode of Steven Spielberg Presents Amazing Stories, entitled "Gather Ye Acorns", about a comic book / sf paranalia collector who is consumed by his possessions, but instead of dying alone and buried, is ultimately rewarded with riches and romance for indulging his obsessions 'following his bliss'.

Like nearly everything Spielberg does, I found it irritating at the time; even moreso now.

Sorry no YT. Maybe there's video somewhere.
 
posted by Herodios at 12:00 PM on August 8, 2011


Kokopuff - I don't see that in Greg's tale at all (or really in most hoarding stories). His mother seemed to have a rich life outside her house - volunteering, going to the opera, sitting on her porch and talking to her neighbors, spending the holidays with her family.
posted by muddgirl at 12:01 PM on August 8, 2011


Oh, one more thing about our friends' house that we cleared out: the husband had told us that he wanted to keep only one of their home-recorded VHS tapes; it contained a filming of a significant event in their lives; we were free to toss the several hundred others including a complete set of home-recorded Hogan's Heroes episodes, organized by season.

We all had a good laugh/cry at the daunting task of finding that needle in a haystack. But the person in charge of VHS tapes found it!
posted by tippiedog at 12:04 PM on August 8, 2011


So maybe, to make a limited use analogy, hoarding disorders are like eating disorders, in that things and food aren't something we can reasonably cut out of our lives entirely, and disordered behaviors exist on both ends of the spectrum.

Yes! This hopefully provides some perspective.

-Some people cut back calories occasionally, not all those people restrict food to the point of malnutrition.
-Most people eat too much once in a while, not everyone who does so has binge eating disorder.
-Some people accumulate clutter, not all people with clutter are hoarders who haven't seen the floor of their garage in more than 3 decades.

I'm not a hoarder, but I was bulimic for 20 years and let me tell you that stopping this behavior was a lot more difficult than saying, "Just stop putting your finger down your throat."
posted by Sophie1 at 12:12 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


My parents have a crate of VHS tapes with things they recorded off TV in the 80s. Sure, there might be something in there. One day I might take an afternoon and play through some of them for fun.

The problem is, they're all in PAL format- they were recorded overseas before they immigrated. They shipped them here, and short of buying a PAL TV and VHS player, I'm never ever going to view them, and nobody else will either. Except, of course, the video of me as a baby (in NTSC format, yay!) that I rescued from among them. If we'd thrown the crate away without looking through it, *poof* goes something of real sentimental value.

Throwing too much stuff away can be really awful, too. My grandmother threw away audio recordings made of my monther from when she was 3 or 4. Those would have been awesome to listen to (and then digitize), and now they're gone.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:20 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK. You might need to have read about epigenetics to understand where I was coming from with that comment, you can just look at the research and put it together yourself.

Point: read this abstract. Then factor into it that people can pass on epigenetic alterations to children and that stress, maternal PTSD and poor maternal health can result in such alterations as well. A factor to explore with childhood onset.

"Although rates of post-traumatic stress disorder were comparable across all three clinical groups, hoarders (regardless of the presence of comorbid OCD) reported greater exposure to a range of traumatic and stressful life events compared to the two non-hoarding groups. Results remained unchanged after controlling for age, gender, education level, depression, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. The total number of traumatic life events correlated significantly with the severity of hoarding but not of obsessive-compulsive symptoms. About half (52%) of hoarding individuals linked the onset of hoarding difficulties to stressful life circumstances, although this was significantly less common among those reporting early childhood onset of hoarding behavior."
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20934847

" To determine whether traumatic life events (TLEs) might influence the expression of compulsive hoarding in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), interview responses to the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder module of the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID) were examined in 180 individuals with OCD. Compared to individuals with OCD who did not meet criteria for hoarding, participants classified as hoarders (24% of the sample) were significantly more likely to have reported at least one TLE in their lifetime. Patients who met criteria for hoarding and who had also experienced TLEs had significantly greater hoarding symptom severity than those hoarders not exposed to trauma. This association was found to be robust."
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17673166
posted by xarnop at 12:31 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


a first edition of The Lord of the Rings might be buried under that crap

A few years ago I helped a friend clean out her mother's house. The first bedroom we cleared became the "papers" room wherein we dumped every document, notebook and envelope we found; reason being, as she went through them piece by piece, she eventually uncovered several thousand dollars in crisp new bills hidden in yellowed holiday cards.
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:40 PM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


My friends went to Africa to help at a school, when they wanted the parents to attend a meeting at the school, they offered empty water jugs. Yes, things we throw away every day.

This 'illness' is seems very culture bound and would seem to be very connected with an affluent society with an overabundance of material possessions that we are expected to throw away. Both of these attitudes towards stuff strike me as unhealthy and I think the cure would be better use of our resources.

Throwing away broken tools and such is crazy, there are people all over the world who would love to get them, but as a western person we are expected to throw them away when they break.

I wonder how much of this we could eliminate with a better lifecycle management of our stuff, so that we know that things are not going to be wasted.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:18 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can someone provide an address as to where I should mail my rusted-out tools? Since they are apparently super-desirable in developing countries?
posted by muddgirl at 1:58 PM on August 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


I and a friend of mine both make cool stuff out of stuff other people don't want. She makes jewelry and the most exquisite boxes you ever saw. She sells them. I just make stuff for myself.
I would say I have too many things.
I get rid of stuff once in awhile, usually by donation.
I am doing a clutter purge right now. It is so easy to accumulate paper crap.
I also will see beautiful skirts and stuff in thrift stores, with mirror work. I actually do wear those things.
Then I have a dear friend who is a serious hoarder. Her apartment smells AWEFUL. If she would let me in, I would not go in. It's scary. Did I mention the cat? That would be part of the smell problem. She uses shredded newspaper instead of kitty litter. She would be physically so much better elsewhere.
The good stuff mixed in with bad stuff is a major issue. Moving she swore up and down that there were these four suitcases in the padlocked storage area of her apartment where there was some jewelry with diamonds. She really was upset not to find those suitcases. She is quite frail at this point. I am afraid for her and I don't know what to do about it. She had awful things happen in her life. Finding some beautiful thing makes her happy for awhile. I wish she had not gotten the cat. She often gives me things I have to turn around and throw out.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:06 PM on August 8, 2011


So sad. My father in law started to hoard, it seemed, shortly after my husband moved out of the house to marry me. He's got a high stress job, works nights, doesn't get any sleep, and his wife, my mom in law, is one of those people who can't really handle any big stressors. She doesn't cook or clean in general, and takes a very "It's what makes Daddy happy!" approach to the whole thing. I'm no psychologist, but they both seem like it's very much filling a void for them - their oldest is married and lives far away, their two younger kids are adults now and all they've ever done was have their lives and schedules revolve around the two younger ones and they're terrified of empty nesting and are maxed out on the personal stress that they can handle. It seems like every new life change results in a heightened fervor for the collecting. My father in law has always liked Mr. Potato Head as a novelty item, but now their bedroom is filled with MPH in every form, as well as 3-4 each of each "collectible" incarnation of MPH, and it's spilled into other roms of the house that previously held just generic hoarding items. He jokes that this particular collection is my husband's inheritance for when he dies, but my husband and I know that's not really a joke. That's where all their money is - Goodwill auctions. Truly heartbreaking. We are careful not to mention any specific interests or hobbies we might have, lest we receive boxes and boxes in the mail full of items vaguely related to such an item. Their house is falling apart around them while they add more stuff to the inside of it to camouflage the decay.

We live many states away and are only there to visit 2-3 times a year but I can tell you that I dread sleeping with my husband in his old bedroom that he always kept meticulously clean and off limits from his parents in the midst of all the squalor. Now when we visit my husband goes to sleep depressed as we both try not to think about the mountains of boxes stacked alongside the bed, ready to fall on top of us as we sleep. I think it's a very visual reminder to him that some part of his childhood can't be gotten back, and that our kids (who are little right now) will never know that part about going to your grandparents' house and being able to sit at their kitchen table to eat together, or relaxing in their living room. Mostly, we just look for a place to park the kids where they won't get into something poisonous or dangerous while we plan ways to get everyone out of the house to visit. There is something awful about seeing someone else's mental illness and depression in such a tangible manner and not being able to do anything to help them.
posted by takoukla at 2:27 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can someone provide an address as to where I should mail my rusted-out tools? Since they are apparently super-desirable in developing countries?

This sounds like a really good idea, another acquaintance of mine shipped a whole container of outdated computers to a developing country.

The organization was pretty much him and a few friends, and someone who could receive the comps in the other country.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 2:30 PM on August 8, 2011


Amazing comments in this thread.

My dad was a "clean" hoarder. He demanded the public areas of the house be immaculate, but his room and the garage were filled with all sorts of things, a lot of it "clean" trash - empty coffee cans(for storing loose screws/nails/etc, but 30+?), empty prescription bottles, and stacks upon stacks of newspaper stand out the most in my memory. In high school, I single-handedly won one of my classes a pizza party by bringing up enough newspaper for recycling than any of the other participating classes. I never mentioned to my dad that I had taken the papers and I don't think he actually noticed.

After being diagnosed with congestive heart failure early in life, around age 50, and losing his job due to poor attendance stemming from the health problems, he sold the house and moved from Dallas to my aunt's house in rural Oklahoma. After his death in 2004, my then-girlfriend/now-wife went to clear out his storage units and relieve ourselves of the monthly cost, and discovered that he had packed up a significant portion of his hoard and put it in storage. We found box after box of newspaper ads(not sure what happened to the actual newsy parts). He was paying good money to keep a storage unit half-or-more full of weekly sales flyers from the 80s and 90s. There were some items that were valuable, sentimentally if not monetarily, but on balance we kept only a very few things and tossed the rest.

I can see a similar tendency in myself. Our outdoor storage at our apartment is full of empty boxes I've saved from stuff we've purchased "just in case we end up returning it". I know intellectually most of those boxes can go into the recycling bin, and at this point it's more a question of motivation than attachment. I did manage to sort a huge box of various cables(A/V, data, power, you-name-it) a couple of weeks ago, and threw out things I couldn't name a specific use for, or that I had more than one that were going unused. I threw out about three grocery-bag-sized loads of cables. I agonized quite a bit over a few of them. My wife is my saving grace, as she is strongly against clutter and will go through damn near everything we own a couple times a year and force me to make the decisions I would never et around to on my own.
posted by owtytrof at 2:35 PM on August 8, 2011


psycho-alchemy - I was hoping that you would have a specific point of contact, since you suggested that third world countries were eagerly awaiting rusted wrenches and broken drills from the US.
posted by muddgirl at 2:37 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have this fight daily, my SO has issues with hoarding. I'll leave you with the t-shirt story.

We work in tech and one thing that every tech company seems to do is issue more freebie tshirts than tech products, multiple designs for product milestones, launches, marketing events: you name the event and there's an ugly logo-laden tshirt handed out to employees for it.

At some point, I noticed that my SOs side of our walk-in closet was filled to the rafters (literally) with give-away tshirts. He wore the same dozen shirts over and over and the rest just sat up on the shelves in teetering stacks of 50 or more which would frequently avalanche down onto the floor, where my SO would walk over them for weeks without ever attempting to pick any of them up.

One afternoon, after many requests that he deal with Shirt Mountain, I pulled all the shirts off the floor, folded them neatly into paper grocery sacks, then made the mistake of telling him I was donating the shirts. He got very upset, dragged the bags back into the closet where they sat for several months until the bags split and shirts carpeted the floor again. At this point, I'd had enough. I had had enough many shirts ago so one weekend when he was away I grabbed the top half layer of shirts and took them to Goodwill, about 300 shirts in all. I figured there would be a blow out argument over it but I also was at the end of my rope with him refusing to deal with the issue....and he didn't notice the shirts were gone. So the next weekend, I split the pile again, 150 shirts. Then again and again until his side of the closet had 35 shirts, including all of his most frequently worn and still he didn't notice. Wait, I take that back, at one point, when we were at 35 shirts, he said "Hey, have you seen my red shirt?" and I said "Yeah, it had a big stain on it so I tossed it," and that was the end of that. I've subsequently determined (during the Great Freebie Baseball Hat Purge and the Freebie Commuter Mug Pogrom that my SO cannot count above 15 of the same items.

Do I enjoy this, sneaking around managing his stuff and smuggling it out of the house? Not even the slightest. It's a non-trivial unhappiness factor for me but it's the only route left when you live with someone who digs in his heels at the notion that having nearly two year's worth of tshirts (if he wore a different one daily) might be a few too many to have.
posted by jamaro at 3:27 PM on August 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


It can be both real and the result of consumption-drive culture. Did hunter-gatherers ever suffer from hoarding?

Did they have anything to horde?

If anything, the 'hording instinct' makes a lot of sense. Once you have something, it's wasteful to throw it away. The problem is that in today's society, we simply have too much access to stuff so unless we act counterintuitively and throw things away that might be useful, we have a problem.
I disagree that hoarding becomes collecting just because you're rich. I don't care how big your house is, when your collection is covered in animal feces and dirt, and when you have to climb over it to get to water and food, it's a hoard.
Which hardly applies to anyone called a 'hoarder'
It's not "If Johnny the Poor-Hoarder was rich, his stuff would be displayed in better condition and therefore they wouldn't be a hoarder", it's "If Johnny the Poor-Hoarder was rich, he wouldn't display any of this stuff. He'd just hoard more stuff."
I don't know that there's any real basis to say that. Rich people don't actually have to use that much more stuff then 'normal' people, so someone with 10x the money wouldn't nessisarally have 10x as much stuff to horde. But they would be able to afford 10x the storage.
My wife's insight on the difference between hoarding and collecting is that collections are ultimately designed to be displayed and admired, even if it's only by the owner. Hoards on the other hand, are just there.
I don't really think that's true either. It's more like, you'd like to put all the stuff on display, or go through it or whatever but don't have the space to do that, you don't have the time, you never get to it, and so on.
I kind of see what you're saying, but the fact is, once they die, that stuff is purged anyway. They are only delaying it.
Not really. Once you reach your 'comfort level' on cluttered-ness, you'll stop accumulating new stuff. Getting rid of everything on death probably requires less of an environmental impact then recycling the contents of your house every five years. The extreme cases are probably just people who have a higher threshold for clutteredness. Maybe they have other psychological issues as well.

====

The amateur hour psycho-analyzing in this thread is just ridiculous.
posted by delmoi at 3:33 PM on August 8, 2011


This 'illness' is seems very culture bound and would seem to be very connected with an affluent society with an overabundance of material possessions that we are expected to throw away. Both of these attitudes towards stuff strike me as unhealthy and I think the cure would be better use of our resources.

I get your point and everything - I know how creative the uses for 'rubbish' are where resources are scant - but coming into a thread full of heartbreaking stories and dropping this seems like the close cousin of 'but people in developing nations don't suffer from depression, it's just a Western problem, man the fuck up and think of the starving children!'
posted by mippy at 3:35 PM on August 8, 2011


I worry about my dad's hoarding tendencies; not so much because of the stuff he hoards (his is a mild version, and I will have no problems turfing most of it into the bin) but because he keeps telling people, including complete strangers, that he has lots of stuff which is worth money. He really doesn't. His house is full of worn-out tools that never get used, little bits of unpolished semi-precious stones he intends to facet and polish one day, tat like old perfume bottles and his most prized possession, a collection of mostly modern coins which he's convinced will be worth something because there are slight flaws in them. Look, there's an extra hair on the echidna! The Queen's crown is slightly doubled!

It gives him pleasure to have these things and to think they're worth money, but it worries me that he'll brag about it to the wrong people (he's indiscriminate and easily carried away) and someone will break into his house thinking they'll score stuff worth thousands, and beat him up when it proves untrue.
posted by andraste at 3:36 PM on August 8, 2011


"I threw out about three grocery-bag-sized loads of cables. "

So...I can take you off the list of people who might want the bucket of serial and parallel port cables I have in my basement then?
posted by MikeMc at 3:50 PM on August 8, 2011


My father was a hoarder, and worse, he essentially abandoned his house and moved in with his girlfriend. He "collected" books, blown glass, and, unfortunately towards the end, coins from the U.S. mint. Oh, and model trains. In the fifteen years he lived in that house, my sister and I cleaned it (as in weeklong cleaning and reorganization) at least twice, both times while he was in the hospital, and out of our own pocket. His reaction each time was angry indignation that we'd disturbed his stuff.

Aside from the clutter, there was the general lack of upkeep. A leaking roof that could and should have been fixed turned into a gaping hole in the dining room ceiling. The garage, we don't like to talk about. About a year after he moved in with his girlfriend, a pipe burst in the basement, flooding everything down there. When he stopped by to check (at least a week had gone by), he ended up having servicemaster come and "clean." essentially, they just boxed everything and moved it upstairs. And it sat there for four more years, until he died.

I spent a solid month in that house every day for about ten hours at a stretch. The dumpster we got was nearly too small (and we had to deal with sketchy neighbors across the street sending their son dumpster diving with no shoes). I found out pretty quickly that he'd kept his cat inside, and would either let him out or in whenever he'd stop buy to pick up the mail by the piles of litter, whole bags just dumped over where there used to be a box.

The books? Too many of them were books from clearance sales. He was a heavy smoker, and most of the books were covered with soot. We were lucky to find a bookstore willing to take them from us for about five hundred, mostly because they knew dad, and felt bad for us. The trains? Several thousands of dollars worth of n-scale trains? Servicemaster hadn't bothered to open the plastic boxes they came in, the kind lined with foam to cushion the trains, so they were still filled with basement water from four years earlier. It took over a day just to clean them, and we got robbed at $1000 for the whole set. And, fuck me, the wine? Most of the labels had rotted, and Michigan law essentially prohibits wine shops from buying from anyone other than distributors. It's still in the basement. Half of the things my sister and I actually wanted were so badly damaged that we couldn't keep them. As for the coins, as I said in an askme the other day, if you think you'll make money investing in coins, you are wrong.

These people thought they were doing something good for their son? They were either extremely delusional or extremely selfish. They are stealing a freaking year of his life, preventing him from moving on, or getting any kind of closure. We still have the house. I have no idea when we might be able to get rid of it. Until we do, until that place is gone, it's almost impossible for me to have positive feelings about my father. Leaving behind messes like this for your children to clean up is just shitting on them from the grave.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:56 PM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Leaving behind messes like this for your children to clean up is just shitting on them from the grave.

This is exactly why I have zero guilt about tossing all of the junk SO accumulates, I'll be damned if I leave this crap for my kid to wade through. A few years ago, I thought SO had an epiphany: we were at his deceased grandmother's home, using pitchforks to toss her moldy, rat-urine-soaked belongings out of the broken kitchen window into a dumpster, a task made considerably easier because we were standing on layers of clutter that was countertop high. I looked over at SO and said "Do you want to leave this kind of legacy for your son?" and he said no and I thought there was some acceptance and understanding but then more tshirts came home.
posted by jamaro at 4:03 PM on August 8, 2011


Hoarding will, and already has, gone digital: collecting music, movies, music videos, pictures, games.... How will we view that shift? It'll become harder to detect hoarding when the symptoms are hidden on small digital-storage devices.

Is it a problem? I suppose it's a problem if you spend all your money on it, but it doesn't come with the side effect of making your home unliveable and when you die your heirs can either delete it or just make a copy in a few minutes. Perhaps it's a manifestation of the same pathology, but it seems like a much safer one.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 4:09 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I resented, thoroughly, moving every two years when I was a kid, and my parents have never lived in the same location more than six years. One benefit, it keeps them streamlined. I don't think either has hoarding tendencies, but no way can you move that much and become one.

My only real inkling in that regard is with my restoration hobby, and I have enough friends and associates with garages and shops so packed with stuff you can't move or work that I'm pretty easily cured of the notion of Collecting it All.
posted by maxwelton at 4:24 PM on August 8, 2011


But ultimately, on an aggregate, hoarding is probably far less damaging to society as a whole than purging.

Except for the children who grow up into adults damaged by hoarding. It's damaging for us. I'm in my mid-thirties and I still freeze in mind numbing dread when the door rings. What if people want to come in? Mind you, my house is fine, but the doorbell rings and I'm ten years old, trying to make excuses to my friends why they can't ever, EVER come in my house.

I dream of burning my mother's house down, and finally getting rid of the hoard once and for all.
posted by crankylex at 4:35 PM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


My uncle owns a used bookstore, but not the kind you're thinking of. He buys books in bulk from charities like Goodwill and has his employees sort through them for books to resell on Amazon. It's an industrial-scaled operation: books arrive in thousand-pound cardboard bins, and are dumped on the conveyor belt to be sorted through with barcode scanners; books not valuable enough to list online are tossed into bins by category to be resold to third-world countries. The rest are recycled.

Well, because of their reliance on ISBN numbers and the extremely high-volume nature of the business, any books that were more than about forty years old were getting tossed. And this fact caused me near-physical pain. Old books! Beautiful old books, with leather bindings and gilt lettering and art deco typefaces! Books with personality, books that damn near had souls. And some of them were worth real money, too: I found a 1908 Midsummer Night's Dream worth $500, and a book of essays edited by JFK worth $1800, among others.

So for the past several months I've made it my business to see that the old books get saved. I started out by taking them to the flea market on Capitol Hill, and now I've set up a booth at a local antique mall. I've put in a ton of hours and labor, and I've spent so much time hauling around milk crates full of books that I have noticeable arm muscles for the first time in my life.

Reading this thread is reminding me that they're just books: they don't need me to save them, and it's not a human tragedy if they end up getting recycled. I think from now on I'm going to be a little more low-key about making sure that every. single. one. of the old books gets picked out on the conveyor belt, and a little more cavalier about tossing the ones that don't really have any monetary value. Because, in the end, they are just things, and I don't want them to take over my life.
posted by nonasuch at 4:46 PM on August 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's not "If Johnny the Poor-Hoarder was rich, his stuff would be displayed in better condition and therefore they wouldn't be a hoarder", it's "If Johnny the Poor-Hoarder was rich, he wouldn't display any of this stuff. He'd just hoard more stuff."

I don't know that there's any real basis to say that. Rich people don't actually have to use that much more stuff then 'normal' people, so someone with 10x the money wouldn't nessisarally have 10x as much stuff to horde. But they would be able to afford 10x the storage.

My basis for saying that is my mom. The things in her house are unnecessary things that she has brought into the house, not things she has kept into the house after having a reason to need them. Rich people using the same amount of stuff as"normal" people has nothing to do with anything if the hoard is made up of undisplayable non-collections.

Are you related to a hoarder? What exactly are you basing your opinions on?
posted by 23skidoo at 4:57 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great distinction, 23skidoo -- we're absolutely not "unnecessary things brought in" people; in fact, we hardly buy anything at all, ever, except food and mostly that from the market. Honestly most weeks we don't put the garbage out, just the recycle, because we don't buy anything unless something breaks or needs to be replaced.

What we do have in preponderance is "things we kept too long" -- stuff that broke (but could be fixed) or got upgraded, or is maybe someone's school art project from whenever. We don't "katamari" stuff, stuff just gradually sifts down to the basement or the attic.

However I did get two bins out to the curb with stained souvenier cups and stupid kitchen gadgets and styrofoam coolers and old shoes that just need a bit of goo (but have been replaced already). So there's progress and this thread is really helping.

Now just to keep putting out two bins every week....
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:07 PM on August 8, 2011


crankylex: Except for the children who grow up into adults damaged by hoarding.

Yep. IMO there's an excellent argument to be made that hoarding can damage kids forced to witness and deal with it, much as alcoholism and other pathological addictions do.

Oh yeah. I forgot to say, in my previous comment, that that Children of Hoarders group is also an excellent place for expressing resentment, anger, and full-tilt rage regarding one's hoarder parent.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:38 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Whenever I hear someone try to disagree that we are living in a time of unfathomable abundance, this thread, and specifically this comment, will stick in my head:
Well, because of their reliance on ISBN numbers and the extremely high-volume nature of the business, any books that were more than about forty years old were getting tossed. And this fact caused me near-physical pain. Old books! Beautiful old books, with leather bindings and gilt lettering and art deco typefaces! Books with personality, books that damn near had souls. And some of them were worth real money, too: I found a 1908 Midsummer Night's Dream worth $500, and a book of essays edited by JFK worth $1800, among others.
It is just so sad that 40 year old books are considered junk. It too causes me physical pain. Not just because they are books, but just the waste of resources.

I'm saddened by the hoarders, but I understand them. I am offended, however, by the thrower-awayers or anti-hoarders. How much money do they waste in order to finance their decadent lifestyles?

Ugh. Maybe I'm just in a bad mood.
posted by gjc at 5:45 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


taz: Charlie Don't Surf mentioned his mom was mostly an animal hoarder...

It's worth noting that she never really got so bad to the level of a Cat Lady, 7 cats is a lot less than the 200 cat horror stories you hear. I mean, some people suddenly get 7 cats when their pet has an unexpected litter.

I think sort of animal hoarding stems from a different rationale than people that really hoard to irrationally compulsive levels. I mean we've seen horror stories. I put one on my blog, in 2002 FujiTV from Japan ran an ongoing news series "katazukerarenai onnatachi," or "women who can't clean." I translated a lot of the video. Oh it's just awful. One girl lived in a tiny 1 room apartment, she hoarded so many books and manga, she only had a tiny spot shaped like her body, caved out so she could sleep. The foundation of her home partially collapsed, and the walls bowed out. FujiTV hired a crew to clean it all out. A year later, she's right back to the same piles of crap, she couldn't help it.

mippy: charliedon'tsurf,what was your reaction when you saw your vac-u-form - that you could have a play with it, or sell it online for cash? I've used this question a lot when deciding whether to keep something. Am I keeping it because I like it, or because it's an 'investment'/worth money/involved spending a bit of cash? Rationalising is hard.

Yeah, Vac U Form is especially cool. I googled and found they make replacement parts, you can get the pump set up better than the original. And they make new plastic sheets of different materials. But I've still got some original vacuformed toys in the pile that just weren't suctioned hard enough to get a good shape. That was always the weak spot of the Vac U Form. But now they're like a cult toy. At a minimum it's eBay material. At most, it's a $50-100 investment to revive an old hobby that has no real place in my life anymore. I put it right back into the box and back into storage. Sure it was fun when I was a kid, no matter how many times I burned my fingers on the damn thing. But I have inherited way cooler hoards, like my Grandfather's old letterpress and hundreds of pounds of lead type. I had to toss boxes full of paper, you can always get new paper, but it's hard to find a working Kelsey Excelsior letterpress, and there are some still-wrapped new fonts that he never used. I priced the stuff out if I had to buy it new. I didn't know that it was like $100 minimum for lower case, and $100 for upper case for a basic font set. Jeez. But that's more of a hobby in line with my professional graphics work, and it's retro and hot now. And it's only a $100 investment or so to get it running, and I have never gotten around to setting it up in the ~10 years I've had it. I suppose I must do something, I have no kids to give my old toys to, nor any family to inherit my stupid hoards.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:49 PM on August 8, 2011


Except for the children who grow up into adults damaged by hoarding.

The blog Tetanus Burger details two sisters' efforts to clean up the hoard their father left behind, and one sister, Thalia, has written pretty eloquently on what she considers to be her abusive upbringing. Since her father insisted that his stuff came first, growing up as the child of a hoarder meant growing up like this:

"we didn't have the right to hot water, that we didn't ever have the right to be comfortable, to heat, to running water, to a yard not full of cars, to not be publicly humiliated (because everyone knew the yard was a junkyard), to have friends over, to have enough to eat, to be warm in winter, to have the lights on in a room with the window open in summer because the bugs could get in with the crappy screens we had, to eat in peace, to dislike certain foods, to have a closet to hang our clothes in ..."

Read back through the archives for her stories on how her dad begrudged the children eating because it cut into his hoard of food, how her dad hoarded water heaters but couldn't be bothered to install them, so his wife and children went without hot running water, how her dad had rules over how people could interact with the stuff in the house.

Hoarding is not a victimless crime. One can feel sorry for the people afflicted by it; I prefer to reserve a greater share of pity for the children of hoarders. They didn't ask for any of it.
posted by sobell at 9:02 PM on August 8, 2011 [12 favorites]


This 'illness' is seems very culture bound and would seem to be very connected with an affluent society with an overabundance of material possessions that we are expected to throw away. Both of these attitudes towards stuff strike me as unhealthy and I think the cure would be better use of our resources.

I get your point and everything - I know how creative the uses for 'rubbish' are where resources are scant - but coming into a thread full of heartbreaking stories and dropping this seems like the close cousin of 'but people in developing nations don't suffer from depression, it's just a Western problem, man the fuck up and think of the starving children!'
posted by mippy

People get obese in America, and they starve elsewhere. I think you get my point entirely (except for man up). These problems are directly related.

FYI people in developing countries do suffer from depression. But it is mostly perceived as a logical consequence of their situation, if it is addressed at all, they treat their situation. Whereas in a western country, most often, the feeling is seen as awry.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 10:58 PM on August 8, 2011


Oh that Tetanus Burger was totally demoralizing. I stayed up until 1:30AM reading it, I couldn't stop. My mom was not nearly so bad as that hoarder, nor was her hoard, but it is only a matter of degree. I recognized her aches at the loads of junk hauled away (yes, I too was a familiar sight at the metal recycling yard). And I recognized her anger at the abusiveness of her father's mental illness and what it did to her.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:41 PM on August 8, 2011


People get obese in America, and they starve elsewhere. I think you get my point entirely (except for man up). These problems are directly related.

Not in the way I think you are suggesting. In the West, cheap food is calorie dense, which is why obesity is more prevalent amongst lower socio-economic groups - it's cheaper to buy a bag of Doritos for a meal than it is a pack of sushi, a salad or some meat. (If my tube is delayed, literally the cheapest place I can get a meal on my way home is McDonald's. Buying a 'healthy' sandwich across the street is double the price. If cost has to be the overriding factor for you, you'll go for the cheap meal.) Both are consequences of poverty, but in strange, opposite ways.

I also think you show scant understanding of depression. It's pretty indiscriminate as far as personal circumstances go, and perhaps it's just seen as a consequence of situation in the developing world because it's not well understood. This is a bad thing, not what you seem to see as the West's medicalization of feeling. I have bipolar disorder and the consequences have been the same whether I've been unemployed and virtually unable to buy food and pay bills, or whether I'm in work and have plenty of things to do and see.
posted by mippy at 3:20 AM on August 9, 2011


This has been an enlightening thread, and I'm gripped with an almost physical need to go home and throw away some stuff. Thank you for sharing your stories.
posted by Harald74 at 4:07 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


charlie don't surf, I'm also totally riveted by Tetanusburger. Did you start getting chills at the words "There's still more"? *shiver*
posted by taz at 4:19 AM on August 9, 2011


Myself, I'm trying to wrap my head around the fact that the Tetanusburger women have so far reclaimed 16 tons of scrap iron from their property!
posted by Harald74 at 4:23 AM on August 9, 2011


And... There's still more.

Actually it's even more than 16 tons. That's how much since they started keeping track, when they began taking it to the scrap metal place. Before that they were taking it to the dump, where they have estimated they dumped about 10 tons.
posted by taz at 4:50 AM on August 9, 2011


I don't understand why the women in the tetanusburger site are dragging the process out so much.

It seems like they could easily call in a scrap dealer who would haul it all away in a week or leave a giant bin for them. Instead they are torturing themselves with stationwagon loads of steel and removing one car at a time.

I haven't read all of the entries from the beginning, so maybe there is a rationale (are they looking for buried treasure?), but it seems like a pretty long, drawn out process to me.
posted by davey_darling at 6:41 AM on August 9, 2011


davey, one thing I caught from reading the entries is that:

a) there are some good Volksvagen parts in the heap (one sister brought a carload of that to a Volksvagen convention and put everything out to sell, and the convention-goers stampeded eagerly and they ended up making nearly a thousand dollars), and

b) they've found that some pregnant cats made their birthing nests in the cars and haven't wanted to inadvertently kill kittens.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:48 AM on August 9, 2011


Yeah, I feel a bit annoyed with the inefficient way they go about the metal scrap. I imagine with the amounts they are dealing with it could be cost efficient to rent a small metal shredder, a little conveyor belt and a skip. Get a truck to come for the skip every time it's full. Hauling iron around in small personal vehicles is not fuel efficient. What they do with the cars however is fine.
posted by Catfry at 6:52 AM on August 9, 2011


There is of course this from the first entry:
He's been in that nursing home for four years now; and though we've been cleaning it all up, it's still slow going. For one thing, one does not clean up forty years worth of crap overnight. For another, it is very heavy emotional work which brings up all kinds of nasty memories and sets all kinds of negative 'tape loops' playing in the head.
Which I completely respect. This woman probably would have preferred to let a bulldozer loose on the lot if it weren't her childhood home and it were so wrapped up in emotional issues.
posted by Catfry at 7:10 AM on August 9, 2011


"Hoarding is not a victimless crime. One can feel sorry for the people afflicted by it; I prefer to reserve a greater share of pity for the children of hoarders. They didn't ask for any of it."

This is one reason I think the show hoarders is both good and bad. It highlights that hoarding to the extent that people do on the show is child abuse. Which I think is a really good thing. The reality is not all people with chronic disorginization are living in feces, or have thrown their hands up and let their struggles take over and their children carry the unbearable weight of that.

The show depicts something very real: hoarding as child abuse. It's real and child abuse is child abuse whether the parents are mentally impaired or not.

However the show does a complete disservice to people who are genuinely mentally impaired with orginization activities, memory, or carrying PTSD and grief and struggling to make it through the days and make sense of life. Because of the fact that we don't have good research on how people's brains are working when this happens and the fact that we are popularizing the idea that these purging activities are good and also that these people are monsters who just don't care-- people like me who were just kids struggling with genuine impairment get thrown into the trash.

I could point out how my messiness is so much more sanitary and really basically nothing compared to the show and therefor I am good and those people are bad BUT I HAVE RESISTED DOING THAT BECAUSE IT'S THE POINT OF THE SHOW. It's like asking if someone whose IQ is so low they need assistance with tying their shoes would be good at parenting--and then ranting that all people who are severely mentally impaired are child abusers. Yes, they certainly can neglect their children, but to rage on all mentally impaired people is not justified because of that fact.You could also say that all mentally illness is crime because mentally ill people need care and their need is a burden on a society and therefore a crime in and of itself. I would disagree.
posted by xarnop at 7:10 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well...I can speak to being a hoarder, I think. And one that isn't burdened by growing up in the Depression, or coming from a family of hoarders, or, to the best of my knowledge, having any level of depression or pathology that a treatment professional could use as the string one tugs to untangle a Gordian knot. The only thing that I can think of is that I spent so much time as a runaway, and lost everything so many times; including my parents throwing out everything of mine in retaliation for me "making them look bad" by running away...that there's some weird thing in my psyche that makes me want to surround myself with stuff that nobody else can take away. I dunno. It's not normal though, I can tell you that.

Last October I bought a new house. In prep for moving, I sorted out a ton of stuff to donate to charity, a ton of stuff that needed to be thrown away, and stuff I was taking. I filled up a 27' charity truck with stuff that could be reused/resold. I sent an equal amount to the dump of stuff that wasn't worth repairing/painting/etc.

I still had 4+ 27 foot trucks worth of stuff that I moved into this house. Do you have any idea how much shit that is? It's a lot. Since October last, I've been trying to sort through and get rid of more stuff, but it's gotten to the "But I LOOOOVE this thing", or "But I want to remember this event"...and damn, ya know, I know it's insane, but fuck it's so hard to throw some stuff away.

For me, the impetus to start shedding stuff was seeing a single episode of the show Hoarders, because in my head, I just couldn't doom my kid to living with goat trails though my piles of junk. (It's never gotten *that* bad, for the record...but still; I know how those people got there. I do.)

And to be fair; a lot of the stuff still left unpacked are huge boxes of books, and art and the detritus of being a writer who needs to keep manuscripts as portfolio material...but some of it is insane shit like tax returns from the 90s and matchbooks from nightclubs all over the world. And some amount of stuff are actual collectibles; if I could clear out the junk enough to display them....or in the case of things like my Crow film-crew jacket...sell them.

I wish I could explain that part of my brain that tells me that I can re-purpose everything, that I shouldn't waste things; that my memory is a fragile wisp of a thing and that without this matchbook from Rick's I'll never remember smoking hash with Keith Richards. I know, it's crazy...but damned if I know how to do anything about it, but slowly convince myself to let go of shit that isn't really important, that has no value, even to me, and simplify.

Oh, piles of crazy junk, I wish I knew how to quit you.
posted by dejah420 at 7:15 AM on August 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've always thought my neighbors were hoarders, as I saw in their front door once and... well, it looked like hoarders live there. Same for their yard. But they recently started a home repair project and are getting rid of tons (literally tons, he says) of stuff, to charities and to the dump.

I'm curious what made them suddenly flip a switch and get rid of 20 years' worth of accumulation, but there's no polite way to ask.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:18 AM on August 9, 2011


The only thing that I can think of is that I spent so much time as a runaway, and lost everything so many times; including my parents throwing out everything of mine in retaliation for me "making them look bad" by running away...that there's some weird thing in my psyche that makes me want to surround myself with stuff that nobody else can take away. I dunno.

You've reminded me of a former roommate who, while not a hoarder, had some definite "pack rat" tendencies. We had a fairly biggish apartment, but there were some space issues in the living room, because she had a couple bookcases of....stuff.

But she also said that she moved a lot when she was a kid, and a couple times she talked about it I got the sense that a couple of those moves were due to economic hardship; and she also had to move because of economic hardship as an adult a few times as well. And she admitted that the act of sorting through some of the stuff she had often reminded her of when she'd had to do it in advance of such a move in the past, and it would get overwhelmingly emotional and she'd have to stop. Which, as annoyng as the crap got sometimes, I did totally understand and sympathize with.

I think what finally cured her, though, was getting married and moving to Australia. She ended up leaving a lot of crap with me (and gave me her blessing to do with it as I wished), and I think she's pared a lot down after all that. But the fact that this was a culling for a positive reason, compounded by the scope of the change she was making ("do you know how much it costs to ship stuff to Australia?") finally broke that roadblock for her, and she's doing a lot better. (And I made out like a bandit on the resultant tag sale after she moved out, too.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:55 AM on August 9, 2011


huh. This is a little bit weird: It turns out Thalia from Tetanusburger is the artist who did this image of Athena and this Minoan-inspired art that I bookmarked a few months ago. Not woowoo weird, but out of eleventybillion blogs, most of which I never bookmark at all... just kinda weird.
posted by taz at 8:30 AM on August 9, 2011


Wow. The rage coming off Tetanusburger is scary. She's even furious at people who dare have had a different experience of her father than she does, and people who don't want to use polite or condolence conversations to guess what her childhood traumas must have been.

One of the things most useful to me about going to funerals, especially of family members whom I didn't like, is to hear that they weren't the 100% asshole knew. They had good sides. They brought something good to someone. Sounds like that's not anything she's getting out of it- it's all about how shitty it was for her. Which would be one thing, but getting mad at people who knew her dad for not being as disgusted with him as she is? Bleh. As they say- the problem might have been him, but the solution is hers.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:54 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The rage coming off Tetanusburger is scary. She's even furious at people who dare have had a different experience of her father than she does, and people who don't want to use polite or condolence conversations to guess what her childhood traumas must have been.

Erm, I think her having had to put up with some pretty neglectful behavior, which she is only recently starting to come to terms with, she's....kind of entitled.

As Greg (the topic of the FPP) has said, having all this stuff around can block you from processing some of the negative emotions surrounding your family -- in his case, the stuff was keeping him from grieving. In her case, I'm sure it was keeping her from making peace with her father. The act of going through the stuff is stirring a lot of things up for her.

and when that stuff gets stirred up...you can get angry, yeah.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:08 PM on August 9, 2011


Yes, she's entitled to be pissed off, as so many of us are. It really does seem similar to growing up with an extreme addict. However, I hope she's restricting it to her blog and isn't actually taking it out on the poor folks coming by to say nice things about her dad. That she ISN'T entitled to.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:14 PM on August 9, 2011


I work for a person in their 70s whose 100+ year-old hoarder father died last spring. It has been a delightful project working with him over the past year. We attack a pile of stuff each day, and over the course of the past year, a lot of stuff has gone away. Sometimes we'll have to look at stuff multiple times over the course of several months, but eventually it gets qualified as "can go away." We take things to their appropriate new homes. There are local free piles, thrift stores, freecycle, craigslist, ebay, metal recyclers, paper recyclers, plastic recycling, pay-for-recycled-material folks, et cetera. Very very cool.
posted by lover at 10:24 PM on August 9, 2011


small_ruminant, if your last couple of comments refer to the July 11/11 post titled "Uncomfort," I disagree with your interpretation. If they refer to a different blog post, could you link it please? I've only read the ones that sobell linked above. Regarding the July 11/11 post:

She's even furious at people who dare have had a different experience of her father than she does,

No. She's furious at people who insist to her face, over and over again, that her father was a "great" guy, as if she hasn't already told them directly that he was a hoarder of the kind they've watched on Hoarders. She acknowledges that their experience of him was different and very positive; she just would like them to acknowledge that her more intimate, deeper, longer-term experience of him was different and very negative. She's furious at the people who never acknowledge this but just keep repeating "Great guy..." Which she correctly points out trivializes, dismisses, and makes invisible the abuse he inflicted on her.

and people who don't want to use polite or condolence conversations to guess what her childhood traumas must have been.

Guess? She tells them point blank what the traumas were. To which they respond with variations of, "Great guy..."

As for "polite or condolence conversations". People are polite to give their condolences, one time. Voicing them repeatedly to contradict the supposed condolee's different assessment of a parent? Is rude. Worse, it perpetuates the belittling the condolee has already experienced from the parent.

It is in the nature of polite conversation for the pointing out of a parent's abuse, much less mere neglect, to be unmentionable. More so if the parent is deceased. Mentioning them = Social Inappropriateness. So people who've experienced abuse or neglect have often already spent their childhoods and some or all of their adult lives not mentioning "He starved [he's starving] us" or "He denied [is denying] the existence of insect infestations what the hell do I do?" You can't mention such things in any polite conversation without risking people thinking you're rude, ungrateful, confused, wrong about your own parent. Therefore, feeling an imperative to uphold social niceties can doom you to keeping quiet about abuse or neglect 99% of the time. To hearing over and over again from well-meaning people (some of whom would probably offer genuine support if they knew the truth) those only superficially truthful words, "Great guy, your dad! Such a nice person, your mom!"

One of the things most useful to me about going to funerals, especially of family members whom I didn't like, is to hear that they weren't the 100% asshole knew. They had good sides. They brought something good to someone.


I already knew this about my dad (whose major toxicity lay in areas other than hoarding). I acknowledge the immense good he brought to the many people who knew his public face. (Everyone outside my immediate family, btw, was "public," including his own siblings and their families.) That immense good doesn't outweigh or even neutralize the harm he inflicted on us. And if certain of those well-meaning people were as respectful of my experiences as I am of theirs, they would refrain from repeatedly insisting "But he's a great guy and he loves you" after I've detailed stuff like "He hit mom. He treated us and referred to us his family as -- I quote -- 'minutiae.'"

getting mad at people who knew her dad for not being as disgusted with him as she is? Bleh.

Again, her issue is with their repeatedly running their assessment of him (simplistic and based on incomplete information) roughshod over hers.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:57 AM on August 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


Again, her issue is with their repeatedly running their assessment of him

Yes, irritating. But she's expecting people to behave/react in a certain way and when they don't she comes across as livid.

And.. I really do get the part where people don't get how awful things are and were. There's also the chance that people DO get it but still prefer to hang on to their own positive relationship with the guy, and how can they change anything anyway? (They might not see that validation is its own HUGE help.)

"But he's a great guy and he loves you"

Responding with "but a shitty dad" doesn't seem out of line, but somehow (maybe because of the way blogs are written) she comes across as furious everytime people don't adopt her reality, and/or don't speak it. If they are just being socially acceptable (meaning not speaking ill of the dead + dangerous to criticize other people's family even when they do it), you getting mad at them is kind of on you. Are you expecting people to step out of what they've been trained to do their whole lives? Why are you expecting that? Setting yourself up for constant disappointment in people is an isolating way to live.

I think, however, that she's treating the blog sort of like a journal, and working through all this shit. Since she's disposing of the metal one trunkload at a time, I'm guessing she's treating going through the hoard the same way. I hope she finds serenity by the time she hacks through it.

I'm really NOT in the camp of "oh he's just a collector." Even collector-sized piles of stuff and clutter make me feel physically anxious. This sounds similar to living with a tweaker for a dad, where the addiction reigns supreme.

I also know that I needed (need) some outside help for my own baggage and without it I wouldn't have survived. Now that I am surviving, just the memory of living with so much rage exhausts me, so obviously I'm projecting some of my own shit into this.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:13 PM on August 10, 2011


small_ruminant, I think it's more about her refusing to be silent anymore. To some abuse victims, it's as if polite conversation and societal norms were invented to enforce silence. The ability to transcend false small talk and have a real, honest conversation is something that helps abuse victims finally speak the truth about what happened to them.

Some of these people actually met her previously and they saw the state of the yard, if not the house. She's livid that those same people never once questioned her father's obvious hoarding behavior and now keep parroting the same lines about what a great person he was, even after she informs them of how he treated his family. The kind or thoughtful response in that situation is, "I'm sorry that happened." It's not, "You say your father starved you? Well, anyway, great guy!"

It grates on me how you call it "her reality", as though it only happened in her head. It's like you're saying you're saying a stranger's right to denial is more important than her memories of the very real abuse. I understand you're worn out on anger but you shouldn't begrudge her the right to her own anger. Anger is a natural response to injustice and abuse, and it's probably only now as an adult that she can start to heal from all the crap she had to bury when she was younger in order just to survive in that house. Five stages of grief and all that. Best of luck to your on your own journey.
posted by i feel possessed at 3:41 PM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


the chance that people DO get it but still prefer to hang on to their own positive relationship with the guy, and how can they change anything anyway? (They might not see that validation is its own HUGE help.)

Sure. If they were polite, they'd keep that determination to hang on to themselves instead of insistently voicing it.

you getting mad at them is kind of on you. Are you expecting people to step out of what they've been trained to do their whole lives? Why are you expecting that? Setting yourself up for constant disappointment in people is an isolating way to live.

I speak up about unmentionables because doing so breaks the chain of silence.

It encourages fellow secret-keepers to use their voices too -- I've discovered several by doing this. What a few seconds previously had been a conventional casual conversation between acquaintances or even strangers, becomes a community of two people who each recognize that the other is safe to speak of these things to without triggering any "I'm sure s/he meant well" kinds of excuses.

It's good practice in how to make my boundaries clear even to people who would rather do gymnastic mental contortions than let go of their poorly-grounded complacency. As a bonus, they usually minimize their future interactions with me!

It's good practice for owning my anger without letting it drain my energy or confuse my clarity. And holy crap does that take practice, for me anyway. But so worth it because it helped me let go of the anger at the same time.

Responding with "but a shitty dad" doesn't seem out of line
I think, however, that she's treating the blog sort of like a journal, and working through all this shit.


Agreed.

just the memory of living with so much rage exhausts me

After I finally got my dad to go to a therapist and then got my brother to participate in several sessions, Bro remarked a few months later, "Man, I didn't realize how much of my energy was going to all-consuming anger at him, all these years. Now I can feel that energy going into things that make me feel happy." For so many of us, anger is a necessary stage of working through the shit but agreed, we wouldn't necessarily want to be there permanently.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:13 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


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