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Why do you hoard?
May 1, 2013 4:24 AM   Subscribe

It turns out that up to an estimated five percent of Americans—nearly 15 million people—suffer from hoarding disorder. A few years ago, Samson (not his real name) unplugged his refrigerator. It had, he says, “got out of hand.” He didn’t empty it, and he hasn’t opened it since.
posted by Diles_Mavis (148 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Seems like part of it has to do with a fear of mortality. "I'll never use this again" is basically equivalent to saying "I have limited time on this earth and I will die before I get around to reading this book again."
posted by empath at 4:52 AM on May 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


He didn’t empty it, and he hasn’t opened it since.

He could trick Elena (ironically pronounced to rhyme with "cleaner") to open it.
posted by DU at 4:57 AM on May 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


I have a relative who's a mild hoarder. He's very articulate about it. It's clearly, for him, an emotional disorder related to early separation from his parents. He really treasures his stuff. Once when he was showing me round his garage (which was stuffed to the gills with what looked like complete junk -- a dismantled Austin 7 that had been there for 25 years, broken washing machines, old newspapers, the typical hoarder stuff) he pointed out a row of jam jars, which were labelled, in order

'Pieces of string 6 feet and longer'
'Pieces of string 3 feet to 6 feet'
'Pieces of string 1 foot to 3 feet'
'Pieces of string too short to be useful'

I am a bit of a tech hoarder, but it has its uses. Yesterday I need to make a book of 4x5 photos, only to find that the image files had disappeared. So I had to dig out an old 4x5 SCSI scanner and a Mac with a SCSI card, get it all working, and rescan the decade-old negatives. This kind of thing is very satisfying and reinforcing, but the truth is in a pinch just have driven to the city and booked time on a Hasselblad scanner, for around $100.

Hoarding is very tied up with guilt and fear of waste, which is why it's largely a first world disorder I think.
posted by unSane at 5:08 AM on May 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


That fridge is a biohazard, no one without a hazmat suit should open it.

As the kid of a neat freak who has a lot of the same outlook, hoarding shows make feel both sympathy and an overwhelming urge to douse everything with gasoline and light a match.

I wonder if you need that sort of semi- destructive urge to clean, along with a horror of rot (ironically, something you could also connect to a fear of death, empath). I know that I take a sort of grim pleasure in throwing things out, because their clutter pisses me off. And I have sometimes thrown away useful things, but I just accept that as the cost of a clean house.
posted by emjaybee at 5:10 AM on May 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't think that's why it's prevalent in the first world unSane... it's just that we have access to so much more *stuff*, and the space to store it.

I have mild hoarding tendencies. But moving overseas, and the liberating feeling of living in a clean room with all my old crap in a storage shed made me identify the futility of keeping a bunch of crap.

It's taken me two trips to the storage shed to finally whittle it down to a carefully organised bookcase of memories and bric-a-brac, and my present home is functional and as minimal as I can make it, but I can easily see how hoarding is on a spectrum.

On the other end is Steve Jobs who never could buy any furniture.
posted by panaceanot at 5:17 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know that I take a sort of grim pleasure in throwing things out, because their clutter pisses me off. And I have sometimes thrown away useful things, but I just accept that as the cost of a clean house.

I like to think of the cost of buying new things to replace things I've thrown away and later need as storage fees. I also accept that I am destroying more than my fair share of the planet.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:19 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow, lots of really familiar stuff in this story. My mom is the one non-hoarder in her family and definitely my sister and I have some of the traits described in the article - the idea of a seemingly random pile of stuff taking on its own aesthetic significance resonates hard and I've never really seen that described anywhere else.

I am not someone who likes to acquire stuff at all, actually, but I think this is in large part because so often it becomes a burden; I get attached and then I have to find a place for it all and keep it clean and move it when I move. So the act of buying a physical object is a major - potentially lifelong - commitment.
posted by town of cats at 5:26 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is fascinating. I always wondered if one element of hoarding for some people involves anthropomorphizing items...this idea that the useless item itself will be sad if it is neglected or thrown into the trash. So it must be loved and given a home.

And does the opposite problem exist? I get extremely nervous/anxious when I am surrounded by lots of stuff. It is the primary reason I have a profound dislike of malls and department stores. I remember the day I finished my PhD and had to leave my graduate school city on my way to my 1st real job. I was able to put everything I wanted into my Nissan 200SX and just drove away. There was a feeling of liberation in being able to do so. Today I have a very modest amount of stuff. My attic has a few boxes. My basement is almost empty except for a washer and dryer. And yes, I can easily park my car in the garage. And yet, I have these urges from time to time to liquidate what I do have. Maybe it is just nostalgia for the days when I was young, poor, and free. Or a fear of commitment?
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 5:28 AM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


As my mom succumbs to Alzheimer's, my wife and I are dreading the inevitable clearing-out of her home. While not exactly a hoarder, she is a depression-era kid, and had that "never throw anything away that might be useful" mantra drummed into her.

Plus, there's this behavior that people of her generation had, where they saved newspaper clippings that had even a tangential relationship to someone they knew. The sheer tonnage of what we're going to have to clear out is intimidating.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:30 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


We've also, collectively offloaded a lot of our innate hoarding tendencies onto computers and the internet. Where data (and digital representations of physical stuff) can live seemingly forever.

Also, witness the angst when a digital service, or store of data is turned off (Geocities?).
posted by panaceanot at 5:31 AM on May 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


My wife and I have a lot of stuff, but for us it's because we want to learn all the skills and do all the things. Every hobby needs some amount of hardware and consumables (fabric's the worst) which can be stored against the day when I finally get around to learning bookbinding, or whatever.

I'd never in a million years connect the tendency to mortality*. There are enough causes floating around this thread to make me wonder if hoarding is a cluster of illnesses, not an illness (and i'm not totally convinced it's an illness).

* except for books. It was realising that this wasn't "a library that would outlive me", it was just a pile of books that would be broken up on my death, that allowed me to start culling. Before that, I thought disposing of a book was tantamount to burning it.
posted by Leon at 5:33 AM on May 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Attachment is the cause of suffering.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:36 AM on May 1, 2013 [32 favorites]


That's not an Obscure Reference, but yeah ;]
posted by panaceanot at 5:39 AM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Before anyone gets too high and mighty, how many of y'all have 30,000 mp3s on your hard drive and haven't listened to most of them in 10 years since you downloaded all of Napster?
posted by spitbull at 5:41 AM on May 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


Most woodworkers I know (myself included) have this problem - that bit of wood will be useful someday, and there's still some life left in that sandpaper!
posted by Old'n'Busted at 5:43 AM on May 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


spitbull: 65k. But they're organised beautifully. Organising MP3s is as peace-inducing as linting code by hand.
posted by Leon at 5:43 AM on May 1, 2013 [19 favorites]


How on earth could hoarding become a problem in a society that places value on consumption and ownership?
posted by Legomancer at 5:48 AM on May 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Also, to bring this to one of my own personal hobbyhorses: most things that geeks called "collections" would be more accurately described as "yard sales-to-be"
posted by Legomancer at 5:49 AM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Before anyone gets too high and mighty, how many of y'all have 30,000 mp3s on your hard drive and haven't listened to most of them in 10 years since you downloaded all of Napster?

Compulsive hoarding specifically deals with the collection of physical objects. Whether it's 3 mp3s or 30 million mp3s, the only way the size of a digital media collection factors into hoarding is in relation to the size of the device needed to store/play the songs. That's not to say that an excessive collection of media/digital space isn't potentially an issue -- just that it's not really the same thing as compulsive hoarding.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:52 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Seems like part of it has to do with a fear of mortality.

"...the standard psychoanalytic interpretation of obsessive collecting is that it is a way of warding off death, or at least a displacement of abstract, inconsolable anxieties, often rooted in childhood feelings of helplessness. Having all this stuff, the unconscious logic goes, protects you against loss. But eventually having all this stuff keeps on reminding you of the inevitability of loss."

Quote from Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction To Its Own Past, by Simon Reynolds.

> most things that geeks called "collections" would be more accurately described as "yard sales-to-be"

Speaking as someone turning 40 this year, my advice to people in their 20s would be to not buy too much stuff because you spend your 30s getting rid of most of it.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:52 AM on May 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


Before anyone gets too high and mighty, how many of y'all have 30,000 mp3s on your hard drive

39375 mp3s actually, for a shade under 119 days of continuous listening, not even half a year. Of those 27876 (~82 days) have not yet been listened to since I last had to recreate my iTunes database (2010/11/28).

That's the advantage of digital, as all of this shit is still less than 300 megabytes and fits on one external 1TB harddrive, rather than having racks and racks of cds or records. Which means I can limit my hoarding tendencies to books and comics.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:54 AM on May 1, 2013


Organising MP3s is as peace-inducing as linting code by hand

This.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:55 AM on May 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm like this with computer parts. I have some RAM that I'm pretty sure has never fit into any of my machines. I think it's DDR1? A co-worker was trying to get rid of it and I thought I could use it.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:56 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Are you telling me that America is hoarding hoarders...?
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 5:57 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Before anyone gets too high and mighty, how many of y'all have 30,000 mp3s on your hard drive

And how many of those 30,000 mp3s are essentially duplicates with only slightly different filenames, ID3 tags, or bitrates?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:59 AM on May 1, 2013


As my mom succumbs to Alzheimer's, my wife and I are dreading the inevitable clearing-out of her home. While not exactly a hoarder, she is a depression-era kid, and had that "never throw anything away that might be useful" mantra drummed into her.

It was actually clearing out my similarly Depression-era grandparents' house that finally curbed some very embryonic hoarding tendencies my mother had. She'd also helped them pack up and move from Connecticut to Massachusetts in the '70's, and remembered a lot of the things she'd helped them pack first time - and while she was cleaning out the house she discovered a lot of it was still either packed away in boxes, or gone threadbare or seedy or moldy. There was a sofa and a couple chairs, especially, that my grandparents couldn't get rid of, but then they just went down into the basement in Grandpa's workroom and got ruined from mold and dust and gak. "When I found that," Mom said, "I just kept thinking that some young couple would have been THRILLED to have had it earlier, if they'd just given it to Salvation Army instead of keeping it!"

And for some reason this "young couple" has become some sort of totemic image in her head and she's started culling her own things more. (And honestly, I'm thrilled....)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:02 AM on May 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


linting code by hand

Oh my god I wish this were a job.
posted by enn at 6:03 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Organising MP3s is as peace-inducing as linting code by hand.

Yes, for certain values of "peace".

WHAT'S THAT, ITUNESNORM? YOU WANT TO LIVE? I'M SURE JUDGE MP3TAG WILL BE HAPPY TO HEAR YOU OUT....MUAHAHAHAHA.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:04 AM on May 1, 2013


Compulsive hoarding specifically deals with the collection of physical objects. Whether it's 3 mp3s or 30 million mp3s, the only way the size of a digital media collection factors into hoarding is in relation to the size of the device needed to store/play the songs. That's not to say that an excessive collection of media/digital space isn't potentially an issue -- just that it's not really the same thing as compulsive hoarding.

If that's an official definition that mental health professionals work to, I'm going to suggest that the definition is wrong. This bit of the article jumped out at me:

In fact, the acquiring phase—the taking of items from a store or garage sale or flea market to one’s home—has been described as pleasant by hoarders.

I'm thinking that the pleasure these people find in foraging for physical items and bringing them home is very similar to the pleasure I find in collecting and tagging MP3s. I spent the same amount of time they did - maybe more - on my collection. The only reason it hasn't been flagged as a problem is that it fits in a shoebox.

Inspector.Gadget: MusicBrainz Picard changed my life.
posted by Leon at 6:05 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Before anyone gets too high and mighty, how many of y'all have 30,000 mp3s on your hard drive and haven't listened to most of them in 10 years since you downloaded all of Napster?

Honestly, I think that is much more like having a couple thousand books in your bookshelves. No one considers that hoarding, even though it's physical and you are never going to look at most of those books each year, because it's neat and tidy.
posted by smackfu at 6:07 AM on May 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yeah given the incredible variance of the human condition (tm) mental health people have to always add the asterix of "causing a non-neglible impact on quality of life or ability to function".

So mp3s and vinyl aren't really the same thing, and vinyl isn't either if you're in the biz.

I'm still pretty convinced this is a subset of depression and internal fixation in an attempt to assauge feelings of loneliness and abandonment, which is why it has become so prevalent in our increasingly socially isolated society.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 6:13 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


If that's an official definition that mental health professionals work to, I'm going to suggest that the definition is wrong.

Ok, why?

Compulsive hoarding isn't necessarily about obsessively collecting things. I can collect memories, for example. That's not hoarding. I can collect thoughts. I can collect money, which I put in a bank. I can collect baseball cards, which I put in binders and store in my basement. None of those things are hoarding. Compulsive hoarding is about an abnormal collection of physical objects -- clutter, essentially -- in the home or work environment in such a way that living in that environment becomes problematic, possibly even dangerous. It's not really about stuff so much as it is about the presence of stuff getting in the way. A stamp collection is not hoarding, and a storage shed is not hoarding.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:25 AM on May 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


I got a lot of stuff in this house that I know I won't use and it's annoying to consider the only practical alternative to hanging on to it is throwing it away which means no one will ever use it.

But it's useful stuff, to some degree, and putting it in the landfill represents a significant waste. The problem is that here (as in many mid-sized cities) there's really no accessible discards reuse/recycling facilities here that don't involve me throwing extensive amounts of my time in a hole dealing with bozos (e.g. freecycle).

If this was a big city I could huck things on the curb on non-pickup days and if anyone had a use for it, it would be taken.

In other words I have a junkyard in my house pretty much because I don't know how to just snap my fingers and have all this crap go to someone who'd make good use of it, rather than it just sitting around -- or being sent to rot in a landfill.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:28 AM on May 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


It sounds shitty but if there was a wormhole where I could just pitch stuff and have it wind up in some shanty town where it would be used by people who needed it, this house would make the front cover of Better Homes and Gardens.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:30 AM on May 1, 2013 [17 favorites]


The fact that America is absolutely obsessed with compulsive hoarders now tells us a lot more about mainstream American anxieties than it does about hoarding.
All kinds of various behaviors get lumped together as "hoarding." Rich people who hoard so much that they only live in a few rooms of their mansions, poor people whose ramshackle yards are pathologized for the stuff they're going to be working on, people who save for the future because they grew up with the virtue of thrift and people who try to save the past in material mementos...some people buy things compulsively, other people don't buy much but never throw away anything when they do...why should all these various social and psychological cravings be collected, if you will, into a single category? The Collyer brothers in 1947 were some of the last rich whites in Harlem; back then their house was seen as a spectacle of the eccentric rich and their fall was a metaphor for urban anxieties. The fact that we now see "hoarding" as a single disease speaks to anxieties about larger contemporary imperatives to manage the self in increasingly rationalized ways. Yes, of course people who struggle with all that stuff are suffering and need and deserve help to live better lives, and all of us people have problems with all kinds of attachments and anxieties and addictions and compulsions.And of course it's" in the brain;" we are brains, all our feelings are chemical. But hoarding speaks to the fact that we don't want to admit it is in fact totally ubiquitous to fetishize commodities; it points out that though we think we distinguish between relationships and things, in fact that line is crossed all the time. Hoarders' excesses threaten to show us that those distinctions are already blurry everywhere. (This doesn't attempt to explain hoarders' obsessions, but why "hoarders" are suddenly a modern obsession.)
posted by third rail at 6:32 AM on May 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


Any idea of earliest record of this kind of behavior? Like were there medieval hoarders? hunter/gatherer hoarders? Was that possible? Any prominent examples? Or is this mostly an industrial age thing
posted by Diles_Mavis at 6:33 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


In fact, the acquiring phase—the taking of items from a store or garage sale or flea market to one’s home—has been described as pleasant by hoarders.

Which is the basis for shopping as a pastime, yes? Whether or not there's much money involved. What's the difference between my neighbour's garage sale addiction, and Imelda Marcos' shoe addiction?

The other half of it is a general unwillingness to throw stuff out. I was talking to my Dr. the other day, and she said she suffers from pretty much the same thing as me: "I don't want to waste this valuable item (nail, cassette tape, piece of string), and if I don't care about it, nobody will."

My model is the last few drops of motor oil in the can - if you save all of those drops, eventually you'll have a "free" quart to put in your engine. And down the road a barrel etc. (Throwing out all those tiny spoonfuls of oil is a WASTE OF THE EARTH's RESOURCES!!1!)
posted by sneebler at 6:34 AM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


When asked to identify objects’ most prominent characteristics (shape and color, for example), or to group objects based on shared characteristics, people with hoarding disorder had difficulty completing the tasks. They also had trouble remembering the sequence of things (say, a group of arrows and the direction they face), and performed poorly on tests measuring attention and response time. The results show, in essence, that people with hoarding disorder have the most trouble when categorizing things.

I'm not a full-blown hoarder, but definitely tend that way. I have terrible problems organizing and categorizing things. I can distinctly remember an afternoon in my first college dorm room, struggling to develop a system for organizing my bath towels and washcloths in the closet and coming close to tears. My current means of filing things at work is "piles on the desk" for active projects and "random folder in a drawer somewhere" for completed projects. At home, things just build up. I've always had the feeling that being surrounded by disorganized piles of things is simply an unconscious effect that I have on my environment, the same way that high winds result in fallen trees and roof damage. Other people get a piece of paper and just seem to know what to do with it--where to file it, whether it's safe to just recycle it, etc.

Lately, I've been undertaking the "throw ten things away every day" project, and find it incredibly freeing. One of the ten things could be a holey sock, a bottlecap that has been lying around for ages waiting for me to figure out if I can recycle it, etc. (One of my big problems has always been, "I need to figure out how to repurpose/recycle/donate this thing to charity," and then never getting around to it, so I guess my hoarding is partially born of good intentions.)

But like I said, though, my problem doesn't even come close to what actual hoarders and their families have to deal with. Very difficult stuff. What an interesting article.

On preview: Yes, seanmpuckett! That's my exact problem! (Well, one of them anyways.) A whole basement of old electronics, toasters, old stationary bike, etc.
posted by whistle pig at 6:34 AM on May 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Everyone to their own humor, of course, but the trouble I see with much of this recent cultural fixation on "hoarding" is the way it tends to elide any distinction between "hoarding" and "collecting." Everything becomes equally fungible stuff and anything can be repurchased if necessary. There's really no better imperative to construct a consumer culture around.

I guess I take it a little personally, also. A lifelong collector of everything from stamps to coins to books to antiques (to boxes of unopened model airplane kits from the '50s) my dad would have been (and was!) called a "hoarder." (And, actually, in his case, it's possible his love of collecting was somehow related to early feelings of abandonment.) But the money his collections sold for when he died gave my mom a pretty nice retirement. Not long ago, one of my younger cousins, looking at some of the things my mom kept, said "Auntie, you're a hoarder. I'm gonna put you on one of those TV shows." And I was like, (thinking to myself), "You little shit. Get out of here with your disposable life."
posted by octobersurprise at 6:36 AM on May 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Any idea of earliest record of this kind of behavior? Like were there medieval hoarders? hunter/gatherer hoarders? Was that possible? Any prominent examples? Or is this mostly an industrial age thing

A hundred years ago, someone who would have been called a "hoarder" would probably stockpile money or gold and not spend any of it... that's what Freud was talking about with his retentive thing.
posted by third rail at 6:37 AM on May 1, 2013


I guess I have some hoarding tendencies, and my mom also has a decided inability to let things go, as evidenced when I tried to help her move.... an example is when I wanted to throw out totally expired, 20-year old spray canisters of some photo retouching finisher and she became furious because she NEEDED them.

In my personal case though, it's weird. I have binge/purge cycles so it doesn't get too bad... I end up keeping everything (packaging, parts, screws, papers) that some people think is garbage, but when it starts encroaching on my living space, it all goes in the trash. I try to go through it before I throw it out, but I never give it more than a cursory scan, which more often than not ends up in me throwing out something I shouldn't have. This is why I'm not allowed to go through the mail pile anymore, as once it gets out of hand... I basically chuck the whole thing and have thrown out important documents.
posted by Debaser626 at 6:38 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Before anyone gets too high and mighty, how many of y'all have 30,000 mp3s on your hard drive and haven't listened to most of them in 10 years since you downloaded all of Napster?
For that matter, how many people just have the hard drive from back then? I know I do, even though I got rid of the computer that it went with, and it probably won't even spin anymore. Probably wouldn't hurt to dump unheard mp3s, along with other files. Would help to slow down the need to get more and more hard drives. The files themselves take time, especially if one curates them.
Honestly, I think that is much more like having a couple thousand books in your bookshelves. No one considers that hoarding, even though it's physical and you are never going to look at most of those books each year, because it's neat and tidy.
And buying books is wholesome, and endorsed heartily by booksellers of all kinds. And having rooms full of books is somewhat normalized and aspiriational.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:40 AM on May 1, 2013


Ok, why?

Well, basically, I'm saying the definition is an arbitrary line in the sand, and I'd like to choose a different arbitrary line.

I think that if all the same emotions and causes are in play with a digital collection and a physical collection (which doesn't seem like a massive leap) then it's probably the same disorder. The out-of-control-junkpile seems like a consequence to me, rather than a cause. An obsessive stamp collector is just luckier than an obsessive "stuff" collector, because stamps are easier to keep ordered.

Both you and hobo make the point that there's an unspoken "must also be causing harm" tacked on, and that seems very reasonable when you're talking about treatment and intervention, but less useful when you're doing research, because you're not studying all those people who manage the disorder effectively.
posted by Leon at 6:41 AM on May 1, 2013


I'm hoarding all your comments. I print them out and put them in jars labeled:
'Comments 6 sentences and longer'
'Comments 3 sentences to 6 sentences'
'Comments 1 sentence to 3 sentences'
'Comments too short to be useful'
posted by FreezBoy at 6:45 AM on May 1, 2013 [29 favorites]


Octobersurprise - I think the whole "hoarding v. collecting" thing comes up because a lot of people do hang on to stuff because they have some sort of vague idea that whatever it is could be "valuable to collectors" - but they treat it like any regular old junk. A lot of the home-organization shows I've seen targeted that by telling the clients "okay, look, if you're going to collect things then do it right - set up the secure storage space, keep the boxes unopened, and actually treat it like the investment it is. If you aren't able to do that, then the 'collection' won't be worth anything." Some people then go on to realize that they've just been using "collecting" as a crutch, and others do go on to look into how to keep a collection and do something with it.

It sounds like you already keep everything the proper way. Lots of people who call themselves "collectors" don't. I used to delude myself into thinking the four X-Files action figures I had were "collectibles," even though they're in my closet stacked under other random crap, but I've accepted that the boxes are all bent to shit and I've lost one of the Mulders' cell phones so fuck it, I accept they are just random toys now. Fortunately that's as far as my obsession goes.

As for the TARDIS cookie jar, that was a gift and I actually do use it, so there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:45 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm going to recommend, as I always do, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things as a great pop-science book on the characteristics and potential underlying mental causes of hoarding. There are a lot of misconceptions about hoarding in pop culture. For example, therapists who deal with hoarders will point out that, while some hoarders start as collectors, the huge difference between hoarding and collecting is that the behaviors associated with hoarding are actually at cross-purposes to the goals of collection. Hoarding collectors will collect to the point that they can no longer display their collection. They can't find their collectibles. Their collectibles get damaged. Etc. Really, the difference between hoarding and collecting is the classic DSM requirement for most disorders - it has to be causing a significant quality of life/health/safety issue for the participant or those around them.

This is another reason that your mp3 collection is not a "hoard" until it reaches the point that it is affecting your quality of life. Are you purchasing and filling hard drives that you can't afford? Are you continuously burning "backup" disks that you then promptly lose? Can you not even use your computer because it's so stuffed with corrupted, unplayable MP3s that no other programs can run, but you won't take any steps to fix it? Then maybe it might be a hoard. If it's not hurting you, it's not a disorder.

I think that if all the same emotions and causes are in play with a digital collection and a physical collection (which doesn't seem like a massive leap) then it's probably the same disorder.

Of course the feelings and emotions that spur people to hoard are present in non-hoarders as well, just as people who are not clinically depressed sometimes feel blue or temporarily fatigued or "have a case of the Mondays." The line for clinical hoarding seems to be drawn in the same place as it is for any other disorder. If we label every person who sometimes doesn't throw stuff away for emotional reasons a "hoarder", then 95% of us are hoarders.
posted by muddgirl at 6:46 AM on May 1, 2013 [14 favorites]


Well, basically, I'm saying the definition is an arbitrary line in the sand, and I'd like to choose a different arbitrary line.

Fair enough. My point is that there is a line, it's been established by professionals, and it's not helpful or useful for people to blur that line by discussing collecting instead of hoarding. As octobersurprise writes above, these are different things. And I don't want to be all internet-huffy, but saying "yeah I'm kind of a hoarder, I have a whole bunch of mp3s" sure sounds a whole heck of a lot like "yeah I'm probably a little bipolar, some days I'm really sad and some days I'm really happy." All it does is trivialize what is an actual, real, crippling disorder.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:47 AM on May 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


I used to delude myself into thinking the four X-Files action figures I had were "collectibles," even though they're in my closet stacked under other random crap,

I think the very concept of collectibles is very enabling to a hoarding mindset. "These things aren't just toys, they are precious, and can't be given away. I just need to go sell them on eBay someday... until then, I'll just keep this box."
posted by smackfu at 6:48 AM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


but saying "yeah I'm kind of a hoarder, I have a whole bunch of mp3s" sure sounds a whole heck of a lot like "yeah I'm probably a little bipolar, some days I'm really sad and some days I'm really happy." All it does is trivialize what is an actual, real, crippling disorder.

I used to take time off work and spend the day tagging mp3s instead. Long time ago now. Hobo's view of it as a form of depression is attractive to me.
posted by Leon at 6:53 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The biggest things that happened to me that kept any potential hoarding tendencies in check for me are:

1. Living in an incredibly small apartment for 12 years, and

2. Packing to move 6 years ago.

I already had to go through occasional hardcore purges of my stuff in the old place because it was simply too damn small for that many things. But I still had a lot of stuff when I moved and packing it all sucked ass. So even though I am in a much bigger space now (my current living room is the size of my entire former apartment), I still go through the occasional Purges Of Things because "I do not want to go through that again".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:53 AM on May 1, 2013


I have some tendencies sort of in the neighborhood, but 'hoarder' doesn't really fit the bill. I have a bizzare combination of laziness, ingenuity, and something closer to convenience than true thrift.

When it comes to household items, the thought is more like "holding onto this thing might save me a few minutes or the effort associated with a few dollars (rather than the dollars themselves) a ways down the road."

When it comes to appliances, old tech, etc. I tend to keep things in service for a long time, so I also keep compatible/contemporary accessories, parts, thingamabobs and whatnots. I'm not sure whether I come out ahead on this--clearly at this point I should bite the bullet and ditch the file box full of old expansion cards, RAM and GPUs, etc.

I have a ton of books. Not all of them are worth hanging onto, I know this, but its always hard to get rid of any of them. Especially when I get rid of something I think I'll never want to read again....and then I do.

I've held onto a ton of old papers––bills (often unopened because autopay), invoices, receipts, etc. At first this was in part because I was a newly minted adult, grew up in the 90s and thought you were supposed to keep anything vaguely financial or official. Later on I mounted a heroic scanning effort, which not only lagged behind from the start but has created justifications for continuing to retain too much, because hey I'll just scan it and won't have to worry. This project has also been a mixed blessing when it comes to magazines.

On the other hand, I have to do the moral character application for the CA bar realsoonnow and having all that crap will come in handy in dredging up every old address, phone number, etc.

I still have clothes from high school (maybe even a few articles from middle school). I have a lot of handmedowns of my dads that I should probably get rid of as ill fitting dress shirts are no longer a cool look for me at my age. The more painful aspect of this are nicely made suits that never really fit me and are too out of style or too difficult to bother with altering. I'm probably as bad about clothes as books (probably in part because I like nice clothes but hate spending money on them, so am loathe to get rid of anything that might 'come back,' and in mens fashions everything does eventually, and with very little change from the last cycle.) I have two walk in closets (my grandparents used to live here) and I still can't fit everything in there. Laundry is always happening. That has to be unusual for a guy in his early 30s.

So. I'm not a hoarder, but I'm a pretty rampant clutterer, and I acquire much faster and more freely than I process and discard. I think a big difference is that I affirmatively would like to get ahead of the clutter and stay there.

For me it's more about time, organization, and other things that implicate attention and distraction than it is about thinking all the crap I have around here is equally important and valuable. No, much of it is junk, but I'd rather get to it at whatever rate I do than throw it out en masse and lose something truly important to me. That's my recurring speedbump.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:56 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the long run, anything is valuable if it's old enough, because it becomes rare and irreplacable, and imparts valuable information we can't get any other way. So prehistoric rubbish heaps are extremely important to us, but not because we knew the people who made them.

You can't really set an objective value on a thing. Context is everything. The things my grandmother kept are only partially important to me, so I only saved a few of them. Will they mean anything to my descendants, aside from their value on Antiques Road Show (if any)? Maybe not. Much less the things that I keep, like high school yearbooks. Sure, if you kept them a few centuries they might be important (assuming everyone else didn't do the same thing) but not really meaningful. In the meantime, they eat up space and demand that you take enough care of them that they don't rot. That's a cost for my descendents to pay, one that probably won't result in much or any payout. So they should pulp my yearbook when they get tired of it, no question.

Or if they like, they could scan the damn thing, stick it in the cloud, and then pulp it.

Maybe someday we can do the same thing with non-books; scan them, store a 3-D image of them, and then recycle the physical version. It's not the same, but it preserves information at a low cost.

Personally, I would love to have a Start Trek replicator that I could feed all my garbage and unwanted junk to, in return for providing me what I needed and only what I needed. It's irritating to need one of a thing and have to buy a pack of 12 and then store the other 11.
posted by emjaybee at 7:01 AM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have some tendencies sort of in the neighborhood, but 'hoarder' doesn't really fit the bill. I have a bizzare combination of laziness, ingenuity, and something closer to convenience than true thrift. ...

Later on I mounted a heroic scanning effort, which not only lagged behind from the start but has created justifications for continuing to retain too much, because hey I'll just scan it and won't have to worry...

No, much of it is junk, but I'd rather get to it at whatever rate I do than throw it out en masse and lose something truly important to me. That's my recurring speedbump.


A lot of diagnosed hoarders would agree with these statements. Hoarding is part of the spectrum of human existence - we all share the basic mental structure after all.
posted by muddgirl at 7:02 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


When rich people do it, it's called "collecting."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:02 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a hoarder in rogue-like games. Specifically, in Dungeon Crawl. Every interesting trinket I find while exploring the dungeon will eventually be carried to my stash, regardless of whether it will be ever be useful in the game. Hoard management adds hours to the time it takes me to beat the game.

I would play Hoarders: The Video Game
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:05 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


In other words I have a junkyard in my house pretty much because I don't know how to just snap my fingers and have all this crap go to someone who'd make good use of it, rather than it just sitting around -- or being sent to rot in a landfill.

Does your town have the Big Brother Big Sister program or any other major thrift stores? If so, they will frequently send a truck to pick things up, and the items would go to a place where people can use them. (For that matter, 1-800-GOT-JUNK would still reuse many of the items.)
posted by pie ninja at 7:06 AM on May 1, 2013


I would like to say for the record, if my ex-husband-the-hoarder is reading this, that when you became abusive and I was angry and going out of my mind with planning an exit strategy, that I did not soothe myself by categorically removing every 25th CD from your over 19,000-strong CD collection and leave the teeny blank spaces there to drive you crazy.





It was the cats.
Who never liked you.
posted by kinetic at 7:07 AM on May 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


A lot of diagnosed hoarders would agree with these statements. Hoarding is part of the spectrum of human existence - we all share the basic mental structure after all.

That is an excellent point. Although I think that some hoarding can be differently motivated. I lived in a divided townhouse next to reality-show level hoarder, and what drove that guy felt like something different. But maybe that's just a version of the narcissism of small differences.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:09 AM on May 1, 2013


When rich people do it, it's called "collecting."

Well, in terms of physical space, it's easier for rich people's lives to be unaffected. My wife's family just finished clearing out her grandfather's house. I wouldn't say he was a collector, but he had a ton of stuff. Lots of china, lots of silver, and stuff he was clearly keeping with no intent of ever using, like a tailcoat sized for a child. More stuff that anyone in the family can really genuinely use, because I barely have need for one set of silver, much less ten.

If he were poor and lived in a two bedroom apartment, all that stuff would have made his life hell, but he didn't. He had plenty of room to hold on to his childhood tailcoat and his aunt's wedding china; it didn't impact his life in a negative way.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:12 AM on May 1, 2013


I would love a way to efficiently get rid of largish (500+) numbers of books and get enough money back that I don't feel like a complete fool for having bought them in the first place.
posted by adipocere at 7:15 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would love a way to efficiently get rid of largish (500+) numbers of books and get enough money back that I don't feel like a complete fool for having bought them in the first place.

Don't worry about the second part. Just get rid of the books. Clearing out the physical and mental space will be a reward in itself.

Ebay and TV have told us that we should get rid of things if there's a significant monetary incentive for doing so. There usually isn't. I have a box of nerd stuff (toys and things) that I've been trying to sell on Craigslist (it's too big to ship) that could be worth a few hundred dollars to someone who was motivated to put it all up on Ebay. I'm not and never will be. I need to just get. it. gone, at any (or no) price. The money I spent on these things is long gone, and it's not coming back by me just waiting for the right person to feast their eyes on this treasure trove.

Just pack them all up and get them out. It will feel so much better.
posted by Legomancer at 7:19 AM on May 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Although I think that some hoarding can be differently motivated.

Yes, that's absolutely true. It's one reason why I always recommend Stuff for anyone who's interested in hoarding - it talks about a lot of different people and their motivations, rather than a one-size-fits-all "Hoarders are afraid of death!" or "Hoarders think every single piece of trash in their house is valuable!" For a lot of people like my grandfather and me to some extent, clutter is also psychologically comforting - like a dragon living in a cave of gold that is useless to them.

If he were poor and lived in a two bedroom apartment, all that stuff would have made his life hell, but he didn't. He had plenty of room to hold on to his childhood tailcoat and his aunt's wedding china; it didn't impact his life in a negative way.

One of the differences between clinical hoarding and regular old clutter is that hoarders will often expand their 'collection' to fill the space that they have. Moving a hoarder from a two-bedroom apartment to a mansion only solves their problems in the short term, and a non-hoarder moved from a mansion to a smaller space will generally reduce their possessions to maintain whatever level of clutter is comfortable for them.
posted by muddgirl at 7:21 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The nature of digital storage makes digital hoarding a rational strategy. Why would I waste time deleting mp3s when there's virtually zero cost to storage?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:26 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, in terms of physical space, it's easier for rich people's lives to be unaffected

Well yeah but, friends father was a weathly man and a definite hoarder and without the kids around to clear things out it turned into a classic " can't move around the house because of the piles of random crap." made doubly worse by the fact that he was a paranoid gun nut who kept stashes of weapons hidden all over the house and frequently booby trapped them.

Clearing out his house required the help of the bomb squad.
posted by The Whelk at 7:28 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't worry about the second part. Just get rid of the books.

Agreed. I find it helpful to remember that purchases of books, CDs, electronic toys, etc., is no less a consumption good than buying food or paying for rent. It doesn't matter that there's a "book left" after the purchase any more than that there's a crust left your meal, which most people would discard without thinking twice.

You bought a book for $15. Maybe you read it, maybe you didn't. It's ten years later and you want to get rid of the book, but feel like you should get something for it--I mean it's in perfect condition.

To me, I've gotten that $15 worth of value out of the book, probably multiple times over, and probably as soon as I bought the book. Often, I buy a book not because I'm desperate to read it, but just because I want to buy a book. Having bought a book, I've gotten my money's worth.

Once I recognized that I was buying books because I wanted to spend money, I stopped buying books. I've donated most of my books to charity in the past couple of years. I generally read ebooks now, most of which are public domain. It's weird to be a former literature major with maybe only a handful of books to my name, most of which are foreign language reference. But honestly, I love it.

DVDs are next--I haven't bought a DVD in maybe three years, and they're going to get purged soon.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:31 AM on May 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


I hoard favorites.

I'm just not very good at it.
posted by mazola at 7:33 AM on May 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


I collect and grow cacti and succulents and I used to be compulsive about it. Then I sold them all when I moved continents and realized that what I enjoyed the most was getting them rather than having them. Understanding that I enjoyed the acquisition more than the possession changed everything. Now I just wish there was somewhere near me that grew them well that I could go visit.
posted by srboisvert at 7:34 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I read this article the same day I'm having a roll-off dumpster placed in my driveway so I can purge a lot of un-needed stuff, empty boxes, etc.
posted by mrbill at 7:35 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure how to make this any more clear than the example of bipolar disorder above.

If you have 5,000 books, it does not make you a hoarder.
If you have 3 sets of dishes, it does not make you a hoarder.
If you collect toys from your childhood, it does not make you a hoarder.
If you have 30,000 mp3s, it does not make you a hoarder.

Calling people who do this "hoarders" is like calling the girl downstairs "schizophrenic" because she and her boyfriend fight a lot.

If you won't throw away food when it rots or has expired, if you have an anxiety attack when the doorbell rings, if you sit in one chair because you have no others free to sit in, if you have a three car garage and can't fit a bicycle into it, if you treat your children and pets akin to every possession you have ever owned because your narcissism is so out of control, then, you are probably a hoarder.

If you have EVER gotten rid of something without an anxiety attack, you are likely not a hoarder.

I grew up in a hoarded home. It is a total fucking nightmare and nothing to take lightly.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:36 AM on May 1, 2013 [31 favorites]


I collect spores, molds, and fungus.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:37 AM on May 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


The nature of digital storage makes digital hoarding a rational strategy. Why would I waste time deleting mp3s when there's virtually zero cost to storage?

You're not alone in thinking this. My iPad literally won't let me delete an app. I can remove it from my screen, but it's still there among all my purchases. If a game or app is total junk, I can never be free of it forever. If I go to my purchases and want to re-install something, I have to sift through junk I literally can't be rid of.

Likewise, the Comixology app on iPad won't let me delete a purchase. Again, I can get it off my device, but everything I buy is kept forever, whether I want it to be or not. That free sample of "Scarlet Takes Manhattan"? I can be buried with it if I want to be, because it's never going anywhere, even though I didn't like it.

Remember, when Gmail first started, there was no delete button on the homepage. "Why would you need to delete?" they asked, "You can just search through every email you've ever gotten!" This was touted as a selling point.

ETEWAF is seen at the moment as a miracle. It will eventually reveal itself to be a curse.
posted by Legomancer at 7:39 AM on May 1, 2013


mazola: "I hoard favorites.

I'm just not very good at it.
"

For the hoard!
posted by Mister_A at 7:41 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


even though I didn't like it.

:(
posted by The Whelk at 7:43 AM on May 1, 2013


Eh. I know I have multiple irrational urges at work here:

1) I would like books, movies, CDs, and the like to go to a good home. The idea of throwing them into the trash (especially books) is mildly anathema to me. They aren't childhood teddybears but I can remember precisely where and when I read Floating Dragon for the first time, what I was listening to (Duran Duran, on cassette. I can recall a reading a passage just as "Tel Aviv" came on), and so forth.

2) The sunk cost fallacy, as noted above. Not all of it is sunk. I really do have some rather rare books, autographed books, and the like. What am I to do with the still sealed Vampire Chronicles, autographed by Anne Rice?

3) Then there is the issue of the timesuck: sorting into "keep," "sell," "gift," "donate," and "pitch." All but the first require additional work.

I'm aware these urges are not to my benefit and struggle with this. Other, yet-to-be-identified motives also are likely lurking.

I sometimes wonder if I could not set up my friend's wife — who is not doing well and would like to have some kind of home business — to sell my stuff on Powell's, Amazon, eBay, whatever, then split the profits with me.
posted by adipocere at 7:44 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am a recovering hoarder. It pops up here and there in both sides of the family, though I did not grow up with any hoarders.

Although I think that some hoarding can be differently motivated.

Yes. I feel my hoarding was mostly a response to major depression, but I do, however, have the common hoarder trait of "this looks like it could be useful some day". I am a tinkerer and a maker to a fault. I am interested in everything and that's very problematic for someone who developed hoarding tendencies.

What's frustrating for me is that I know how to organize and I enjoy a clean home. I went along years just fine, albeit I had a lot of stuff thanks to a good deal of hobbies. Most of the stuff was organized and being used, but in hindsight, I can see the OCD stockpiling of some things, the inability to use other items (especially sketchbooks, oh god, never buy me a nice sketchbook, I'm still somewhat terrified to sully it with crappy sketches and would rather just leave it blank), and the looming spectre of depression urging me to buy things I didn't need because they (momentarily) made me feel better.

Then, full-blown depression broad-sided me. That started the avalance, because the above behaviors are only manageable in the best frames of mind and mood. Depression is utterly crippling. If you haven't experienced it, you don't know the sheer, herculean effort it takes to pick up a dropped piece of paper and move it 3 feet to the trash bin.

So, within a few years, I had accumulated a good deal of both trash and stuff. We're talking floor-to-ceiling in some rooms. I had to use a shovel once to clean out the kitchen. You see, hoarding became a vicious cycle. You want to do something about it, but it's so damned overwhelming (if throwing away a piece of paper is exhausting in a depressive state, imagine digging out of a hoard). The hoard begins to self-perpetuate in a way. Things start to break... or they go missing... and it's so, so much easier to buy a replacement than fix, clean, or find what you had. Then the replacement gets lost or ruined. And so the hoard feeds. And it grows.

Luckily for me, my depression broke and I started getting better (it was mainly related to being closeted transgender. Transitioning has done me so much good, I can't even begin...). I'm still digging out (just have a dozen bins left to go through, I actually went through about 6 this morning and trashed nearly everything), but am very close to bring back to normal (my finances though... they'll take a bit longer to recover).

I still have very bad habits I'm in the process of unlearning, the worst being clutter blindness. Clutter blindness. That's another crazy, self-perpetuating behavior of hoarding that's difficult to fully explain unless you've also experienced it yourself. You adapt so quickly to the squalor that you just don't notice things like the dried cat turds by the door, or exploded pasta sauce all over the stove. Seriously, you could be staring straight at it and the "this is not right" voice is completely absent from your inner monologue. When I have people over, I still have to comb the house multiple times to make sure I there are no obvious messes in plain sight.

So, yeah. Hoarding is a nightmare. I worry that, now I've succumbed to hoarding once, I'll be more prone to it in the future. So, I try to cut back on spending, really scrutinize what I've been using and have not been using, question any new collections or projects, and generally try to make keeping house a regular habit. It's hard though, and I expect it to be a life-long struggle. And it's very difficult sometimes to tell people no, really, I don't want any gifts for Christmas or my birthday (I want things leaving my house, not entering!), or how, yes, I absolutely must clean this evening, I'm sorry I can't put it off to play video games or whatever (because I can detect when I may be slipping and it's best to nip that horrible monster in the bud).
posted by Wossname at 7:45 AM on May 1, 2013 [36 favorites]


When rich people do it, it's called "collecting."

No, wrong.

There's a hell of a lot of arm-chair psychology and misunderstanding of hoarding as a mental illness on display here. Maybe some of y'all could take an hour to two to educate yourselves.

I've been following Tetanus Burger for a year or two - she's the daughter of a hoarder and she covers quite well the elements she felt were abusive growing up. The inexplicable fury when asked to part with literal garbage that Debaser26 mentions above is a frequent hall-mark of hoarding.

I read My Mother In Law is Still Sitting Between Us... from the beginning when the articles about Greg and his hoarding parents were first published, but had to give it up a year ago because Greg's lack of progress was so frustrating. Looks like she's still updating though.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:49 AM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh shit. Sidney is not still updating My Mother In Law is Still Sitting Between Us because she passed away. My bad.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:51 AM on May 1, 2013


'Pieces of string too short to be useful'

I've read that before somewhere, but in "Pieces of string too short to save" form, and as a punchline to some joke. Your relative may be a hoarder, but I think that jar was a joke.
posted by pracowity at 7:52 AM on May 1, 2013


Wossname - thank you for your honesty. As a child of a hoarder (CoH), it is so comforting to know that some people can and will get help. I'm in a CoH group and it is often so frustrating to know that most of our parents will die in their hoards (a few already have).

I hope you continue on the path and know that the things don't contain the memories, your brain does.

Congratulations.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:53 AM on May 1, 2013


I had become a bit of a hoarder unintentionally because my family used me to deal with their own hoarding nature - They'd give me things they didn't/need want, but would make me feel like I had an obligation to keep it. They'd get irrationally angry if I got rid of any of these things, even if they went to someone who could use them.

I need to emphasize that these weren't sentimental items, they were usually things like not-very-practical kitchen gadgets that they were getting rid of for a reason.

It took me well into adulthood to realize that they would never come looking for it, and that they never needed to know... and only recently have I reached the point where I don't feel guilty for donating / gifting / getting rid of something that was given to me years ago. But until then, where I lived was mostly a huge closet for all of the junk they had dumped on me.

This was combined with a lot of personification and anthropomorphism of objects that continued well beyond where it should have. I still have a hard time dealing with the fact that some random thing I was given doesn't have feelings.

I recently went though a major purge, and I've been a happier and more relaxed person.

I say this only to emphasize that it's a good idea to instill a more positive way of accepting these things in your own children, if you have any - they should know that it's for their benefit if they want it, they don't have to take it, and they certainly don't have to keep it.

I'm still struggling with this well into my 30s. Rationally, I know better behavior, but it isn't rational thought and action that's the issue.
posted by MysticMCJ at 7:53 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Squeak Attack - yeah - Sid was a good friend and unfortunately she passed away last year. We all miss her.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:54 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The only thing I hoard is spotify playlists. Since my life cracked up in the mid 2000s its been wonderful not having things and living in small places. Once you've let a storage space go, just let it go, drove away and never gone back for the piles of childhood books and mementos and heirlooms and trash, you can't look at belongings the same way again. When I moved to new york I invited all my friends over to take anything of mine they wanted, including records from the 60s and comic books I've had since I was 9. Maybe I have the opposite disorder actually, the idea of accumulating crap fills me with dread. Thanks for the session doc what do I owe you?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:03 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


The files themselves take time, especially if one curates them.

Ah, curation. It sounds so possibly scientific, so potentially beneficial to humanity. I bet that word is used to defend keeping all sorts of heaps of crap, whether it's collecting or hoarding.
posted by pracowity at 8:04 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hoarding, the behavior, can exist separately from the compulsive hoarding disorder that is slowly coming into focus as a unique and discrete Thing.

ADHD, trauma, anxiety disorders like agoraphobia, depression...these can all produce hoarding behaviors. I'm sure I've missed a few. Any generalization about a single cause for all hoarding behaviors is bound to be wrong.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:08 AM on May 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


Hoarding, the behavior, can exist separately from the compulsive hoarding disorder that is slowly coming into focus as a unique and discrete Thing.

Good point. If people don't want it called "hoarding", that's fine, but there really is a "unhealthy attachment to worthless stuff" issue that a lot of people have. And the shows like Hoarders make a lot of people see that side of themselves in stark relief. Is there a better name for that? I don't know.
posted by smackfu at 8:14 AM on May 1, 2013


My grandmother appeared to have the opposite tendency; she would discard anything that wasn't in immediate use and anything old. I don't know whether this is recognised, but it was definitely a little beyond normal. Left to herself she would have ended up with a house that contained nothing but a single newly-purchased kitchen chair for her to sit on.
posted by Segundus at 8:15 AM on May 1, 2013


There's a hell of a lot of arm-chair psychology and misunderstanding of hoarding as a mental illness on display here. Maybe some of y'all could take an hour to two to educate yourselves. [...] Tetanus Burger

So I look, and I read:

I have also avoided reading Randy Frost's book on hoarding, though I am very tempted to get it and do a chapter-by-chapter deconstruction of it (or, rather, a chapter-by-chapter excoriation of the author and his conclusions. Dr. Frost is not very well-liked in children of hoarder circles)

You know, that blog doesn't look like a good place to educate myself about mental illness. It looks like a place where someone rants (for years, and at length, and dare I say obsessively?) about their father. I think I'd rather read the book she dismissed without reading.
posted by Leon at 8:19 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


"And the shows like Hoarders make a lot of people see that side of themselves in stark relief. Is there a better name for that?"

There but for the grace of God go I ...

I think the scary thing about many kinds of mental illness is that, as humans exist on a spectrum, we can recognize ourselves and our unhealthy tendencies when we see the extreme far end of it. I'm a bit of a pack rat, and I'm especially bad with making piles of paper, and I can't even watch those hoarding shows because I recognize that's the extreme end point of this same behavior that I am constantly fighting against. I rationally know that having too much stuff means I don't enjoy the stuff I have and I can't locate the stuff I want and I'm stressed about the quantity of stuff, but trying to sort through and purge it all is ALSO very stressful and it's easier to put it off.

Right now the "get rid of excess stuff" side is winning, but I'm going through boxes that have been sitting unopened basically since we moved and it's STILL hard to get rid of those things, and it would be so much easier to just set it all aside and let it just sit there in the basement, comforting me that if I ever NEED 12 matching beer steins, I HAVE 12 matching beer steins.

(My current goal is to fill up a diaper box of unneeded stuff every two weeks, because a diaper box is a good size, but not huge, and I have a lot of them. So it's not overwhelming, but little by little I'm getting through a LOT of stuff. As soon as it gets full, I put it in the trunk of my car to drop it at Salvation Army the next time I go by there, so I'm not tempted to just let it sit in the house as "stuff I'll donate when I get around to it." For some reason once it's in the car, it's an errand I need to run rather than something I'll get around to eventually.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:32 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It looks like a place where someone rants (for years, and at length, and dare I say obsessively?) about their father.

Harm to family members is part and parcel of the disorder. I don't really expect them to be dispassionate and clinical. I don't really know the nature of anyone's disagreement with Randy Frost but I imagine it centers around the difference between a clinician and a victim. A few people have compared being the child of a hoarder to being the child of an alcoholic, and that seems apt to me. I think all three perspectives - from hoarders, from their family members, and from clinicians - are important
posted by muddgirl at 8:36 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think I'd rather read the book she dismissed without reading.

Or, you know what?! You could do both! Whoa. Anyway, I didn't post those two blogs as definitive scientific studies of the condition. I posted them as examples of non-hoarders who have observed and been damaged by the mental illness in people close to them.

In the past I found more blogs from the hoarder-adjacent than from hoarders themselves. I'd love it if anyone here could provide first-person hoarder narratives.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:37 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


spitbull: "Before anyone gets too high and mighty, how many of y'all have 30,000 mp3s on your hard drive and haven't listened to most of them in 10 years since you downloaded all of Napster?"

I also have a zen garden that I tend to do when the impulse strikes me.

Struck by Andy Warhol's time capsules. In this day and age, I think he'd spin that off into some sort of curated collection service. Every month, you'd get a novelty ceramic statue or coin bank, two posters (or sheet of stamps) , a wristwatch (or small clock), pen/ pencil/ small bag of feathers, and a tiny assortment of cheap candy.
posted by boo_radley at 8:39 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've definitely seen the same behaviors with digital media. I know someone who regularly ran into problems doing basic tasks with her computer because the disk was too full because she will not delete 5 year old podcasts that she kept saying she might listen to. There is not enough time in the world to listen to all of it but she wouldn't delete any of it. She's gotten better, but still. (Yeah, there's some physical hoarding going on too, to some extent.)
posted by rmd1023 at 8:41 AM on May 1, 2013


It sounds shitty but if there was a wormhole where I could just pitch stuff and have it wind up in some shanty town where it would be used by people who needed it, this house would make the front cover of Better Homes and Gardens.

It sounds fine and it's called Goodwill.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:43 AM on May 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


Harm to family members is part and parcel of the disorder. I don't really expect them to be dispassionate and clinical.

I get that really. But dropping into a thread and telling people to educate themselves, or that you're not a hoarder if you can throw things out without an anxiety attack, got my back up. It's confrontational and dismissive. I grew up in a home where I couldn't bring friends home, sometimes whole rooms were closed off, and the answer to too much stuff was to get another shed. I don't need to be "educated", or to have my experiences dismissed as "not real hoarding" because once every few years someone said "fuck it all" and hired a tidy bin for an orgy of purging.

(BTW, I read the whole of Tetanus Burger the last time it was linked on the blue.)
posted by Leon at 8:52 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have been in hardcore purge mode since September. (Husband out of the house at Morrisoncon = the carpet all got torn up, the dining room painted, and a GIANT GARAGE SALE HELD). The more stuff I get rid of, the happier I am. This spring before it gets too hot, the Great Technology Purge begins.

Bye bye SCSI-based anything in the attic!
Bye bye monitors! (those went last week, on the treelawn...they were gone within 30 minutes)
Bye bye boxes of crap!

Hello, check of mine for $250 that he never cashed and sat in his office for 3 years. IT'S MINE NOW.

Goodbye to his ATM receipts from 2002 shoved in a box!

But my PowerBook 520? That I'm gonna keep for sentimental purposes. I love that stupid thing. Everything else must go.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:56 AM on May 1, 2013


My grandmother appeared to have the opposite tendency; she would discard anything that wasn't in immediate use and anything old.

My mother did this when we were kids (still does it, actually). I remember constantly getting new underwear, towels, things like that - like every two weeks we would get new socks and the old ones would be gone. Now that the kids are out of the house, it seems every couple of years she insists on emptying the whole house and redecorating.

My girlfriend, on the other hand, comes from a family that keeps everything. We have interesting arguments sometimes about whether to keep things or throw them away - we both tend to follow our parents' behaviors in a way, so while I was inclined to get rid of the leaking blender (because we had two blenders and the other one worked fine) she wanted to find a small appliance mechanic who would repair it so we could keep it or sell it.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:56 AM on May 1, 2013


I get that really. But dropping into a thread and telling people to educate themselves, or that you're not a hoarder if you can throw things out without an anxiety attack, got my back up. It's confrontational and dismissive.

Didn't you do the exact same thing as Squeak Attack (dismissed someone affected by hoarding) when you dismissed the blog they linked to because the posts are emotional rants and not a dispassionate and clinical look at hoarding?
posted by muddgirl at 9:19 AM on May 1, 2013


muddgirl: "Didn't you do the exact same thing as Squeak Attack (dismissed someone affected by hoarding) when you dismissed the blog they linked to because the posts are emotional rants and not a dispassionate and clinical look at hoarding?"

Perhaps there is a broad problem with conflation between "support of the affected" and "education of the issue". Both could be seen as legitimate desires.
posted by boo_radley at 9:23 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would love to test these perceptual/cognitive theories of hoarding by having a set of hoarders playing Skyrim and see if any of the behaviors reliably transfer to digital world for any of the sets of different hoarders. Would they hoard only potentially useful stuff like herbs, monster parts and weapons, knowing that they may need it later? Would they collect all kinds of junk, even as within the game you can absolutely tell that this cannot be used for anything and it's value is 0. Would they have no impulse to hoard at all, when disconnected from real world worries or when disconnected from real world spatial and tactile objects?
posted by Free word order! at 9:24 AM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


muddgirl: Yes, I did. I responded in anger and I apologise. Thank you for calling me on it.
posted by Leon at 9:24 AM on May 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


a wormhole where I could just pitch stuff and have it wind up in some shanty town where it would be used by people who needed it, this house would make the front cover of Better Homes and Gardens.

They're by no means perfect, but I assume you've heard of the thrift shop*? Because I am that shanty town

* not Goodwill, though, there might be some sketchy stuff going on over there
posted by pullayup at 9:25 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


My wife is always on me to throw away things, but I have trouble doing so until I feel ready.

I now live half a continent away from my family and where I grew up, and I miss it terribly. This means that most of the tangible objects from that time are imbued with memories of an environment that I know I have lost and cannot go back to -- both the hometown and my youth.

Every so often there is a shift in my emotions, and suddenly I can casually discard all sorts of stuff. (I donated like half my books last year in one go!) But I still cling tightly to many things, and while it's fun to go through the small box of old Boy Scout patches and show them to my own boys, what am I going to do with a box of JROTC uniform brass?!

I guess I am saying that I can be conscious of this, and yet still not ready to throw it off. Hoarder? Nooo......but still maybe a holder of things for too long.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:26 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I read the Tetanus Burger blog a while ago, and I think of them a lot when I am throwing out stuff. I think they would be proud. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 9:27 AM on May 1, 2013


Jesus, I see myself in every one of the first twenty comments here. Can't read 'em all now, but this is going to be a scary thread, isn't it? (Self awareness, here I come!)
posted by notsnot at 9:29 AM on May 1, 2013


I have a friend who has lived in the same rented house for at least ten years. The entire 3 bedroom house is full, there are some pathways through to functional places like the bathroom and kitchen but the rest of the house is full. A few years ago when he'd been out of work for over a year, I suggested that he go through his stuff and sell off some of things that were valuable (or even just sell-able), and reduce his square footage requirements (this is in the bay area, so rents are quite high). I remember the look on his face when I mentioned this, it was like I'd told him shoot his dog. It wasn't even a discussion, it was just no, that's not happening. Keep in mind this guy was already talking about not having a enough money for food but he couldn't bear to part with his collection of non-working arcade games and pinball machines.
I think I could have similar problems if I ever lived in one place long enough, but moving every two years to increasingly smaller places has taught me the value of not bringing stuff home in the first place. 10 years ago I had a collection of CDs, books, comics and toys that threatened to overtake my living room, now I have a stack of books that fits in a couple book boxes and a couple of boxes of CDs that I (still) need to go through and rip. Everything else went to the library. They were pretty stunned when I brought them 5 comic long boxes full of comic TPBs. The other fun one was bringing an xbox and two shopping bags full of games to the Goodwill. The guy just looked at me like I was nuts and asked what was wrong with it.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:54 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would play Hoarders: The Video Game

I think Animal Crossing fits this moniker pretty well. When I've played games in the series, my character ends up with a closet full of almost-but-not-quite complete furniture sets that couldn't be re-ordered from the shop if I were to sell them.
posted by Dr-Baa at 10:01 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


But dropping into a thread and telling people to educate themselves, or that you're not a hoarder if you can throw things out without an anxiety attack, got my back up.

I did not do that second part of your comment. I did not name you by name. You chose to take what I said as directed to you personally or dismissive of your struggles.

I'm not dismissive of anyone who grew up in a hoarding situation. I've read, and watched shows, and listened to podcasts about the illness because I am adjacent to so many proto-hoarders - my maternal grandmother, my paternal grandfather, my mother, my husband, my husband's maternal grandfather, and the mother of a very dear friend.

All of these people teeter on the edge. Some of them have partners (like me) who help keep the crap under control. I have very bad childhood memories of my mother flipping out and screaming at me when I threw out some wrong thing.

I was irked by people going on about collecting, like that's the issue at hand. Which it is not. Or joking about first-world problems, because I don't find the illness very funny.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:14 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


A few years ago, Samson (not his real name) unplugged his refrigerator.
[...]
Samson recalls a visit his brother made around that time. “He said, ‘Wow, Greg—you’ve got a lot of problems.’ But then he added, ‘But you’ve also got some really great books here.’”

If I had to venture I guess, I'd say his real name is Greg.
posted by sour cream at 11:00 AM on May 1, 2013 [17 favorites]


I was irked by people going on about collecting, like that's the issue at hand. Which it is not. Or joking about first-world problems, because I don't find the illness very funny.
posted by Squeak Attack


I know what you mean. One of my kids has OCD and I used to get pretty upset when people would make jokes when they're tidying or cleaning or washing their hands or whatever like, "I'm scrubbing so hard; you're gonna think I have OCD! Ha ha ha."

When you've lived with the actual illness, hearing it joked about can be rough. But people don't mean offense (not that you took offense), everyone has just had different experiences so we view things differently.
posted by kinetic at 11:01 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Moving into the digital era has had both advantages and disadvantages for me. On the one hand, I purchased a Kindle largely to try to reduce the clutter of all the books I own, and it's helped in that regard. (I accept the "if they're neat and on shelves, it's not hoarding" argument above, but that's not the case with my books, mostly in random piles along with bunches of other stuff on the floor.) On the other hand, the digital era has slowed the culling of my print collection, because now I feel a "must record each book in on librarything before I discard it so I'll know I once owned it" compulsion.

One of my big problems has always been, "I need to figure out how to repurpose/recycle/donate this thing to charity," and then never getting around to it

Oh my yes, I totally do this too. I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm never going to watch any of my hundreds of VHS tapes again (even though I still have a working VCR and could if I wanted to) but rather than just throwing them in the garbage, which would take all of ten minutes, I start to worry about whether that's the environmentally responsible way to dispose of them and then I never get around to it. (Voice in my head: "The magnetic particles on the tape are IRON! Literally THE MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENT ON THE PLANET! It's not like you'll be throwing out any of those rare elements we're actually in danger of being in shortage of, ever." And yet...)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:56 AM on May 1, 2013


Seymour Zamboni: This is fascinating. I always wondered if one element of hoarding for some people involves anthropomorphizing items...this idea that the useless item itself will be sad if it is neglected or thrown into the trash. So it must be loved and given a home.

I'm not a hoarder, but I was a bit of one when I was a kid, and I did think that way back then (even though I also knew it was irrational).

Debaser626: In my personal case though, it's weird. I have binge/purge cycles so it doesn't get too bad... I end up keeping everything (packaging, parts, screws, papers) that some people think is garbage, but when it starts encroaching on my living space, it all goes in the trash.

I do this too. I rationalize keeping packaging around for awhile because of it's usefulness for storage/return shipping/moving, but eventually it just needs to get purged. For papers, I've recently adopted a digitize-and-destroy strategy, which has really helped reduce the clutter with no risk at all. I've never once regretted saving extra screws and parts, though. They always come in handy. It's really hard to toss things that I've regretted tossing before.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 12:00 PM on May 1, 2013


If I had to venture I guess, I'd say his real name is Greg.

He's identified as "Greg Samson" in the very first sentence. I assumed the entire thing is a pseudonym.

What I'm still trying to figure out is whether the similarity to "Gregor Samsa" is intentional, and if so, what the significance is. It's been a while since I read "The Metamorphosis" but I don't recall any notable hoarding tendencies in Samsa.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:00 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


> not Goodwill, though, there might be some sketchy stuff going on

Can you be more specific? Goodwill is my go-to place for donations, because they're convenient and not religious. What am I missing?
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:14 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


> A lifelong collector of everything from stamps to coins to books to antiques (to boxes of unopened model airplane kits from the '50s) my dad would have been (and was!) called a "hoarder." ... But the money his collections sold for when he died gave my mom a pretty nice retirement

Better retirement than she would have had if they had just invested the money? While it's great that it worked for your parents, I think most people following that line of thinking just end up with piles of Beanie Babies or what have you that nobody wants.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:16 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm going to recommend, as I always do, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things

It's worth noting that that Amazon page includes a set of "Clutter Image Rating Photos" which went quite a ways in reassuring me—especially after reading the main article and identifying with some of the mindset of hoarders—that while I have some hoarding tendencies, I'm actually not that bad and am not a Hoarder™.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:21 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have never hoarded, but I lived in what I can only call squalor for a few years, when I was very depressed. This was a long time ago now, and I find I feel kind of detached about it enough to talk about it in a public forum. It was really awful, it felt very shameful, and it was quite difficult to get out from the situation. Finally doing so was very helpful for the depression; it's remarkable how much better you feel when you even begin to emerge from a period like that with something more like a normal human dwelling space.

Typical advice is to get control of a room first, or if that's too much, just one part of a room. One reason why this is such good advice is that the whole experience seems completely overwhelming, and you have to focus on one small thing that you can handle.

This does work, if you can get truly motivated to get better. "Baby steps" in Fly Lady-speak (if things ever get to this point for you, by the way, swallow your pride and basically just try to do what she says to do. If that doesn't work, things have gotten to the stage where you need more serious help than is possible to get from self-help sites). If all goes well, this first effort boosts your belief in your ability to actually, no shit, improve your situation, and you keep going until your whole hut is more or less under control.
posted by thelonius at 12:27 PM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


My biological dad is both a hoarder and a plant lover, which is sort of infuriating and sort of cool at the same time. Imagine a living room apartment in New York City which is half full of tropical plants that reach to the ceiling. You ask where your dad left the spare keys, and he says "behind the TV." So you venture into the jungle to get it (because naturally the TV is behind several feet of foliage - where else would a TV go?), carefully stepping in between the huge vases of unidentifiable palms and vines and latticework. But then - just as you've got the keys - your foot locks! Your slipper is stuck between two of the vases! With no other way out, you pull your foot out of the slipper, and manage to stagger out, falling backwards onto the living room rug, your slipper lost somewhere in the jungle.

This is not hyperbole - this actually happened.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:45 PM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's worth noting that that Amazon page includes a set of "Clutter Image Rating Photos" which went quite a ways in reassuring me

The thing is, though, those photos don't really seem to depict hoarding to me, at least not necessarily. My apartment right now looks like about a 3.5 on that scale. But it's not because I hoard. I have a lot of stuff, but I also have uses for all of it and places to put it away and no real trouble throwing stuff away when it's no longer useful or important to me. I'm just messy. Right now, I'm just back from a vacation, and I dumped my suitcase out on the floor of my apartment instead of unpacking and putting things away. I'm also in the process of closing out a bunch of old work files, so they're all spread out all over my desk and other horizontal surfaces while I prepare them for archiving. My apartment is a huge mess, but I'm not a hoarder. As soon as I get off my ass and put my stuff away, everything will look neat again. That's worlds away from agonizing over whether or not to throw away the weekly coupon circular you got for free in the mail. I have a lot of stuff, and I don't do the best possible job of keeping it organized, but I'm not unhappy about it, and it doesn't interfere with my overall quality of life.

This is a point I often make in those AskMe threads where the question is, "I'm about to move in with the love of my life, but I'm a minimalist and he saves the ticket stubs from every concert he's ever been to." At least a few people always jump into those threads and say, "When I knew a hoarder, I dealt with it by..." There is a huge difference between enjoying having a lot of belongings or wanting to keep useful stuff or enjoying spending time in places that have lots of neat things to look at that trigger good memories, and hoarding. One is an aesthetic and cultural preference; the other is a serious mental disorder that cripples people's ability to function and be happy. Yes, there's a bit of a spectrum, where someone can be an extreme clutterbug or a mild hoarder. But if you're not unhappy about it, and it's not affecting your quality of life, and it's not hurting anyone else, then it's not a problem.
posted by decathecting at 12:58 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


One thing I've noticed is that new acolytes to a hobby like the ones I'm interested in--old woodworking machines or old cars, for example--tend to have a phase (for some it never ends) where they relentlessly pick up spares and extras and things related to the hobby. So guys end up with ten ye olde radial arm saws, or sixteen spare coils for an ignition system, some of which may even work.

I tend to this myself, but thankfully (for me) visiting people who have this bad fires a pretty loud warning shot.

Then again, I have a closet full of "expensive" magazines which I just can't bring myself to get rid of, despite the fact I haven't looked at them in years. My argument is that if I just index them, I could use them as a reference, but that will never happen and they're obscure enough it never will.

I thought for awhile eBay would be a route to dispose of them, but while I did sell a few, by the time I photographed, wrote descriptions, uploaded, answered questions, packaged, shipped, paid ebay fees, etc., I was literally just being a middleman for paypal and ebay to acquire fees, I didn't get anything out of it.

But none of that is hoarding. I've run across lots of genuine old car hoarders over the years, workshops and yards stuffed with useless crap which was probably useful when they got it. Valuable cars rotted into the ground when they could have been saved and even brought good money. I remember going to one place locally after the owner passed away...there were cars which, had they not rotted into the ground and could have been restored, would be worth $250,000 as projects, but as it was they were essentially worthless.

I would say having ten radial arm saws isn't hoarding unless the money spent of them is affecting other things you do--I'm not sure it's the exact same disease, but if your hobby doesn't create piles of crap but does create genuine hardship in other ways, that's got to be somewhere on the same spectrum.
posted by maxwelton at 1:16 PM on May 1, 2013


As soon as I get off my ass and put my stuff away, everything will look neat again.

I think the point of the photos is to compare what your living space typically looks like to the photos, not what your living space looks like at this exact moment.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:28 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are numerous hoarders in both my and my wife's family. Fill-the-house with unidentifiable, broken crap hoarders. Mountains of paper, piles of ancient technology, drifts of old toys, heaps of books, rooms you can't go into, basements filled floor-to-ceiling with only tiny pathways to navigate. Mouldy cardboard, newspapers, and garbage. Far too many animals. Children that have been taken away by family services because of hoarding. It scares the heck out of me and was awful growing up with. I spent a lot of time when I was young cleaning crap out of my parent's house, and once I moved away it got out of control. And the fury from some of my relatives if you even suggest getting rid of some of that garbage. I never brought friends home when I was a kid, and now I rarely visit as I feel guilty inflicting that insanity on my wife and kids. I also tend to keep too much crap around, mostly because I am lazy about dealing with it, but I go through purges on a regular basis where I just fill up garbage bags and haul it all to the curb. I can't watch shows about hoarders. It is much too upsetting.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:37 PM on May 1, 2013


It's worth noting that that Amazon page includes a set of "Clutter Image Rating Photos" which went quite a ways in reassuring me—especially after reading the main article and identifying with some of the mindset of hoarders—that while I have some hoarding tendencies, I'm actually not that bad and am not a Hoarder™.

Those photos are an amazing reality check. I thought I had a problem with clutter, but my apartment is a one and at its worst it's a two.

This looks like a more complete set of the photos on the Amazon page.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 1:48 PM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Some people have a different preferred object density than others. Some people see discarding a string-winding mechanism from a fishing reel as a failure of imagination. People who over-organize and compulsively reduce apparent clutter often do so to cover for their long-term spatial memory deficits.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:59 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've watched many many episodes of the show "Hoarders," and the common thread in all of the hoarders is that they've all suffered some traumatic loss that they have never dealt with. In order for cleaning a hoard to be successful the hoarder has to confront their pain and begin to deal with it.

I think in general hoarding is replacing a loss with things. This is probably compensating for loss by replacing the person or relationship lost with things. Throwing things away is the equivalent of throwing away the person who left/died.
posted by bendy at 2:51 PM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hi, future hoarder here. Runs in the family. My grandmother did it, my mother does it, I will too. No question.

I have heard that thing about the tragic loss and yes, that is totally true. My mother started the hoarding after my dad became disabled, eventually went into the hospital and died. My dad was no longer able/around to yell at her for the mess, I suspect. So now most of the time you can't sit on the furniture, the floor is clogged with bags of food, there's tons of food in the house and we can't eat 90% of it, I have to sleep in her bed and keep my stuff on the bathroom floor when I visit. Fun times. She won't let anyone except for a few people such as myself "help her clean," and I refuse to "help" any more since she won't get rid of anything anyway. I once went through giant piles of paper and basically sorted out all the crap that was along the lines of multiple print-outs of e-mail forwards-- and she still wouldn't get rid of it. She isn't quite my ex's grandma yet--she had 20-year-old food with maggots in it that she tried to serve up one night and his mom had to smuggle out food into a far away dumpster in the middle of the night so she wouldn't save it--but it's getting there.

And I know damn well I'll do it too. I already have a lot of hobbies and books. I tend to reuse strange things in projects when the mood strikes. I tend to have corners that are dedicated to impending projects. I am already messy because if I ever put something Nice and Neat and Away in a drawer where I can't see it, I might as well have flushed it down the toilet because I'll never find it again. If I want to keep/use anything, I NEED TO SEE IT IN FRONT OF ME, period. I can't fold all the T-shirts and put them in a drawer because I'll end up rummaging through the drawer to find it and make that mess all over again, so I might as well leave them in a pile on top of the dresser. I have figured out that empty space on a chair or table actually rather creeps me out and I feel better when the surfaces are covered in stuff. I get the heebie-jeebies at a neat and tidy home without stuff all over the place, and within a few hours of cleaning, I know I'll put stuff back so it feels "at home" again.

I'm not good at Figuring Out Where Things Should Go, especially when they're on the weird side and not easily categorized. I have designated piles for clothes, jewelry, books, and crafts, but anything else, who the shit knows. And yes, it's a chore to find some other home for an item--though I live in a college town and it's acceptable to put out a box with "FREE" written on it and get rid of things in a few days. I can still manage to throw out things, but not a whole lot compared to what I choose to keep, and figuring out what to do with something I don't reference frequently but don't want to trash is genuinely a pain.

How do I fix that before it gets too bad? I don't think I can stop myself from going down that road. I figure some day I'll die the death of the "two weeks before the smell drifts into the hallway," and then one of my cousins will be the one stuck dealing with cleaning out my hoard for months on end, as is tradition in my gene pool. Lucky girl!
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:04 PM on May 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think the point of the photos is to compare what your living space typically looks like to the photos, not what your living space looks like at this exact moment.

I should have been more clear: that is what my living space typically looks like. I'm a pretty messy person. I live alone, and unless I know people are coming over, I generally do leave my stuff on the floor and the desk and the coffee table and everywhere else. It's mostly because I'm lazy, partly because I don't really have specific places where things go, and partly because I "organize" by making piles. But that's my typical lifestyle. And while I sometimes wish I were one of those naturally neat people, I've accepted that this is who I am, and that my apartment is almost always going to be a disaster. But I'm not a hoarder, and I sort of resent it when people imply that being really messy and clutter-y is a psychological disorder. It both pathologizes totally normal behavior and minimizes the real, serious illness that some other people suffer from.
posted by decathecting at 3:55 PM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


not Goodwill, though, there might be some sketchy stuff going on over there.

There was a hoax email going around claiming that the "owner" of Goodwill was filthy rich and making piles of money off donations and free labour from disabled people. I'm satisfied that Goodwill is what it says it is, but I'm not so sure about Value Village and refuse to give anything to them.

For some reason, this appears to be a more-than-normally compelling hoax though, and I've met a couple of folks who are highly committed.
posted by sneebler at 5:29 PM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jenfullmoon, have you talked with anyone about it? Getting help now is going to work better than waiting, isn't it?
posted by emjaybee at 6:13 PM on May 1, 2013


Last week, I finished cleaning out my dead friend's house.

I'd been working at it evenings after work for almost a month, sorting through a basement packed with immense collections of memorabilia that he collected in an obsessive drive to document the joys he found along the way, in a way I've collected such things, because once, a long, long time ago, we were inseparable and life was a constant reservoir of adventures and misadventures and things were just...alive. I stood up, nervously, at the rough wake we threw at a local Indian-Scottish bar a week into all of our processing, and told a story about a paper plate named Linda.

"Umm," I said, thirty years prior in a little roadside diner in Maine, "Would you mind signing my paper plate?"

Our waitress, one of the rare and wonderful familiar figures who enter my life just once, and yet I know, on some level, I've known them all my life and have been waiting for that moment, just then and there, when they'd appear and tell me something that would change everything.

"Sheesh, honey, why would you want my signature?" she asked, and laughed a low, gorgeous laugh carved out of sweet, well-worn pine. "It ain't like I'm a movie star...yet."

"He thinks you might be his fairy godmother," my friend announced, brightly. It was a betrayal, in the most superficial way, but the thing about my fairy godmothers is that they always let such things go.

"Well, don't expect any wishes, baby, and we'll get along just fine," she said, and extracted a Bic from her apron to sign my paper plate with a trace of butter from a lobster roll.

Love, LINDA, your fairy godmother!

One of the older scouts along on the trip paused as he headed across the diner, narrowing his eyes a bit.

"What are you up to, Joe?"

"Nothing."

"Collecting fairy godmothers," my friend said, still brightly. I scowled at him.

"Very funny. Mr. Wolfgang says we need to get back to the van in ten minutes, so we can make it to the next stop before it's too dark to pitch tents."

"We're done," I said, and we were. Linda the waitress from Nowhere, Maine winked at me and worked her way back through the tables and I will never, ever see her again in this life.

So, there's this paper plate from my fairy godmother. So, there's a picture of the woman who used to sing the theme song to Goldfinger at Dupont Circle, and who later chased me through Rock Creek Park with a knife. So, here's the ticket stub from the Metro ride home after I'd spent a long evening with binoculars on the roof of the Kennedy Center, watching a man dancing in a room lit by a blue neon star. So, here's my father's QSL card from King Hussein of Jordan.

So

Those are my things, but my friend's things were something else altogether. I hadn't seen him in twenty-two years, face-to-face, not since I'd sullied the waters back in 1986 in our first and last fight, and still, I was in the basement of his house, which I'd never visited, sorting out an unbelievable collection of various objects with his mother, a friend of his from my era, and a whole bunch of people I'd never met, and man, sorting is a long, detailed task for which I am both perfectly equipped and completely hopeless.

My friend's mother was as I remembered her, both classy and on the verge of exasperation, and I was the source of that exasperation back in the day, back when his parents would lapse into their native Lithuanian that sounded like avant garde music peppered with the name "Joe," because I was the source of complexity and vexation when I was at my best.

"Oh, for heaven's sake, why would he have saved this?" she would say, down in that basement, holding up some talisman of a moment that I could instantly identify, but I was reluctant to point out my friend's motives. We all knew, though. His car from 1986 was out there in the yard, having followed him from home to home in the intervening years like a ghost, and it still had a scratch on the fender from the day we hit the end of the line.

I spent a fair amount of time wondering if I'm a hoarder. I readily cop to hoarding certain things, like tools and books and manual typewriters, though I'm increasingly ready to pare it all down to ten or eleven toolboxes, a few walls of books, and four or five well-kept typewriters, with the remaining twenty or so going to friends who need a proper writing tool, but whereas I used to follow the pattern my friend set for me, working as the curator of my own life's experiences, I've been letting things go.

This served me well. I went through box after box, dumping my friend's college textbooks and the lesser things he'd accumulated as a proof that he'd been there, back in the days when everything was lurid and eighties-fabulous. Whole eras, after our day, were easy to get through, just jumping from pile to pile—this to the trash, this to recycling, this to the thrift store, this to the ebay pile, this to his friend Charlie and that to his friend Jenny and the other to his brother.

My ultimate mission, though, was the bedroom. Not his everyday bedroom, down in the main part of the house, but the one upstairs, where his friends had never been allowed to go, and a latter-day friend who had distinct fairy godsister qualities led me up there.

There's something to life, in that we hear time travel is impossible, but sometimes, when conditions are just right and obsessions take us there...well, you can step through. My friend had carefully transported his childhood bedroom from home to home, and in this last home, the first one he owned, he'd set about building it again as a sort of stage set. Everything was in its place, just like I remembered, and I sat at the wobbly desk chair, as I had a thousand times before, time was a plastic and uncertain thing. You want to condemn, to point out what's wrong with this sort of shrine mentality, when the best of our lives gets boiled down into a concrete reconstruction for the revisiting, and yet I could close my eyes in there and it still smelled like my friend and he was still there, phasing slowly in and out of memory.

"I know he was trying to recreate his old room," my new friend said, trying to explain our friend's processes, "but I'm not sure how far he got."

"This is it, pretty much. I'd venture a guess that those tubes over there are full of wallpaper," I said, and they were, of wallpaper carefully removed from his first childhood home, rehung in the home from when I knew him, and carefully steamed off again and rolled up for the next time around.

"I'll leave you to it," said my new friend, and I was momentarily glad for the solitude. I poked around on the shelves, opened the drawers in the desk, and sat on the edge of the bed and remembered how annoyed his mother was, checking in on us at our many sleepovers and finding me curled up at the foot of the bed instead of sleeping on the perfectly comfortable trundle bed that rolled out from my friend's bed.

"Joseph, are you really going to sleep on the floor like a dog?" his mother asked, way back when.

"I like it down here," I said, peering up from a tangle of sheets. "I like unconventional sleeping arrangements."

She muttered something in Lithuanian and shook her head.

"I prefer perpendicularity in particular."

"Oh, for heaven's sake, Joe. Well, good night, at any rate."

I sat there, thirty years in the past, and was glad for the uncertainty as to whether I was, myself, a hoarder on this order, because it was the boundary between me and the immense sea of loss that I'd been feeling for weeks. I set to the task to which I'd been assigned, and started picking the things that would be protected and would live on and sending away the lesser things.

"Jesus fucking Christ, you kept a lot of crap," I said aloud to no one.

"Finding anything interesting?" my new friend asked, climbing the stairs to where I stood, collating a lifetime obsession into the keep and don't-keep piles. She had that sort of faraway look that I knew only too well, like it was all too much, and boy, it was, but sometimes you just turn off all the filters and the reflections and let yourself be a machine.

I started to tell the story of when we were wrestling with a BB gun and it went off, the BB zapping comically around the roof before knocking the lens out of my friend's glasses, but in light of the things that had happened, I kept it to myself.

Over several days, I cleared out that once-magical room, and it lost power by the moment, disappearing in phases until it was just a suite of furniture purchased in 1974, and I loaded it all into my giant pickup truck to take to the thrift store and said my interim farewells to the group to drive out to the Goodwill a few miles away.

"Oh no, we can't take any of this stuff unless it's pretty much in mint condition," the guy at the loading dock said, and I suddenly became the owner of a bed, a dresser, a bookshelf, a desk, a large wooden ship's wheel and that moment when the dam finally breaks—

I managed to get into the truck and drive to the parking lot of the Arby's before the waves of grief came, and I've got tinted windows, so I kept my dignity, at least until I drove to my storage space and unloaded that whole frozen history into every available gap there.

It will not be there for long, but I needed to regroup.

I sorted through the rest of his home, supplying muscle to cart out huge pieces of furniture, loading my truck up again and again, hitting the thrift stores, carrying items to his friends' homes, and hauling the rest to the dump, and this was a process of unwinding grief through the meticulous dissipation of so much meaning for someone who's not here anymore. I swept out the empty basement, reveling in the sort of airy, open feeling it gave me, and bagged the last of the trash. When I came for the last of it, a couple days later, no one was around, and I just quietly loaded up my truck until it was sagging under the weight of the end of history, and it was all just stuff, just the detritus left like crab shells after a molt.

A life is no longer here. Did any of this stuff really matter?

In the same way, I've been looking at my own life, and the accumulation of objects that happens when you spend twenty-five years in the same apartment. What is hoarding? Is keeping my grandmother's broken hand mirror hoarding? Is collecting beautiful old manual typewriters? My books, my peculiar memorabilia? Will people convene around my things after I'm gone and say "Oh, for heaven's sake?"

I dug out the paper plate, and the signature was still clear and sharp.

If the story is the thing, do I need this object? There was a time when I needed all the sacred objects to keep the stories alive and fresh, but there is discipline and discovery that comes with adulthood, and with twenty years teaching myself to tell my stories as my way of lifting the burden of carrying them alone.

I said, apropos of nothing, and dropped the plate into a trash bag, setting Linda free from the private little world she'd occupied in my history. I have told what little history we shared, and that's enough. The rest is just stuff, though we keep a few things that hold the most meaning for us so that we can go time traveling again when it's what will keep us sane.

The night before my last pickup, I stood with my new friend outside my old friend's house, and we both had the sense that threads long tangled were unraveling, just pulling back until this, at last would be it, and the thing I'd held back all along, the story that I just needed someone to hear to set myself free, finally was ready to be told.

"I'm just angry," I said, "That I missed out on all this, and twenty-seven years more with one of the few people who ever really knew who I am, but I broke the rules and, well, fuck. Did he ever tell you why we went our separate ways?"

"He didn't really talk about that. He told your stories, though."

"I wonder if he really knew. After we fought, he tried to reconnect, but I wouldn't return his calls or talk to him and eventually he just gave up."

"What was the fight about?"

"Nothing. Well, something, but not what it was on the surface, which was just stupid. Thing is," I said, and the words caught in my throat, for a long, long time, "You don't fall in love with your best friend, because it will fucking wreck everything."

"Joe."

And the next day, the sun was out, and things were lighter, and that catch in my breath that comes from the lingering bitter disbelief of how things are wasn't there, at least like it had been. I packed up a truckload of trash, and it was all just stuff, just more of the same old blizzard of material things that trails just behind us, all but for a few items of lasting concentration. I unloaded at the landfill and headed home to sort through my own halls of memory, making the choices of what to keep with a lot more clarity.

So things went away, but you hang onto others. The stuff, the stories, the things best given away all go where they're meant to go, and with a little recovered sense, you start to know what things are again.

The C-minus paper I found in a box in my friend's basement that I almost threw out unsorted? I'm keeping that, because I want to. I'd never even known he wrote a profile on me for an assignment so soon after we met, but there it was, and I loved the ending, even if I really didn't have a great knowledge of computers, even then.

Joe is a good person to know because he has a great knowledge of computers, he has an adventuresome life, and he is a good friend.

September 19, 1982

I just—

Sigh.
posted by sonascope at 9:14 PM on May 1, 2013 [35 favorites]


Holy goddamn crap, sonascope.

You seem to have flooded my office with dust, some of it got in my eyes.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:19 PM on May 1, 2013


So when is Skaggsville coming out?
posted by The Whelk at 9:22 PM on May 1, 2013


Got rid of a hundred or so books a few years ago. Now all of my books are upright in the shelves allotted to them. A new book would have to replace a current book(s).

Seems to work.
posted by wrapper at 10:43 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


jenfullmoon, do you have someone in your life who might end up taking care of you, or your estate if you died? A family member, or a close friend? If you do, I would beg you to get help now, work with someone on this, because you have no idea how soul-crushingly horrible it is to be responsible for someone else's stuff, to have to sort through their life and throw things away as if they didn't matter.

My dad died Christmas before last, and he was quite a pack-rat. When my sister and I moved him out of our old house, I thought he wouldn't be able to accumulate the amount of crap we had to get rid of in order to move him into a retirement center apartment. But I was wrong. He'd also accumulated a whole lot of stuff from my sister's house after she died, and he always said he was going to sort it, but never did. I was crushed with work at the time he fell and had to go into the nursing home, necessitating us moving him out of his apartment. I was also preparing for a short trip. And putting him on hospice care. Trying to sort through everything, what we should keep in case he got better (which, weirdly, he did for a short while and I had to buy him mostly new stuff for his assisted living apartment, all of which I donated when he died), working 14 hour days...my hair was literally falling out from the stress. Throwing away an 85-year-old life was just... it's agonizing for the person who is stuck doing that. And it's really expensive to hire someone to help you, too. So there's that.

But it didn't compare to clearing out my twin sister's house after she died. She and I both hated clutter because of the amount of sheer crap my parents moved house to house when we were kids, but she had dozens and dozens of photo albums and scrapbooks of memories (among the metric ton of other stuff). I had to take each one to the trash can, because I knew none of those people in the hundreds of photos she had taken of girls' weekends away, wedding and baby showers, romantic trips with boyfriends I never knew. I would sit in the middle of her floor and sob uncontrollably that I had to throw her emotional life away. I was already not in a good place but that was so soul crushing I've never really recovered from it.

If you care anything about the people in your life who might be the ones who have to do that, think of it as getting help for them, if it aids you in tackling such a big issue. You've identified so much about your feelings in this area that I can't help thinking you would want to help them, if it means helping yourself.
posted by emcat8 at 11:57 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Diles_Mavis: Any idea of earliest record of this kind of behavior? Like were there medieval hoarders? . . . Or is this mostly an industrial age thing

In that book that muddgirl recommends, Stuff, the author Randy Frost observes that "Literature from as far back as the fourteenth century makes reference to hoarding. Dante reserved the fourth circle of hell for 'hoarders' and 'wasters' in his Inferno" and Stuff begins by quoting Dante: "Hoarding and squandering wasted all their light / and brought them screaming to this brawl of wraiths / You need no words of mine to grasp their plight."

Wossname, thanks for your comment. I'm not a neat freak, far from it, I'm a cluttery slob, but I can't wrap my head around a mindset that normalizes no-holds-barred filth and disease vectors. Your comment helps me to understand the hoarder in my life better, compared to my default wheel-spinning "How the fuckity fuck can she think and act like the turds and the pee and the fleas etc etc is normal?!"
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:07 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, the books The Hoarder In You: How To Live A Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life by Robin Zasio, and Buried In Treasures: Help For Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding, by Frost and others, have got some good practical tips.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:16 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a pack rat, but I watch those hoarding shows as a warning because I definitely feel the lure of keeping truly useless things. In high-school my bedroom was about a 5 on that Smith College set of photos.

Nowadays I've got the public areas of my house down to a respectable 1 to 1.5 depending on how busy I've been, my bedroom down to a 2 and the spare room is a 3. I don't bring in new junk anymore, but getting rid of the stuff I already own is incredibly difficult.

The only trait of the serious hoarders I don't share is the inability to categorise. Perhaps that's what keeps me reasonable, since I do feel like I will hurt the feelings of any object I throw out and worry about the environmental impact and sunk costs and that I'll forget important events or people if I throw out an object I associate with them.

What's helped:
- going digital (more of those hoarding books should be available on Kindle!) has greatly reduced the piles of books, CDs and DVDs to just the ones which are valuable to me. The rest were donated to libraries, which soothes me since that means I can get them back if I need them again and am surprisingly broke at the time.
- taking photos of the 'memorabilia' items, again digital is useful here.
- donations to thrift shops for things which are still usable, just not things I need.
- council pickups for large items, e-waste drop-offs for computer cruft.
- reminding myself that if I get hit by a bus everyone will wonder why I was keeping train tickets with print so faded they can't be read anymore, and I'll be putting a huge burden on them. Sorting out my grandfather's estate was bad enough and he was a very neat man with a modest amount of stuff. Sorting out my nana's home (on the packrat side of the family) was horrendous.

I tried eBay but oh god it was so much work on top of the anxiety of letting go of something, it just wasn't worth the tiny bit of cash people would pay for things.
posted by harriet vane at 12:29 AM on May 2, 2013


Another useful reference is the Clutter — Hoarding Scale from the Institute for Challenging Disorganization. It's a free download. This is not the same as the clutter image rating photos mentioned earlier.
posted by jeri at 1:23 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Realized my parents were proto-hoarders a while ago. My dad -- pre-dementia -- was a bit of an obsessive organizer/sorter/filer, and it turns out my mom, while reasonably organized, was always at odds with him in generating mess. When she was on county board she just accumulated -- and accumulated -- and accumulated agendas, reports, studies, and so forth, which promptly found its way to a closet door filing system if that. They bought a lot of nice antique or contemporary furniture and art for a Victorian house in half-renovated shape. For a long time they balanced each other out.

Then my dad began accumulating real estate. And my parents took custody of my brother's kids. Somewhere in that the stuff migrated into first the south half of the rental duplex (which, though purchased in 1981, has never been rented; the excuse at one point was it was my dad's temporary office out of the way of the junior kids). Then when the furnace failed in rental property #2, a small house that already had its bathroom torn apart for rehab, that building became the out-of-the-way stash for stuff, in addition to the not-very-weather-secure barn on the same lot. Thank the stars that rental property #3 didn't have any real storage space and was full of families most of the time or it might have succumbed as well.

The sum total of lost rents -- sunk costs (taxes, etc.) -- and what have you on these two properties adds up to well over $250,000. Meanwhile, my parents (with dad demented) had to declare bankruptcy on $200,000 of secured debt (while some $250,000 of consumer debt vanishes into the ether at the completion, thanks to repayment percentage formulas). See, without the hoarding and procrastination, which fed each other, my dad could have had EVERY ONE of their four properties paid for and owned in the clear. Maybe there would still have been some debt, but the point remains -- this was penny dumb and pound dumber.

Finally, we're at a stage (with my dad here at home requiring 24/7 monitoring, alas) where my mom is actually working on some of the crap. But it isn't by any means an easy hill to climb. She's sorting jeans for future family culling. She's spending hours soaking underwear in bleach because it had my dad's name inked on it when we took it to the care home three years ago (before we had to bring him back). If we didn't have the Chapter 13, and we had all the rents, and all the renovations we could have accomplished with that income, we could easily pay for more help with my dad, but as it is we're in a round robin babysitting situation. And of course that gets in the way of ACTUALLY FINISHING THE WORK, so in a way, years after losing his mind, my dad is still calling the shots on this fucking underwater Titanic.
posted by dhartung at 3:34 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had an odd experience about thirteen years ago when we moved to Canada. My wife went ahead of me with our new baby, leaving me to clear out our little apartment in London. I had about five days to do it, and there was a strict limit on how much... stuff... we could afford to ship.

It was all going OK until I was hit by the overwhelming feeling that I was cleaning out the house of a dead person. Only I was the dead person. Throwing stuff away that mattered.

I couldn't do it. I almost had a breakdown. I eventually had to call my sister and bro-in-law to come and help me out, as it was totally beyond me. They did a wonderful job BUT ironically my bro-in-law is the hoarder, so it turned out that instead of disposing of all the detritus, he opened up all the bags and went through it and kept staggering amounts of it.

So now when I go to their house, or their kids, I'm often surprised by an object of mine that I had forgotten about but that somehow got rescued and preserved.

In retrospect, it was a very purging experience, but I totally get where hoarders are coming from, because if they feel anything like I did when clearing out that house, I understand.
posted by unSane at 4:16 AM on May 2, 2013



My grandmother appeared to have the opposite tendency; she would discard anything that wasn't in immediate use and anything old. I don't know whether this is recognised, but it was definitely a little beyond normal. Left to herself she would have ended up with a house that contained nothing but a single newly-purchased kitchen chair for her to sit on.


I read something interesting a while ago, around the time that someone posted a blog post called '100 Things I Don't Need' which attracted so much ire (you mean you don't need chairs? what happens if someone comes over and you need more than 2 cups?) that it was removed - that minimalism is an inverse of hoarding, another way of obsessing over stuff where instead of your behaviour being coated in a patina of shame it gives off a glow of smugness.

I'd recommend the Channel 4 show 'The Hoarder Next Door', which is a lot less sensationalist than Hoarders. I've been watching it recently, and reading through this thread, an earlier comment about 'anthropormophisation of objects' really stuck with me. That and the annoyance/guilt at throwing out 'things that are useful' make it hard for me to just clear things out.
posted by mippy at 4:46 AM on May 2, 2013


Part of the problem is that we live in a society of abundance. Anyone born before 1985 or so probably remembers a time when getting stuff was hard. Not necessities like food and clothes, and not "we were poor", but the bits and pieces for whatever hobbies you might have had. A new baseball glove was a once in a childhood gift. Same with a bike. And on and on. There just wasn't as much stuff around. So when we see these things that were so valuable to us, obtainable for essentially nothing, it short circuits our brains.

Then there is the organization aspect of it. Someone can obsessively hoard and stay organized about it and it might cost them money and mental effort, their lives aren't really negatively affected. I think where it gets troublesome is when the hoarding instinct is combined with some other mental disorder like agoraphobia or OCD or ADHD and their lives quickly get out of control.

A friend recently got flooded out, and his wife is a hoarder. They were shoveling the shit out of the house, and the wife was apoplectic when she saw things getting thrown away. "That toothpaste is still sealed! We can wash it and use it!" Very sad to see.

I'm like this with computer parts. I have some RAM that I'm pretty sure has never fit into any of my machines. I think it's DDR1? A co-worker was trying to get rid of it and I thought I could use it. Amateur. I have piles of 66 and 100 mhz SDRAM and a coffecan full of simms. Gold AND tin contacts!
posted by gjc at 7:11 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm like this with computer parts.

I had the hardest time disposing of my late father's Laserwriter. It worked perfectly, of course, but only with his original Macintosh II and the big chunky interface that's not supported by anything anymore and hasn't been for decades. It was slightly smaller and heavier than my car at the time, and I had a little laser printer that printed faster, sharper, and more durable text, but every time I resolved to unload the Laserwriter at the electronics recycling drives in town, I couldn't make myself not think about how it had cost my dad almost seven thousand dollars, back in '86 or so, and how it still worked perfectly. Throwing out perfectly good stuff is why people are always in debt and have no savings, right? We're a wasteful, ridiculous society, I think, and yet—it's possible that things have lifetimes, and once they're not usable in a practical sense, it's worth thinking that maybe they're just done.

So I lumbered to the car with two tons of beige Postscript printing history, forced it into the tiny trunk of my very small automobile, and dumped it off, having a brief flush of panic as I laid it into the pile in the recycling dumpster with the delicacy of someone lowering a casket into a grave.

I can go back and get it. I should go back and get it. What if I need it?

I swallowed hard and drove away.

Okay, that was easier than I expected, after the first rush of nostalgia and desperate thrift.

While still in the moment, feeling that aftertaste of relief of having made the load I carry in my material existence a little lighter, I went down to the basement, cleared off the piles of boxes sitting on a large white metal cabinet there, took a long hard look at the VAX 11 I had, inexplicably, kept there for a number of years next to my broken-down wringer washer, having rescued it from alongside a dumpster in Greenbelt a long time ago, and set about getting it, too, out of the basement.

I will never own a working VAX-11 of my own, and that's okay.

As I loaded it into the car, with great difficulty, for the trip to digital heaven, my landlord/ex watched from the lawn, and asked "How 'bout you get some of those old cars out of the backyard while you're at it?"

"Let's not be ridiculous," I said, and climbed into the car, but that, too, was a long time ago.
posted by sonascope at 9:33 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anyone talking about MP3 "hoarding" in this thread is a jerk ---

what you should be discussing is those of us who live in a mansion but can only function in the two or three relatively clear rooms ((the bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen)) because the other 20 rooms in the house are full to the gills with clutter junk books VHS videos old computers and stuff.
posted by shipbreaker at 1:23 PM on May 2, 2013


I hoard the used VCRs I found in the thrift stores for $5 and $7, mainly because my brain has a very active and vivid memory of buying that Sony VCR at a consumer electronics store in my twenties, for Serious Money, like $250 US dollars. So, for each $7 VCR I can find in a thrift store, I am somehow doing "temporal ammortization" to earn $243.

Similarly, the NeXT machines and old Macintoshes, I remember drooling and wanting them when the price was multiple thousands of dollars, way too much for me to afford To see them going for $40 seemed like such an insane bargain, too insane not to pass up. This Mac, it digitizes NTSC video at 60fps into the Firewire ports to the SCSI-2 drives inside!! For $40 each? Give me more!

MiniDisc decks? Yes. DVD players with separated 5.1-channel outputs? Yes. Working audio amplifiers that go up to 200 Watts? Jesus christ, yes, they're giving these things away, down at the Goodwill. Flatbed scanners that do 1200dpi over the USB cable? For just $5, have they gone crazy? ((But when was the last time I scanned a flat photograph? Don't ask. But I'll be ready when the time comes.))

Now here's where I've found myself drawing the line: when I see old video game systems that I already one one of, or better ((Nintendo Gamecube? Got one, got the Wii too. Skip. Sony Playstation 2? Got a PS2 Slim already, also got a PS3. Skip.))

Books on Woodworking? Books on homebuilding? All my college textbooks, funbooks, technology books, graphic novels, how-to guides. Books that remind me of the happier times , the hope-filled days of my youth? Yes, yes, yes. Books enough to build my own library, I got 'em. Now if only I had the space to put them on shelves.

Anyone who calls it "hoarding" must just be jealous.
posted by shipbreaker at 2:04 PM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was only kidding about the mp3s.
posted by spitbull at 5:06 PM on May 2, 2013


And by the way, for those hoarders looking for professional legitimacy, my advice (which I have followed myself) is to become an archivist.

They don't make mean reality shows about us, but it's the big leagues of hoarding.
posted by spitbull at 5:08 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Amen to that. It was a fine day when I discovered that I could get paid to paw through other people's shit.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:22 PM on May 2, 2013


I don't think people posting here are distinguishing enough between keeping stuff that others might throw away and putting stuff away. I have much too much stuff OUT all the time so there's a lot of clutter. If I were to get it together to put it all away, everything would be fine (or, rather, "fine").

But there is a kind of pain associated with putting things away. Other(s) have mentioned the difficulty some people (e.g. me) have with categorization. I'll devote a plastic box that could go in a closet to memorabilia, and then another one to "art stuff," but then there will be a pile of art postcards I got on a vacation: are they "art" or "memorabilia"?, and at that point I will become completely paralyzed, the world will seem completely alien, and an anxiety of confusion comes over me -- and I stop the putting-away process for another six months.
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:45 AM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


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