Tuesday, July 12, 2011

On Hoarding

Just finished watching the upteenth Hoarders show.  Can't even tell you which one it was, Hoarders, Hoarders: Buried Alive, Hoarding... I think there's more than that, animal hoarders too as I mentioned in my previous post. It's something of an interesting thing to me, because out of all of these strange "reality" shows that are out there, I don't like the ones that are game shows, or the ones that show glamorous people, or the ones where people are constantly bickering or doing unsavory things.  I like the shows where people are just doing what they've always done, working, hoarding, or just trying to get by, and maybe it's a bit messy and maybe they fight a bit, but most of the time something gets resolved by the end.  Most of the time.

I grew up in a pretty messy house.  The pictures when I was a baby say otherwise, and I don't really have any photographic evidence of the piles and piles of mail on the counters and kitchen table, or on my mom's desk or on every single flat surface in the house.  I remember paper, and lots of it, everywhere.  I also remember the piles of toys in my brother's room at one point where my mom actually hid a Christmas present for him and he never knew it was there.  I think at that point I realized I had to become organized or something would just snap and stay like that forever.

My dad hated the clutter, but he was probably just as guilty as my mom was when dealing with the mess.  Have company coming over?  Dump it all into a paper bag, shove it into a closet, or into the basement, and there it would stay.  When I got older my brother had a friend who lived in a REAL hoard.

Most of my neighbors were just messy.  We didn't live in slums, but we did live around a lot of people who could be considered white trash for one reason or another.  Mainly because of the trash part.  The house around the corner was constantly filthy.  I remember my first impression of the place from the chicken bones in a corner, spilled out of a garbage bag and when I asked if we should clean it up my neighbor said, "No, someone else will get it."  Another neighbor had a laundry room but just threw the laundry onto the floor, and maybe it would be cleaned, and if it was, it usually went right back onto the floor.  And then there was the hoard.

If you've watched the shows like I have, there's something very curious about why anyone would let floors get dirty or kitchens get so piled up that they couldn't be used. But it's another thing to actually see it first hand.  To take a step into someone's house and have a tiny little, grimy pathway though old metal box springs, TVs piled on one another, a computer over there you had to climb over stuff to get to, a kitchen that had two of the four chairs available to use, but only if you wanted to share it with the cockroaches that ran everywhere.  There were people living in this place, not one, not two, but a whole family including a little baby who grew up in that mess.  There was a fire at one point, and a lot of that garbage disappeared, only to reappear as soon as the insurance covered the rebuild.

I vowed after that I'd never let myself become a hoarder.  But, it's hard, and I'll tell you why.

Where ever you are sitting right now, be it a computer room, bedroom, living room, maybe you're at a school or somewhere else, look around.  What do you have that's personal to you nearby?  Think about the most important thing that you have on you or around you right now.  Is it your wallet?  A ring?  A favorite knicknack?  A pet?  A family member?  Whatever it is, think about how much it means to you and imagine at that same instant someone has come to take it away from you.  And you can't stop it from happening.  I mean CAN'T.  It's gone.  Right now that object, person, or pet is now gone and you can't get it back ever again.

Imagine that you feel that way with EVERYTHING that you own.  Now you have just a tiny little idea of what these hoarders go through every time they think about throwing something away, donating something, selling something, or even at the mere mention that something like that might happen.  Every day they feel that way, with every new item they feel that same emotional attachment.  Maybe they haven't seen it in awhile, but as soon as they see it again that item will become the most important thing to them.  Then the next thing and the next thing.

I used to feel a pain in my chest when it came to throwing things away.  I still go through moments where, even though I haven't used something in a long time I think, "should I keep this for awhile longer?  Maybe I could use it someday."  Yeah, I think everyone has had those types of feelings once in awhile, and it gets harder the more times you listen to that little voice.  I have a drawer of rocks that are still at my mom's house. I haven't been able to stand to go there and just dump them into her rock garden, no, because they are precious and they hold memories.  It's especially bad for me sometimes because I have a really good memory and sentiments can get dragged up from just a short peek at something again.

So... why am I not a hoarder?  Some people probably would say I am.  You should see the huge book collection that I have.  But I do get rid of them.  I'm intelligent enough to know that I will probably never read that book again, so maybe I'll donate it.  I also have something many hoarders don't have going for them, and that's a certain knack at organization due to an uncanny ability at spacial recognition.  I can look at something and know right away whether it'll fit somewhere or not.  You should have seen the stuff I managed to get into our two room little apartment.  It took two big ol' moving trucks and various other vehicles to get it all in.  And our house might not be filled with furniture, but it is filled with stuff.

Do I consider myself a hoarder?  No.  I collect things.  But I know that's just one little step away from hoarding.  I can jump from one collection to another in no time flat.  I collected marbles for awhile.  I collected bouncy balls (I seem to be attracted to round objects) and I collect cat figures now, well, I've tried to stop adding to my Jim Shore collection, but I still have a few more holiday cats I'd like to get.  (See?)  I collected knives and swords for awhile.  I still have a collection of My Little Ponies (which I'm happy to say are back in style, that amuses me to no end) and I have, of course, my books.  Could all of this push me over the edge one day?  Maybe.  I can see what depression does to me, and I could see myself just not caring anymore, and that scares me.

I think that's what makes me different from a true hoarder, and that's the fact that I'm afraid of going over to that side.  I think a true way to get a hoarder to stop hoarding would be to find that point in them where they go "Holy crap what am I doing to myself?"  And you get that fear in them that if the rest of their life is reduced to nothing but hoarding, they might start realizing they need to break the cycle before it's too late.

I'm sure people have talked about this kind of thing before, but it's something that hits home to me.  After watching that show I really want to clean again.  But then again, maybe it's because even after I've gotten the kitchen perfectly clean like I did last night, my husband managed to go in and completely destroy it in a day.  I know there ARE people who have NO IDEA what the meaning of clean really is.  My husband is one of those "it's mostly there, must be good enough" kind of cleaners.  What that kind of cleaner does is clean it just enough, and then they're done.  If they went the whole nine yards though, they'd know that if you just went a bit further you wouldn't have to clean as often.  Now, there's the ticket.  This is coming from someone who got the entire deposit back on our apartment when we had the pickiest landlords known to man... (although sometimes I think we lucked out we had a hoarder living next door so they forgave a few little spots here and there!)

As this blog now hits a dead end for me, I want to leave you with this parting thought:  Don't let your stuff own you.  I think I just got that from a Buddhist quote on Warehouse 13, but it's quite true.  You own your stuff, and if doesn't make you happy, get rid of it - throw it out, recycle it, donate it, regift it, something, anything, but replace it with something that makes you happy.  If you ever think "oh, shoot, another thing to dust..."  Then it's probably not as dear to you as you think.  And if you're not really sure when you got something or what it's for - get rid of it too!

Next blog:  Overeating.

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