image courtesy of Hassan & Mariko
As an aspiring minimalist, I wanted to understand the other end of the spectrum. What is life like for people who are addicted to stuff? How is their quality of life? Turns out it’s not a pretty picture.
Compulsive hoarding is a registered mental disorder, characterized by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things. No matter if the items are worthless, dangerous or unsanitary, compulsive hoarders need stuff. Over 3 million people are categorized as hoarders.
This is heavy stuff. Hoarders may rationalize their behavior by calling it collecting, but once their “collecting” interferes with their health or relationships, it becomes a problem.
A&E has a TV show called Hoarders which documents the stories of people suffering from compulsive hoarding. I decided to check it out.
The episode I saw featured two hoarders: Bob and Dick.
Bob—The Slow Accumulator
Bob is the father in a family of six. He couldn’t pinpoint an exact cause for his hoarding, but that things in their home just built up over time.
Their home became so full of clutter that bedbugs moved in and infested the place. To escape the infestation, the family moved into a tent in the front yard! They camped out all summer and fall, but with winter and freezing weather approaching, aren’t sure what to do next.
Dick is a 71 year-old retired veterinarian. He has sunk over $500,000 into his “collections”, including over 50,000 rare beer cans. Dick has cut pathways through the junk in his house just to get from room to room.
On the verge of bankruptcy, he needs to sell some of his possessions in order to survive. Unfortunately, being a compulsive hoarder, Dick is too emotionally attached to his stuff to let go of it.
Observations from a Psychologist
The show features clinical psychologists specializing in compulsive hoarding who attempt to help the subjects confront their addictions. Bob’s psychologist observed that his mother lived through the Depression and tried to teach him the value of saving things for future use. The psychologist tells Bob that he is neglecting his family’s present needs for some theoretical future need; some need that may or may not ever come about.
In Dick’s (the collector) case, the psychologist drew the distinction between collectors and hoarders: a collector is someone able to manage their things. A hoarder’s things take over their homes and lives.
Observations from a Minimalist
Here are a few points I gathered from watching the show:
- Enough is never enough for hoarders. It’s not about the things they acquire; it’s about constantly acquiring new things.
- The things they own, own them. Hoarders are not free to leave their things; they are prisoners in their own homes.
Heavy stuff, I know. But it’s good to be reminded of the other end of the spectrum. How do you fight the desire to constantly acquire new things? Do you know any hoarders?