Hoarding: An Existential Crisis?

Before it had a name, I was obsessed with hoarding. I remember seeing an episode of “The Oprah Show” in the early 2000s where a woman allowed the show’s cameras into her home to reveal the unfathomable clutter inside. There was so much stuff that her family could barely find their way through the labyrinth from the kitchen to the living room. There were piles of dirty dishes that must have been months or even years old. Cat feces graced every available surface. The woman was a nurse or a teacher I think. How could anyone live like that? I just couldn’t understand how someone could let so much crap accumulate and do nothing about it. It made me, well, almost angry, especially because of how it affected her family.With the addition of the disorder to the DSM-V (therapists’ diagnostic bible) and shows like “Hoarders,” “Hoarding: Buried Alive,” and even “Extreme Couponing,” we’re starting to learn so much more about what hoarder experience on a daily basis, and perhaps are even getting a bit closer to understanding the cognitive patterns that accompany it. Watching a man feed the 5,000 rats that inhabit his home or a woman who would rather spend time with her 1,000 dolls than her husband has nevertheless made hoarding hard to fathom or completely sympathize with.

Now, an interesting New York Times piece about the disorder hints at the existential dilemma behind hoarding in a most poetic manner:

“To resolve the constant tension between the spiritual and the material would be to learn how to live. You have to be soulless not to grapple with it once in a while, especially in a society like ours … [Hoarders] are driven by the allure of opportunity. There’s a romance in trash … What appeals is the idea that something — anything — of value lurks beneath the surface, a surface that looks to everybody else like a giant pile of junk … Hoarders see things in things that other people don’t. They find value, comfort, solace, a buffer against loss, accumulated history in their stuff. Things become externalized parts of themselves — their memory, their plans, their feelings. To discard objects intended for future use (a project, a plan, a projection) feels like dashing hopes, losing opportunities, squandering potential.”

This makes so much sense to me. It makes me feel compassion for hoarders in a way I haven’t before. I think all of us struggle to balance our spiritual and material selves, search to find meaning in the meaningless, strive to create something out of nothing, imagine beauty where none exits, and feel sad about the loss of potential. Only most of us don’t do it with trash.

Want to contact the writer of this post? {encode=”[email protected]” title=”Email her”}!