You would think that someone who has moved as many times as I have would not have accumulated a lot of “stuff”. And in some respects you would be correct. Of course I’ve saved a few sentimental items over the years and a variety of things that my son always tells me I should toss, but with the exception of my elephant collection I suppose I’m really not that much of a pack rat. However, the end of the school year always leaves me with the urge to clean closets and drawers and files. There is a file cabinet in my office that is going to be history. There are old, old critter photos that are going to become part of my classroom science center. There are old manuscripts soon to hit the shredder. There are puzzles going to Goodwill. Clutter bothers me and hoarding would drive me crazy!
I’ve known a few hoarders in my time. One of the first I encountered was a co-worker in 1976. I was one of the few people even allowed to enter her home because like a lot of hoarders she was also a bit of a recluse. She even had her back yard completely killed each year so she would not have to be outside mowing. Her father refused to let her do the same to the front for fear that the city would fine them. So he maintained the simple front yard for her. I went to her house one day after work to get a kitten, our one common interest, and was allowed inside for a few minutes. It was astounding to see someone living within a tiny space defined by boxes and boxes of stuff! Of course as I learned later, most hoarders are not that organized and the fact that she had the majority of her stuff boxed was really quite remarkable.
Gary had a college roommate who married a hoarder. I remember Karen asking me once if they were “moving” because she related their clutter and overflowing baskets and boxes with the temporary chaos we always created before a move. It was difficult to explain their lifestyle to her, and even more difficult to get her to keep quiet about it when we visited.
My next contact with a hoarder occurred when we moved to Iowa. Gary’s cousins, Hib and Ina, lived in a large farm house that had been Hib’s childhood home. In fact, with the exception of one year during a financial crisis, he had lived in the same house for all of his sixty+ years. He could even show you the room where he was born! So it is not an exaggeration to say that they had accumulated a LOT of stuff. And Ina never saw anything, from a piece of string to a Styrofoam McDonald’s container, that she could not find some use for later. Her salvation was that they had four upstairs bedrooms and an attic that they never used- so each was packed with things saved for the future. The rest of the house was tidy and normal. And as I got to know them better I understood why she saved everything. They had not only lived through the depression, but had once been snowed in for three months! Those experiences not only prompted her hoarding, but explained why they had four refrigerators, three freezers, two pantries, two kitchens (one in the basement) and a variety of “survival” supplies. And she was not fearful of giving things away if she thought they would serve a better purpose. When we visited a few years later after moving to Oklahoma, she gave me three dresses from the “twenties” to donate to the SOSU theater department.
Caddo had its infamous hoarder and I know there was a lot of talk about our neighbor from time to time. Her mother started the practice and I think their family history offers several explanations for the beginnings of the disorder. Once started, it becomes a way of life that is difficult to abandon.
There have been several television shows that have explored and exploited the habits of hoarders. Talk show psychologists are fond of interviewing them and getting them to “clean up their act”, but I doubt that any of them really do so for long. Hoarding is a deep-rooted need.
I suppose my need to throw things out is just as deeply ingrained in me and is a direct result of my gypsy days. When we spent our third consecutive year here in the same house I felt an almost frantic urge to move! That was the first summer that I really cleaned closets and got rid of extra stuff. Just the act of handling things and making decisions and getting rid of some of it seemed to satisfy my need to change my environment. That annual feeling of wanderlust lasted for about ten years. Of course the year that I actually did move and lived in Texas during the week (to teach) provided the extra reminder I needed that stability is also good! Since then I have lost the urge to go anywhere else, but I still do a little extra cleaning and purging each summer. Habits are who we are.
Whether you are a cleaner or a hoarder, I hope that your home makes you happy. That’s really all that matters.