There are a few TV shows about hoarders, and they cover the worst that they can find because it's television, where everything has to be blown out of proportion. I don't recommend watching these shows unless you have a strong stomach and can tell when things are being hyped for ratings. I've seen hoarding on different scales, from the garage full of moving boxes (we might need to move again someday!) to the survivor of the Great Depression who owned piles of shoes and coats (he was the youngest of 4 boys and didn't own a new pair of shoes until he joined the Army), all the way to a distant aunt whose house was a maze of pathways through the stacks of papers and magazines. That distant aunt (great aunt, something removed -- it's a large family) passed away when I was a child, and her children spent a day gathering what they wanted from the house before burning it down. It was beyond the point of cleaning; better to start over from scratch, they felt.
The Clinical Definition
Hoarding is a psychological disorder where people are unwilling or unable to discard things, which leads to large piles of things collecting in their living spaces. The disorder was finally recognized by the psychiatric community in 2013 and is now considered as a possible symptom of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) as well as a disorder by itself.
Hoarding is distinct from collecting in that:
- A collector will search for, properly store, and maintain things of value, while a hoarder will tend towards never discarding what others consider worthless.
- A collector will often trade items in order to get something more valuable, whereas a hoarder will find it hard to part with anything.
- A collector knows what he has and is proud of his collection, whereas a hoarder is often ashamed of the confused mess that has gathered.
- Collectors tend to talk about their prizes; hoarders tend to pull the curtains so nobody can see inside their house.
Hoarders eventually reach a point where their living spaces fill up with junk and can no longer be used for their intended purposes. This is also the point where the clutter starts to become a health hazard by attracting or harboring insects and vermin.
- Beds and other furniture covered to the point that they can't be slept in or sat on.
- Movement or passage through rooms is limited due to clutter.
- Visitors and family are turned away because of the mess.
- Normal activities are difficult or impossible, because supplies for food preparation and cleaning are buried.
- At its most extreme, the clutter can reach a point where it is a hazard of collapsing and trapping the hoarder. There are instances of people being killed when their hoarded possessions fell on them, or trapped them until they starved.
- Piles of paper create a fire hazard, and cluttered rooms make it hard for firefighters to move through.
I have tools that I haven't used in years, but I'll laugh at anyone who tells me that I “need” to de-clutter my shop. Those tools have saved my friends from having to buy them for one-time use, and I know that the tools are around if I ever need them. Prices aren't coming down, and the quality of modern tools seems to be degrading, so I'll keep my collection of tools rather than have to replace them with an inferior copy years from now.
The concept of needing a personal trainer to tell us how to live strikes me as the ultimate admission that parents are not teaching their children how to act like adults.
From a prepper viewpoint, a hoarder is someone who mindlessly buys extra stuff and doesn't maintain it.
- Bags of rice and beans from big-box stores stacked up in the basement
- Towers of cases of bottled water that have been there long enough to have cobwebs on them
- Cans of food with rust on them
- Weapons and other tools gathering rust and dust in a corner
Watch for hoarding tendencies in yourself and your tribe. The numbers vary by source, but roughly 5% of the population has hoarding issues, so if you have a large enough tribe, it could become a problem. Get help, or be the help, as the case warrants. The things we set aside as preps are too important to let them go to waste or be lost in a pile of trash.
(Editor's Note: I have a touch of the hoarder within me, as do both my parents. I blogged about this back in 2014, and it's something I have to fight on a regular basis.)