Article on hoarding & history in today's Wall Street Journal

esgaMay 12, 2006

On the front page, no less! It's about people who grew up in the depression and learned to save and reuse. Many of them saved so much stuff they've forgotten what they have. Professional de-clutterers have discovered valuable family heirlooms but also documents that illuminate social as well as family history. Traditionally, social service agencie and landlords intervened to get rid of everything. Professional de-clutterers take a different approach, weeding out the important from the junk. In many cases, the older people who were the clients had just gotten too tired to go through stuff anymore, or lost heart/motivation when a partner died. Some of the organizers also have to convince adult children that they shouldn't just trash the lot.

They mention, in passing, the fact that the 85+ population is the fastest growing segment, but don't really speculate on how widespread hoarding is in older populations. Those over 85 now were stronly influenced by the Depression; will baby boomers, for example, exhibit the same behavior? It's interesting to speculate.

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Both my parents (born 1922 and 1923) were hoarders. I am one also, I buy too much and save too much. I used to say my stuff was "collectibles". Now it's mostly,but not all, junk.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2006 at 4:03PM
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As for the mindset that the have to keep things they might need: this is important, this is essential, this is valuable, I paid for it! And especially when it comes to paper: Without this stuff I'm without protection. (Even though they have no way of filing or remembering where this "important" documentation is. They picture themselves in a court of law, safe, because they kept the paper.

To continue: without this stuff I am lost. Anything could happen. With all my stuff I have freedom from anxiety and fear. But it turns out that instead of being liberating it imprisoning. It's overload.

Duh. When you have or "hoard" too much stuff you can't find the "good" stuff, anyways.

I always chuckle when people post questions about how to file or cross reference all this paperwork that you know they'll never look at again. For heaven's sakes, save your mortgage papers, and tax returns. But not every utility bill since 1927. Do you think someone that out of control is actually going to make a huge spreadsheet and find a common denominator that is going to save him money? And for what? To buy a shed or a pod to put the old, saved paper in?

Resist the urge to hoard! It is imprisoning!

    Bookmark   May 12, 2006 at 5:26PM
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zeebo, there's no "Duh" factor here. Before the days of instant retrieval of material with computers, not having a receipt might mean getting thrown out on the street. The fear of not having what you need is very real. Those of us who love people who do this know there isn't just some "duh" get it together kind of solution.

elisabeth, do you have a link to the article?


    Bookmark   May 17, 2006 at 1:46PM
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Actually, I didn't mention receipts. Just paper in general. I've been on other boards where people literally have stacks of outdated manuals, policies they no longer own and retirement papers which are valid, but actually no longer useful after the "newest" set arrive quarterly in the mail. Someone whom I admire greatly made a point: 95% of what people have in their paper stacks is junk. 5% is archivable or valuable. She suggests not spending a lot of time on the paper but instead box it up and forget about it while you create a system from scratch that works.

If you aren't going to make a huge mathmatical spreadsheet detailing your home's energy usage, is the paid bill really necessary to keep for months? Or once you see that you have been creditted with that payment on the following bill, can you let it go? When your retirement investment papers come in the mail with the previous balance and your new balance, can you throw the old papers? (That was a hard one for me, as I just kept investment papers in the same area and eventually created a mountain!) Each company I am with sends a year-end spreadsheet and I really like that! I also signed up for their e-mail delivery so I can just transfer that file into a folder without even looking at it, if I choose. One company is sending BOTH paper and e-mail, ick.

Gloria, you mentioned "the fear of not having what you need". I recently read an article on hoarding and would like to quote:

How do you know what's of value and what's not? All the ads, all the news scream out that 'this is important, this is essential!' And somewhere in the imagination the idea gets planted: Without this stuff, I'm without protection. I'm lost. Anything could happen. The possibilities seem infinite, in part, I suppose, because there's so little evidence that as individuals we can control much of anything. Take technology--it's hyped as 'access to information,' as x, y, and z, the solution to the crises. As freedom--from anxiety, from fear. But it turns out that instead of being liberating, it's imprisoning. It's overload

I became interested in the psychology of hoarding almost 20 years ago when a garbage house was discovered in the town where I live. I have made many observations about the psychology of why people keep things. I am not trying to be judgemental, although it is hard on the computer to convey. I keep receipts myself! I recently had a 4 month old digital camera break and the store only honored receipts up to 90 days. The manufacturer was much nicer! Sometimes when I purchase a lot of things at Target I will ask for the blouse or shoes to be rung up seperately, so I can throw away the receipt with the detergent & staples which I know I'd never return and keep only what I might need. I'm not totally ruthless! And I enjoy discussing the psychology and techniques that work for me and what others do too.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2006 at 12:50PM
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I had to give this one some thought zeebo. I was discussing this post with a friend and trying to figure out when my mom went from a "normal" cluttered house to the isles of piles.

It wasn't the fear factor which drives people to do hoarding. It was more of a lack of skill to be able to sift through all of the stuff that was coming into the household with the changes in society. Hand me down clothing was still the norm when I was a kid, yet we didn't know anyone to give the clothing to. No thrift stores. Limited trash removal. You just didn't get rid of "good" stuff.

50 years ago, anything that came in the mail was important or something you actually ordered. You needed that mail. Now, look at how seldom we actually need anything in that 2" batch of junk mail, yet my mom stayed with the older sytem of feeling like she needed to put that aside.

I also can clearly identify the time when the house started really getting closed in. I was 15 at the time (I'm now 50) and my dad was unemployed. I think the stress levels were building. It showed in the house. Moving frequently and nothing ever fit in the next house, so furniture would go in the basement and furniture would appear to fit the current rooms. The stuff just got moved from house to house. I know the bike I rode in grade school was moved until I was 25. A good chunk of the stuff only got gone because they moved into a townhouse with a small basement.

My parents were the first generation to even own a home. No hidden attics in my family of years and years of old household items, so no one had much to begin with.

I don't think that people really needed that many skills 60 years ago to deal with the onslaught of consumer goods. It's only gotten worse with items made to last a year and then you have to purchase a new one. But in my community, you aren't allowed to put that old monitor in the trash. Dealing with the excess can take a lot of energy and people just end up putting it aside.

We can't even burn stuff in a fire pit, like was suggested. That will get you a hefty fine here.

Even though I'm 50, my youngest is only in kindergarten, so I spend time with women 10-20 years younger than me. They are struggling. The mail piles up on them. The toys pile up on them. The clothing piles up on them. They don't have control of their finances, yet the families have really good incomes.

I think some people have a psychological stuggle. I really believe for the majority of us, it is learned behavior.


    Bookmark   May 27, 2006 at 12:37AM
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Wow, what insight Gloria. I had never considered that the strategies I've learned for dealing with stuff - oh say over the last 40 years from depression-era parents - don't suffice for the SUPERabundance and planned obsolescence of today.


Below is a link to the article mentioned.

Here is a link that might be useful: Helping hoarders reunite with buried possessions

    Bookmark   May 27, 2006 at 1:41PM
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My FIL was the biggest hoarder in the world. He died in Jan and my MIL is slowly starting to clean out the junk. He left her an unbelieveable job. He would never throw ANYTHING away. She is doing a little at a time & expects it to take at least a year. She put up with this clutter for 50 years! At least the purging his helping her feel better & not so sad. It gives her something to keep busy.

DH is bad, but not quite as bad as FIL. I hate clutter so we are totally mis-matched. I have a peaceful place in my mind where I take "mental trips" when it gets too much. IT's a tiny cabin the a wood, with 3 rooms - a bedroom with just a bed, side table, and dresser. A living room with a table, sofa & rocking chair. And a kitchen with just the esentials. No clutter and very few possessions. This is my dream of paradise on earth.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2006 at 5:45AM
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