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Hoarding Can Impact Friends and Neighbors

Updated on September 14, 2017
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty has advanced degrees in preventive medicine and health psychology, with 35 years of work in allergy and other autoimmune treatment.

Hoarding warning signs: cluttered living spaces, inability to discard items, difficulty managing daily tasks, poor organization, shame or embarrassment, limited or no social activities.
Hoarding warning signs: cluttered living spaces, inability to discard items, difficulty managing daily tasks, poor organization, shame or embarrassment, limited or no social activities. | Source

Reasons and Rationales for Hoarding and Clutter

Several years back, I worked with a gentleman who hoarded books and papers at work and books and other materials at his private residence. He actually bragged about the abundance of materials he stored at home. He had not grown up in poverty, so I wondered at his gathering and keeping.

This brought to mind an adage with which a professor began his anthropology course each semester at my school: "Some Americans get when they can, can what they get, and sit on the can." This sounds like hoarding.

When does materialism become a collecting sickness? Hoarding can drive away family members and friends. It may even negatively impact your employment if coworkers and supervisors notice that your car is filled with "stuff."

The hoarders and wasters:

Not all the gold that is beneath the moon

Or ever hath been, or these toil-worn souls

Might ever purchase rest for one

— The Cary Translation, Dante's Inferno
Dante's Inferno. Plate XXII: Canto VII: The hoarders and wasters.
Dante's Inferno. Plate XXII: Canto VII: The hoarders and wasters. | Source

Rooms at the associate's house mentioned above had been filled with floor-to-ceiling bookcases on each wall and filled, in turn, with many books. The rooms could no longer be used for their intended purpose or design. He verbalized his belief that if he filled his office at work with enough books and papers that his company could not lay him off.

This is akin to announcing that if the wedding invitations are already sent out, then you must marry your finance. The marriage-announcement situation has indeed led many people into marrying an incompatible person, but the work-hoarding was a new one to me. The employees left on board had to clean out the mess and were not happy about it. They resented the hoard and the person that collected it.

This busy individual actually worked two full-time jobs that overlapped hours, doing tasks of one job on the other job and juggling duties, so the circumstances were not the most productive. Ultimately, he was laid off from one position and left the accumulated hoard there for several weeks, abandoning it without regret. I wondered - is there there a type of fake hoarding? If so, it was just as disruptive as the real thing and very off putting.

Curious Behaviors

I've met several other individuals about whom I was uncertain when considering their "collecting" hobbies. One collected too many stray cats and eventually was forced to give them up to better homes. Another collected too many cats and continues to do so to this day; he feeds them and goes without food himself and is ill much of the time. It is a matter of time before his city authorities intervene.

The elderly parent of one acquaintance told family one night that she had accumulated a sizeable quantity of things and refused to get rid of them so that these possessions would present a problem to those left behind when she died. In that way, she said, she would be remembered. What she was remembered for, unfortunately, was for giving wrapped pieces of trash as birthday and Christmas presents.

Another elderly parent left behind dozens of large packing boxes of heavy plastic margine bowls from the 1970s in her attic, along with a large amount of other inexpensive items. One of her adult children went on to fill an entire large basement with toys and put an alarm on that house, afraid of their potential theft.

Still another person filled storage units with very old but not collectible furniture, in case it was needed. He had a houseful of new, good quality furnishings and wasted hundreds of dollars monthly on the storage. In fact, I knew two people in separate states who did this, when they really needed that wasted money to pay off their credit card bills.

Habits From the Great Depression

A good friend kindly says that my father was probably stocking up on goods, rather than hoarding in the late-1960s and 1970s, when our town saw its first discount stores open. I think he began to hoard, while my mother's idea of cleaning was often only to throw things out, but she did not eliminate his hoards. I lost some homework papers and books that way, though.

My parents, both being older, had lived through The Great Depression and my father always said that if you found a good item, you should buy at least two or three. You never know when a product will go off the market. However, hoarding did not begin until he neared retirement age and the discount stores opened. I suppose he was preparing for retirement in a way, but the attic and basement, along with the stair cases were stuffed with products, including paper grocery sacks filled with cartons of cigarettes (they smoked a carton a day between them).

Another friend's grandmother would throw nothing away and purchase very little. She went so far as to consume spoiled foods and milk many times, when it was not necessary to do so. Her style was a habit from the Depression that she remembered with fear. She also maintained a small chest freezer that was full of expired food, perhaps thinking it was still edible.

Interestingly, one of her children did the same thing as an adult and only ceased the freezer habit - a 6-foot-long freezer that time - when it broke down and all the food stuffed into it spoiled and made a deadly stench before it was discovered. When the grandma died, the children found a lot of things, but one was a large box full of television remote controls, about three dozen. The old sets were discarded, but the remotes were saved.

Many rooms of the house were stuffed with things and it took a cleaning crew and over a year to sort out the estate and stuff.

What a relief some open space might be!
What a relief some open space might be! | Source

Hoarding in Business

Two couples were severely handicapped by hoarding and this included all four individuals. the first couple lived in a home that was stacked on the first floor with decades' worth of 7-foot-high piles of family business paperwork, with a narrow path from the front door to the kitchen and the bedroom. The staircase to the second floor was blocked. Both people amassed things, but she suffered the more severe problem in that she was responsible for the paper that choked the home. She also controlled others' time with her talking.

She also wanted to be in charge of all family members' activities across the country for all holidays - friends and family members began to drift away in avoidance. As the problem became critical, she finally cleared out the paper, save for the required 7 years' records for the IRS. Her husband began staying in a second house they owned and they both seem free of hoarding to this day.

Hoarding in a Museum

Another couple, with infant children, ran a historical museum on their several acres of property. This was a Civil War Museum operated by enthusiastic re-enactors of the major battles. In costume, they were completely different people than in their street clothes. In fact, the characters were more interesting personalities.

Their ranch style home at the front of the property was filled with diapers - clean and dirty, numerous baby items, and papers, while the museum was clean and orderly. The house had a narrow pathway from the front door through the living room and kitchen to the back door. All the other rooms were blocked off with stacks of clutter.

Visitors included several school groups each month and all were amazed at the clutter, but seemed to forget it when they entered the interesting museum to be guided through it by Civil War Era characters.

This continued for years, but the hoarding problem was finally resolved. Today, the museum is much expanded and does a good amount of business, while visitors no longer need to walk through the house to access the museum. The family is still together and no stacks of things can be seen in the house's windows any longer. If the museum had not been so interesting, the family might have lost their business, because of the condition of the house.

Battle of the Hoarders

Still another couple seemed to compete with one another over who could bring in the larger number of things to a small home and spend the larger amount of money every month. They literally could not walk through the home except along a narrow path between the front door - usually blocked as well - and the kitchen, where one could not access appliances or cupboards.

All other rooms and the staircase to the upper floor required climbing. Unfortunately, this condition was solved by death, others coming in to clean the place out.

If you suspect yourself or someone you know of hoarding, check out the San Francisco site above and look for similar help in your community.

Help for Hoarding Disorder

  • The website features a 10-question hoarding detection screener that raises good questions. The very first one asks if the person of concern blocks exits with his or her hoarded items? I am aghast that I could answer "Yes" for several people I had known in the past.

© 2012 Patty Inglish MS


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