I tuned in to a fascinating documentary on hoarding on the Beeb recently, extra interest accrued from the fact it was lovely TV presenter Jasmine Harman who was trying to help her mother deal with the decades of accumulated possessions that had blighted their lives growing up.  It was sad to hear that as children they recalled having Christmas dinner squeezed into a bedroom, one of the last realms of clutter free space in their home.

I cannot begin to understand the mind of a hoarder, clearly a debilitating illness, to have such attachment to worthless possessions is mind-boggling  but they seem to know exactly what they have stockpiled and there is almost a chaotic order to it as they will often know where everything is and clings to a belief that there is a use for a broken speaker (as the magnets inside can be used to pick up paper clips!)   On the documentary, her mother would often pluck up the courage to take some items to the charity shop, only to return later and purchase them back, even seeing the reactions of her children she could not break the spell this had over her.

Example of a hoarders home

My other half has a tendency for minor hoarding and I do my utmost to keep it at bay, when we first met he had 3 giant bags full to the brim of unopened mail stuffed in a wardrobe.   I set myself the task of opening it, he had accumulated enough paper to account for half the world’s rainforests and with ecology in mind I organised the remnants into separate piles.  Shredding everything with any nod towards their name or address, another pile for recycling and another for filing.  By the end of it, I had unearthed hundreds of pounds in birthday vouchers (most still valid luckily) 6 months worth of free DVD rental, numerous cheques, driving license, chequebooks…it goes on.

Whilst watching this programme with him I pointed out the similarities, of course they are not hoarding a box full of Ken and Barbies, just stuff they had once used but could never part with.  I understand to a degree the attachment, especially in the clothes stashed away, clothes that are 15 years old and would never fit let alone have any current street credibility!   They remind them of a time they were thinner having struggled with weight over the past few years, but they are also clothes from teenage years, however much weight you lose you will not get back into them, I demonstrated by trying on the size 28 jeans which would not get over my calves, and I don’t think denim leg warmers is a good look.

One wall of my bedroom is fitted wardrobes, each is stacked full of boxes and suitcases brimming with enough old clothes to keep Camden’s charity shops in business for a month, none of them have been touched in at least 5 years, none of them ever will be, it’s an emotional attachment that is hard to break.  Every time I broach the subject I am met with defiance and anger when I push the issue, he “has to be in the right frame of mind”  

Why do we attach so many emotions to inanimate things?    Can a £19.99 shirt from TopMan really hold so many memories?  Whilst this is nowhere near the extremes of serious hoarders, there are the seeds developing, he once bought home a wrought iron pot stand and a wooden CD holder he found in the street, we don’t even play CD’s being in the era of the Ipod and the only use the pot stand would have is as a climbing frame for the cat.   

I wonder where this stems from, we are a society where we measure success in wealth and possessions, I know he had a lot more growing up as an only child, maybe his possessions were his playthings, surrounding himself with them.  I grew up relatively poor, we never had much to begin with, so I have never had attachments to things, but then if this were the case then the opposite could also be true, shouldn’t I be attached to things as I never had them and he be more throwaway as they were dime a dozen to him?

Even the slightest amount of clutter and I start freaking out and have to go on a tidying frenzy, I find it just oppressing when things are not in their place, cluttered up, mentally dragging me down, I can feel the weight lifted afer a bout of tidying.   In a previous flatshares I had, we picked a house far too small with no storage for 6 people, I’ve always travelled light having moved about 12 times since living in London, my flatmates being in a band had a lot of equipment to store, and the only space was under the stairs, great you think, hidden way in the cupboard, but this was an architect designed house, open and flowing spaces centred around an open stairwell straddling the kitchen and living room, band equipment piled high behind the stairs on full view, a constant reminder as soon as you open the front door, the vein on my forehead about to burst at any moment.

As I type this at work, my paperwork is stacked in one single pile, I glance across to a colleagues desk and I assume he is making a fort, piles of folders wobble precariously, unable to sit in his desk properly as files are stacked underneath.  I cannot fathom how he can begin to go about his daily tasks with this bearing down, where would you begin?  I arrive energised from my cycle commute, sit down and pick up the first sheet of paper and tackle that and then the next and so on.   No flustering, no panicking, my mind free to focus on the job at hand.

My idea of hell

We all have our own OCD’s they just manifest themselves in different ways, Once I teased another flatmate who was uber-tidy, by slightly moving objects by a few millimetres so things were not perfectly in line with the edge of the mantelpiece, she would sit in the lounge but she knew something was up, visibly starting to worry, biting her nails so I would leave the room and on my return she would be relaxed and calmly watching TV, and the ornaments would be in perfect symmetry once more.

It’s nice when our habits can be described as quirks, an interesting facet to our personalities, but there are the cases when these tip over into something so controlling of your life, never having the opportunity to just sit back and breathe, your mind a constant hive of activity, something knawing away at your brain telling you that you need that chair with a leg missing someone has left outside for the dustman.

Despite taking a light hearted look at some aspects that touch on OCD and hoarding, I don’t mean to underestimate the serious issues that arise with many cases, the link on Jasmine’s website provides some helpful information http://www.helpforhoarders.co.uk/

Leave a comment


  1. I’m amazed at how we take pleasure in accumulating possessions. I’m trying to teach myself to be more rational when buying things and stop expecting possessions to make me happy in the long-term.

    • It’s more common than people think, the media were decribing people’s actions in the London riots as Looters, maybe they are really Hoarders, who needs five 42″ flat screen TV’s

  2. gidgetwearsglasses

     /  September 3, 2011

    My idea of hell as well! That person would be SO fired!!!

  3. I think it is wonderful that you take the time to see beyond the first response. We’ve talked some about hoarding before, and I am not a horder by any means, but paperwork is one of the things I hate the most. Our desk is borderline hoarding. It does feel good to get rid of stuff and have it organized, but I think it only feels good to people who aren’t hoarders. Even on the television shows, a lot of the hoarders fill their lives again with stuff after the people help clean it up.

    I’m trying to figure it out. I understand that there is an extreme attachment to the stuff, a lot of that seems to be fond memories, but there is so much more than just attachment. I am pretty sure that fear plays a role. They seem to be almost scared to throw stuff away. It is difficult to understand, but I think that more important than understanding the behavior is loving the person who hoards. They are just people. Probably needing more love than any other. Sometimes I think that people need love so much, but they don’t think they are worth loving so they do things like hoard so that when people are annoyed, unloving, whatever, they can blame it on the mess. They use the hoarding to justify being unloveable in their minds.

    The problem is, even if they don’t think that someone could love them, usually people already do, they just don’t always act like it. I love you Joe and I think that you are an amazing guy for being willing to help your partner without being pushy, for loving him regardless of things in his life that might bother you. He is a lucky guy.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: