Mar 23 2009

Launch!

The new version of hoardhouse.com is now live.

Thanks for your support. Be sure to visit the blog for future coverage and news on this issue.

Please pass this link an message on to your friends, family, colleagues or anybody who might be interested in hoarding, cluttering, and NYC.

Thanks again,

Karn Dhingra, Jackie Kasuya & Ben Piven


Feb 24 2009

Less Than a Month to Go

We’re entering the stretch run and our website is due to our professors in less than a month. After much discussion we’ve finally decided on a layout for the site. We ‘re almost done with our reporting and are putting all the multimedia pieces together for the site.

We visited Washington, D.C. and Baltimore this past weekend  to interview Erin Doland of unclutterer.com and John. Erin was great and very open with us. She talked about the creation of unclutterer.com and her childhood battles with clutter and how she deals with clutter today.

doland

We met John earlier in the school year and took some pictures of his apartment but he recently had his apartment cleaned and organized and was kind enough to invite us back to his place for an in-depth interview. John didn’t want to be on camera so we asked him to discuss items and objects that he particularly cherishes. John loves to go on cruises and is enamored with all things related to the ocean and oceanliners.  The interview was eye-opening and gave us more insight into his character. We hope we can present a nuanced portrait of him in a video that emphasizes his relationship with his belongings.

img_7052

On a side note,  Eric Adler of the Kansas City Star  recently wrote a story about hoarders in Kansas City. The headline the paper published was: The hoard festival; Packrats celebrate their collections — until they get in the way of living.

The headline was a little misleading because it read – at least to me -that the story was about a festival that celebrates hoarding. This is not the case . The story is about a few Kansas City area residents that have hoarding and clutter problems. The story gives some decent background information on the condition of hoarding and quotes Dr. Randy Frost, an expert we’re still hoping will speak to hoardhouse.


Feb 5 2009

The Cluttered Lives We Live

This project has forced me to think about clutter in my own life. Clutter extends far beyond our residential spaces, and it is relevant to time management, social life, information intake, and cultural choice.

Cluttered space often remains cluttered because clutterers lack the time management skills to accomplish tasks efficiently and effectively. Spatial and temporal clutter are intertwined. Similar psychological mechanisms are at play.

Spatial clutter arises from the failure to discard stuff from one’s personal sphere. Clutterers cannot decide when they have accumulated too much. There is a pathological issue in executing simple decisions about what to discard and what not to discard. Many clutterers are also fundamentally unrealistic about how much can be accomplished in a given time frame – with decluttering activities or otherwise.

Thus, time clutter and space clutter are intimately related. Inability to regulate one’s spatial life is inextricably linked to an inability to cope successfully with time constraints. Though there is not always a correlation between the two, many spatial clutterers also have a cluttered schedules.

But there are also time clutterers who do not suffer from cluttered space. Many meticulously neat people have intensely chaotic schedules. I have begun to contemplate my own time management and whether my schedule is too cluttered. Perhaps I do best with a cluttered schedule. Or perhaps I, too, should schedule less cluttered days.

During a Clutterers Anonymous (CLA) meeting on January 15th, I committed explicitly to thinking more about the relationship between spatial clutter (to which CLA is dedicated) and other sorts of clutter (namely, temporal and social).

A third type of clutter is social clutter, which is often be linked to temporal clutter. My life is often socially cluttered – whether due to technology such as Facebook or an excessively extroverted personality.

Is there a limit to one’s Rolodex, cellphone contact list, or Facebook friends? Is 1000 enough? What’s the line between a social butterfly and a social clutterer?

Next is information clutter. Columbia Journalism Review’s November/December 2008 issue dealt with information overload. Are we bombarded with too much knowledge? How much time do we spend uncluttering our gmail? Do you routinely lose files on your desktop and hard drive?

In this age of infinite information, it is difficult to maintain satisfactory levels of order in these realms. Technology should increase the speed and the order of our lives, but it also contributes to tremendous clutter problems. As with physical space, informational clutter does not become a problem until you simply cannot find what you’re looking for. Or, when you simply run out of space to store stuff.

But, information clutter does not stop there. Idea clutter in the classroom is forever nagging. Especially for journalists, word clutter and other written expressions of disorganization can be disastrous. Informational clutter is seemingly endless…

The fifth and final type of clutter in this entry is cultural clutter. Does this afflict me? I constantly find myself partaking in a rapidly growing number of cultural traditions. Is there a limit to the digestible variety of cuisines, fashions, religions, holidays, and languages?  Is splintered cultural allegiance detrimental to personal growth?

What may be burdensome clutter to some may be positive for others. For example, cultural clutter  might be more accurately labeled “cosmopolitan,” “diverse,” or “eclectic.” Similarly,  a social clutterer might be called popular. Are information clutterers not intellectual and informed? Time clutterers are often high efficient people. After all, when you need something done quickly, give it to a busy person.

Back to spatial clutter. There is often a very fine line between a collector and a clutterer.

In sum, let’s consider five potentially cluttered realms: space, time, friendship, information, and culture.

A little bit of minimalism does the body (and the mind) good.


Feb 3 2009

Thoughts

Work has picked up on our website and at school as of late. The team has been surprised by the amount of access we’ve been able to get from people with this illness and experts on this issue. The situation wasn’t  looking so good a few weeks ago. I was banned from a de-clutter support group because of concerns about liabilities and was kicked out of a Clutterers Anonymous meeting but Frederick , an attendee at that meeting was kind enough to give me his phone number and returned my  call the same night. He invited us to his apartment to let us interview him on camera and take pictures the next day. Frederick’s an artist and used to work in fashion design. We are currently working on a video that will feature him talking about his condition.

Last week Ben and I ventured out to Long Island to interview Dr. Fugen Neziroglu of the Bio-Behavioral Institute. Dr. Neziroglu was very gracious and answered all of our questions. She commented on some of the pictures of hoarding sites we’ve been able to document.  And an interview with Dr. Randy Frost of Smith College is in the works. He’s considered one of the foremost experts on this topic.

We’ve also been kicking around a few interesting concepts for the site and welcome any comments and ideas from our readers.

The project has also gotten some attention on the internet. We continue to receive emails from people all over the country and the world. And Unclutterer, one of the more widely read blogs on the topic of clutter has discovered our site.

We’re humbled and honored by our readers’ encouraging words of support and will continue to report on this issue in a thorough and transparent manner.


Jan 13 2009

Hoarders All Over the Globe?

Charles's Baltimore apartment. Level III Baltimore apartment.

The international community of hoarders is constituted disproportionately by Americans and other western folks. Additionally, 1st World countries with less effective social safety nets are far more inclined to produce a more extremely acquisitive brand of citizen. It is in the societies which over-emphasize material possessions and capital accumulation that clutter becomes most problematic and pathological. Thus, from initial attempts at gauging the hoarder proportion in countries like Sweden and Netherlands, it seems that many fewer citizens of those places have heard about hoarding. This is probably a result of the fact that hoarding is simply less common in societies that have more engaging mental health care and social counseling programs for all citizens. But, to be clear, much of these observations are speculative and certainly do not stem from any complex statistical survey of hoarding around the world.

As with many other psychosocial problems, the libertarian U.S. seems more likely that Western European nations to allow hoarders free reign to practice their odd craft without interference from government officials or health care workers. Many Europeans whom I have met seem rather surprised at my tales of American hoarding because they see such extremely deviant psychological cases as shocking. This derives not from the mere psychological deviance but from the fact that the appropriate public and private sector safety nets simply are not effective in addressing so many hoarding situations. The ‘live and let live’ creed reinforces a ruggedly individualistic social order accompanied by weak social protections in the U.S.

Beyond the welfare states in which hoarding seems less likely to fester, 3rd world societies perhaps contain much less compulsive clutter. In discussing the topic with lots of contacts in the subcontinent, I have not managed to discover any examples of hoarding in India. Perhaps the problem has not much been popularized or perhaps it takes on other forms. But, either way, hoarding is not recognized the same way there. It is very unlikely that anywhere close to 1-2% of the population suffers from the condition – as in the U.S.

The question that behooves asking is whether poorer, less developed societies are as prone as the U.S. to the same type of misdirected urges to accumulate junk and non-junk alike. The same goes for eating disorders and a number of other psychosocial disorders that occur with much more frequency in the urban, industrialized West. Deviant use of space and of stuff is less of a possibility in countries where there is much less space and stuff is afforded per capita. Is it wrong to assume that folks in underdeveloped countries have neither the time nor the sensibilities to engage in compulsive clutter?

There is a fellow Columbia Graduate School of Journalism student who had originally intended to do a print masters project on hoarding. She hails from Lebanon, where she said hoarding is not terribly common. However, she said that the one hoarder who she’d met in Beirut was completely unashamed of her behavior, in contradistinction to many American hoarders whose shame has no bounds.

Another international difference that I have heard about was involved the story of a Dutch family that had appeared on a popular TV show called Clean House. According to the person who told me about the episode, the father was such a hoarder that the rest of the family was forced to sleep together in one bedroom. This sort of situation seems fairly uncommon amongst American hoarders. The vast majority of hoarding cases that we have come across domestically are older folks who live alone. While I have heard about some American hoarder-couples who contribute equally to their household’s clutter, this Dutch example seems to confirm that there are some differences between American hoarding and hoarding abroad.

While the United States appears to be far more of a hoarder nation than most others, it remains difficult to determine whether hoarding simply takes on different forms in other societies. Are there more advanced forms of hoarding in highly evolved societies? Is there increased growth in clutterers who hoard information rather than physical possessions? Could this reality alter the established norms of hoarding? Moreover, do less developed societies simply have many more people who hoard food, water, and medicine rather than goods that are considered worthless or extraneous? These questions and more will be among the issues addressed in this blog during the coming weeks and months.


Dec 18 2008

Hoarders at Holiday Parties

Shockingly enough, fellow holiday party goers have been incredibly interested in talking about hoarding. Tis the season to be merry and jolly, but I would never have guessed how fascinated all these Chrismakwanzakah revelers would be in the issue of hoarding. Even more than that, I have managed to make an average of 2.5 solid hoarder contacts at the parties where I have sought to spread the hoarder gospel. And, those contacts just seemed to come my way with little effort hoarding hoarder contacts.

I will discuss a few of the hoarder stories that I happened upon at two particular holiday bashes. At the first, I met a young man from the city whose uncle had been hoarding newspapers in his midtown apartment for many years, until his habit became severe enough that his extended family intervened. Now, the uncle seems to be on less cluttered ground, having met a new girlfriend and continuing to ensure the relative cleanliness of his abode. It seems that many uber-educated New Yorkers are inclined to hoard information in either newspapers or books, but this problem is generally much worse with folks who live alone. There is a marked contrast that exists between hoarders-in-the-making who co-habitate with mates and those whose hoarding has fully materialized when their household consists solely of one person. Anyway, the second major hoarder contact at this particular holiday party on the Upper West Side was a young woman whose middle-aged Pelham mother has become a collector-addict with all sorts of memorabilia and knickknacks. There was little evidence of shame in this behavior for this specific case, but the hoarding tendency seemed indefatigable. One of this mother’s daughters is a practicing psychologist, who has made little to no headway in combating the scourge.

At another holiday party, I was taken aback by the phenomenal interest in hoarding conversation that was displayed upon my introduction of the topic. Initially, when I entered the hipster holiday bash in Williamsburg, there was a rather awkward silence. But, as I broached the hoarding subject, people began telling highly animated stories about their artist comrades whose hoarding of plastics, metals, paints, and all sorts of marginally salvageable materials gave me new insight into the ways that hoarding is part-and-parcel a form of aesthetic expression. Our project team had discussed in some depth how a hoarder’s space is analogous  to an artist’s canvas, in the way that belongings and accoutrements are splattered, peppered, plopped down, and organized in a way that is often entirely indecipherable to laypersons or people unfamiliar with that unique way of compartmentalizing objects within a space.

Perhaps the hoarder’s aesthetic sense is rarely appreciable by the non-hoarding masses, but this parallel is undeniable. Hoarders clearly project their worldview and attachment to their immediate external space via their cluttering tendencies, in the same way that artists render their work a function of their vision. It is unclear whether hoarders harbor a hypothesis about their hoarding task, in the same way that artists would generally have some sort of philosophy about why and how they create beauty. Hoarders probably cannot generally be said to create beauty in an intrinsically recognizable or logical way. Regardless, the manifestations of the hoarding instinct does reflect some level of commonality with the artistic sensibility.

Anyhow, on to the actual examples of hoarding that were discussed at the Williamsburg party. I met four folks who had concrete tales of hoarding that involved either themselves or close relatives/friends. One Chicago native currently resides in the East Village and obsessively rummages through the trash for CPUs. She has compulsively searched for other goods in waste receptacles in the past. At this point, she collects the computer hearts in order to fashion art out of them and display the finished products in galleries. It is unknown whether her level of hoarding would qualify any more than Level I on the hoarding scale, but it seems that her aesthetic instincts could very well spiral into more severe hoarding behavior. Moreover, she uses epistemological theories by Heidegger to explain her relationship with space and personal items. It may not be uncommon to have an advanced postmodern sort of explanation for hoarding behavior.

The next hoarder tale that was evoked involved a young Brooklynite’s godparents who reside in Sykesville, Maryland. These godparents have been antique dealers for decades, but their home has long been a hoarding nightmare, most likely hovering somewhere around Level IV. Their stove was long ago rendered inoperable by the dead animals that lurked therein. Serious maintenance problems arose from the heavy antiques that filled the residence. Vast portions of the house have been inaccessible for years, and the hoarding by this couple seems not to have faded at all. Hoarding most certainly worsens with age, as people become less and less able to become emotionally and physically ready to discard the innumerable contents of their dwellings. The behavior becomes more and more entrenched as the years go by. Hoarders seem to lose the decisiveness that comes with the ability to throw things out on a daily basis. “Normal” folks make scores of decisions every day pertaining to how much stuff will be discarded from their personal spheres, but hoarders are paralyzed in this process of excluding objects that seem like they could potentially be valuable or useful in the long term.

The third hoarding story from the Williamsburg holiday party was not quite a genuine hoarding tale, but a diabetic fellow named Danny mentioned his penchant for hoarding medicines and insulin that could be useful in the event of a disaster. I responded to him that such careful planning for the worst was most likely not hoarding and that this was a reasonable way to prepare for possible eventualities. He replied that there were nonetheless other types of collectibles that he saved somewhat compulsively, but I retorted that collecting one or two types of memorabilia or cultural items is not hoarding until it impedes one’s living space. Everyone in our acquisitive society enjoys collecting something, and it is not unusual to assume that this must qualify as hoarding. However, actual hoarding only occurs in 1-2% of the American population. This means that the vast majority of people are acquainted with at least one hoarder. It also means that many non-hoarders fear becoming a hoarder, or they are self-conscious/guilty about some  acquisitive tendency that could spiral out of control.

 

Taco Bell hot sauce packets, courtesy of Flickr user: su-lin

Taco Bell hot sauce packets, courtesy of Flickr user: su-lin

The fourth hoarder story from last Sunday’s Willyburg party was of a young Japanese art history student in Berkeley who hoarders a diverse range of objects: Taco Bell hot sauce packets, blond wigs, Queen Elizabeth memorabilia, vintage summer dresses, and much more! This woman is also very motivated by a theoretical explanation for her sociocultural bent and how it manifests in her treatment of objects and extreme attachment to a plethora of inanimate things.

 

In sum, a surprising quantity of regular folks have elaborate tales of hoarding, involving friends, relatives, and themselves. The journey is getting crazier and more cluttered…


Dec 11 2008

The Journey Begins

This blog will chronicle the creation of hoardhouse.com a website that will look at “Obsessive Compulsive Hoarding. ”

According to Karron Maidment, a scholar associated with The Obsessive Compulsion Foundation, ” Hoarding is defined as the acquisition of, and inability to discard worthless items even though they appear (to others) to have no value. Hoarding behaviors can occur in a variety of psychiatric disorders and in the normal population, but are most commonly found in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).”

Current media coverage of this issue tends to focus on the fantastic messes that come with this affliction. We would like to delve deeper and create a website that will examine the broader societal implications of this disorder and tell personal stories of hoarders, their families and people who work with them.