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Karn Dhingra, Jackie Kasuya & Ben Piven
Once known for her confidence and charisma as Suzanne Sugarbaker on Designing Women, Delta Burke made headlines last year after opening up about her battle with compulsive hoarding syndrome.
“At one time I had 27 storage units. I don’t have a big enough house,” she said during an interview with Entertainment Tonight. “My mom had it, it’s my mother’s fault. She saved the diaper I came home from the hospital in.”
How does someone who was once voted “most likely to succeed” in high school become a compulsive hoarder? Well, as Burke mentioned, oftentimes the ailment is hereditary. Eighty-five percent of people who hoard can identify another family member who has the problem, according to the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA, San Diego. Other times, hoarding can be a result of neuropsychiatric disorders like eating disorders and is frequently linked to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Burke has a history of both disorders.
Adding to the list of celebrity hoarders, Andy Warhol collected over 400,000 objects in the last 15 years of his life, according to Matt Wrbican, an archivist at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Among the many items Warhol accumulated were newspaper clippings, unpaid invoices, pornographic pulp novels, airline tickets, supermarket flyers, and postage stamps.
Wrbican spends his days sorting through the 610 cardboard boxes, known as “time capsules,” that Warhol left behind.
“It would be easy to label the stuff ‘junk,’ but they’re really archives,” said Wrbican during an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.
Wrbican added that when Warhol went on trips he would not only bring home typical souvenirs but also, the porcelain, cutlery and menus he used on Air France Concorde.
As for Warhol’s four-story townhouse on the Upper East Side, his kitchen and bedroom were the only rooms he could walk through. Anything that couldn’t fit in his home was transfered to a nearby storage unit.
Hoarders have also graced the pages of classic novels like Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls. One of the characters, Plyushkin, collects and saves everything he comes across – including a cake that is several years old, which he consumes after asking his servants to scrape off the mold.
In Russia, the name “Plyushkin” has become synonymous with people who accumulate useless objects. Those people are said to have “Plyushkin syndrome” or “Plyushkin symptom.”
Anna Leah, who moderates a decluttering support group in New York, said that there are three rules, which each of her members should adhere to: they cannot bring any hoarded items to the group session, they cannot visit any thrift shops, and they must throw away at least one thing each week. Since starting the group four years ago, Anna Leah said that her members rarely follow through on her rules. Just last week, at least two of the members, found themselves rifting through items at a flea market.
Anna Leah said that the support group is a great way to get hoarders to confront their problems. She believes professional organizers only provide a temporary fix because they’re not showing hoarders what they need to do to minimize their clutter.
During the session, one of the members discussed the connection between art and hoarding. As a collagist, he’ll hoard various items and feature them in his work. But he said that lately he hasn’t been able to finish any of his projects because he easily gets distracted.
Several of the group members admitted to suffering from the same problem. One of the members suggested that she found it effective to set due dates for herself, while another member suggested keeping an agenda: her agenda included a list of color-coordinated tasks organized by their level of importance.
Anna Leah emphasized how important it is for each of the members to keep a “to-do list,” because it’s easy for people who suffer from hoarding to become forgetful and it’s important for them to establishing a level of control.
Another member of the group expressed her difficulty in discarding old magazines. After asking the group whether she should tear out the pages that are most relevant to her, one of the members suggested that she discard all of the magazines because most articles can now be found online through the publication’s archive on their website.