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
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…