How does someone like you exist?
It finally hit me last night after a full day of slowing trying to pack and clean out the living room in my apartment, I looked around and still felt like there was still so much stuff to go through. What made it worse (and kind of funny), about a month ago my friend Jimmy came over to help me de-junk after I’d decided to clear out the extra bedroom in my two-room apartment to rent out. We threw out a bunch of empty boxes included a stack of boxes I’d accumulated and stacked to the ceiling of the extra bathroom. (I’ve since decided to move out and probably would’ve used those boxes!)
Jimmy’s been over to my place a few times and each time, he mentioned that I was a hoarder. “Hoarder? No, I just have a lot of stuff that I need to organize and declutter…” I knew from the watching of one episode of that A&E show hoarders that one of the triggers or explanations from hoarding involved something traumatic happening in one’s life, and their need to keep stuff was related to their notion or need for control. I could somewhat relate to that, but no way did I think I was a hoarder.
Scientists do agree that the disorder has three (rather obvious) defining characteristics: the excessive acquisition of things that appear to be of little or no value; the inability to discard possessions; and the disorganization of those possessions, which clutter up living spaces and make them impossible to use for their intended purposes.
Last night I finally did some research on hoarding and was shocked to be able to relate to some of the stories. I’m a hoarder. I’m a fuckin’ hoarder! I was astonished and relieved at the same time. Put into more context, my decision to move out of my apartment and give New York life a shot might actually be the exact therapy I need to finally address this deep rooted issue! An unintended masterful plan!
I’m a bit reluctant and ashamed to announce this discovery (I slept on the idea because I was tired and wanted to make sure I clearly thought this through), but hoarding is a mental disorder. I never thought it was applicable to me because my definition of hoarding was attached to the notion that the clutter was so bad it would actually impair the lifestyle or functioning of the individual. I’m able to remember where things are, why they’re there, and developed a lifestyle to work through the clutter… I felt I was highly functioning enough that I was sure I was not a hoarder. My ex-girlfriend who used to live with me would look at me in astonishment or wonder with love and exclaim, “How does someone like you exist?”
Here’s a snippet from the best article I read on hoarding so far:
“There are some problems with attention—that is, distractibility and sometimes a hyper focus, problems with categorization, the ability to organize things,” he explained. “People who hoard tend to live their lives visually and spatially instead of categorically, like the rest of us do.” One of his patients, Irene, would put an electricity bill on top of a pile; if she needed it again, she would remember where it was in space, rather than filing it away—mentally and physically—in a “bills” category.
Based on the article, I’d classify myself as under the ‘impulsive acquirer [hoarder]‘ who “actively acquires things for the thrill of it and keeps items because they reflect personal interests.” To be honest, I don’t think I actively acquire many things anymore because I have a much different view on life, but the huge hurdle right now is dealing with what I have.
Research on hoarding suggests that it’s partly genetic, and that hoarders show increased brain activity over non-hoarders in a region associated with decision making when asked to make choices about material items. In other words, we’re much more attached to our things. There’s “greater emotional engagement with belongings.”
I used to be a huge believer in the idea of the self-crafted person based on free will, access to resources, and determination. As I get older, I’m realizing that free will may be an illusion to most of the decisions we’ll make given our subconscious predispositions. Realizing that I’m a hoarder is humorous because I deeply value efficiency in my life. I remember a writing assignment in school where I suggested that criminals caught lying to serious crimes should, in the case of absolute proof of the commission of the crime, be put to death. That was my youthful utopian view of how to deal with crime in society (also assuming law enforcement and the judicial system is honest and efficient).
Now I’m just a few days away from needing to clear out of my place. Hell of a time to realize this, but should make for an interesting challenge. According to this page, “Currently researchers and scientist still do not understand enough about the disorder therefore they have been unable to create an effective hoarding treatment.” I’m going to create my own treatment and pull it off in just a few days. To initially deal with everything I have, I’m developing a strategy (literally as I type this).
Breaking down this move into four areas: essential items, widely valuable items, important documents, and everything else. Okay–editing here to add five… exceptions (though this can be a slippery slope).
My essential items (ie what you’re going to keep and routinely use): Computers/laptop, Photography equipment, clothing
Widely valuable items – stuff to sell, donate, or gift away.
Important documents – pictures, records, etc… most of this is becoming easier as digital formats are pervasive, but I don’t have the time to go through each document, so better safe than sorry.
Everything else – either trash, donation, etc.
Exceptions – This is the category where you get to save you leisurely items. For me, it’d be my AV equipment (though I’d sell what’s in excess). And some select books and magazines. I rarely make the time to read, but I love the idea of books and having something tangible to browse. Workout equipment too (duh).
Magazines -> trash (never going to go back to read it)
Old reference materials -> trash (either take a snapshot, or it’s online)
Toys/Video games -> nephews/nieces
Over the past few years, I’ve been through and learned from a wealth of experiences and loss which has shaped how I live my life. I try to cut the bullshit as much as possible.
Sigh… my mom just called me to ask if I’m going with them to Disneyland today. I told her I’m staying to focus in on getting things done here. I could tell she was upset and angry about the amount of time I’ve had, and it was difficult to try to explain to her succinctly what I’d just discovered. I expressed that I was most nervous about her seeing how much I had, that it is a disease, and that I’m dealing with it. Her frustrated response, “Okay, bye.”
A part of me is frustrated as it’s not necessarily my choice to have gotten to this point (people don’t normally choose to go through shit)! But as I like to say and try, fight the good fight. This one’s more internal and a lot tougher, but we’ll see how it goes.