Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Fear of hoarding

I watched part of an episode of Hoarders last night.  I had never seen an episode, just snippets while channel surfing, commercials between other shows.  But I thought the synopsis sounded interesting: to revisit people the show had helped a year ago.

The people on it were driven, obsessed, and tortured by their hoarding.  They faced the loss of a home or a family member, legal fines or jail time, all without being able to stop themselves from hoarding.  And I wondered, were they normal at one point in their lives?  Did the hoarding start in childhood or was there some trigger event?

I admit it was educational, but it was mostly sad and frightening.  I couldn't watch the whole show.  The subject hit too close to home.

My dad was a hoarder.  My mom kept it mostly in check until they divorced.   With the kids grown with homes of their own, there was no one at my dad's to be the voice of reason.  Different family members cleaned up the clutter periodically, but it never took long to accumulate.  It was mostly paper - books, magazines, newspapers, mail, lists, shopping receipts.  No piece of paper passed through my dad's hands without being kept - just in case.  When he died, there was a small path from the front door to the kitchen and to the bedrooms in between the paper stacks.  My dad was a smoker, so it's a miracle the place never burned down.

Because of my dad, I am a pitcher.  I keep very little that I don't actually use.  I go through closets and cupboards regularly to make sure the contents aren't getting out of hand.  I weed through my book shelves to eliminate those I know I will never reread.  My fear is that hoarding will sneak up on me, that without me realizing it, I will become a hoarder like my dad.

I had bad dreams after watching Hoarders.  When I awoke this morning, the first thing I did was walk into the sewing room.  I grabbed a torn comforter that I was planning to re-cover "someday" and pitched it into the garbage. Rationally, I knew I would never get around to re-covering it.  It was cheaper and easier to just replace it.  But I felt a pang of loss when I closed the garbage can lid.  But it remains in the garbage.

I wonder.  Do hoarders feel that pang of loss and not resist?  Would a borderline hoarder take the comforter back out of the garbage can?  Does that make it easier the next time to justify not discarding something? 

Is hoarding a slippery slope?  Can I keep my footing?  I fervently hope so.

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