Jun 11, 2009

Hoarding Disorder (Part 2)

It was an eye-opener to me when I realized that hoarding disorder can affect any and all ages, sizes, nationalities, and income classes. Some of the symptoms of compulsive hoarding and clutter hoarding are universal, while other nuances of the condition can vary from person to person. There really is no blanket diagnosis that you can set over people where they can fulfill a certain number of symptoms on a checklist, and therefore they have this or that type of obsessive compulsive behavior. No, hoarding is more extreme in one person than it might be in another, and people have varying degrees of attachment to various types of objects. Some people have no problem throwing away old utility bills or receipts from various purchases, while others wouldn’t dare to even think that way. And the same people that may have no issue throwing away financial records would freak out if you asked them to throw away their birthday card collection that they’ve had for 20 years. It’s amazing how much stuff we THINK we need, but the truth is, there’s so much occupying our minds on a daily basis that all the things we’re “saving” for some future time when we supposedly are going to sit down and go through all of our clutter to reminisce or be nostalgic about this or that memory that these items are attached to, in actuality, we’ll probably never look at again. And even if we know that we won’t look at most of those items ever again, we still keep them based on this abstract fantasy that someday we’ll have all the time in the world to actually sort through all that stuff. I’m slowly coming to a reality check that, while spending my time going through old items and enjoying the fond memories of all that they represent sounds great, with a wife & two children, a full-time job, and probably way too much time on the computer, I doubt I’ll EVER actually have the time to fulfill that wish.

I was watching “60 Minutes” this past Sunday, and I almost fell out of my chair when I saw the legend himself, Andy Rooney, talking about his own idiosyncrasies where clutter hoarding is concerned. He was talking about how he keeps old appointment books, old files of things that he intends on reading (article clippings from magazines, etc.), and other “piles-o-files” that he admitted himself he’ll never actually do anything with. I laughed to myself, and my wife said “Sounds familiar?” (trust me, she’s well acquainted with my hoarding tendencies). He said something to the effect that even though he knows he’ll probably never do anything with those stacks of papers and files, it just feels comforting to have them around. I know exactly what he’s talking about. Some people are so tied to their stuff that they have their identity wrapped up in their possessions, and for them to throw away their stuff, it’s almost like every piece they discard is also throwing away a piece of themselves. Even though I have been negatively affected by hoarding disorder, I can be objective enough to step back and say that this is some pretty fascinating stuff.

Apr 23, 2009

Hoarding Help

Today I came across a fascinating news story about hoarding disorder that really startled me, intrigued me, and at the same time saddened me. It was a recent news story (January of this year) according to the Sun, a very popular UK newspaper, about a man named Gordon Stewart, 74, who literally died of malnutrition in a maze of his own clutter. He lived in Broughton, Bucks, and evidently was a pretty peaceful citizen who didn’t really bother anybody, and that may have been one of the reasons why nobody even knew about the incident until too late. He piled trash so high in all of the rooms of his house that he literally created a labyrinth of trash that he eventually had to learn how to navigate around in order to get through his house. Trash, papers, old electronics parts, etc. were piled from floor to ceiling in this gentleman’s home, and evidently it got to the point to where he couldn’t even figure out his own way around the maze, so he died of dehydration. The newspaper called him a “human mole”, because he literally had to BURROW his way through tunnels of garbage to get from one room to the next.

This is an astounding thing in my mind, and it got me thinking about my own (much milder) struggles with compulsive hoarding, and why in the heck this condition even exists. From what I understand based on the news article, Mr. Stewart had no next of kin, was an elderly man, and was somewhat eccentric and reclusive. I guess you could call him a “loner” of sorts. What I started thinking was that a person who is a loner and has little to no contact with other human beings can become susceptible to these types of impulses because deep down, they do desire human companionship. But maybe due to insecurities, bad experiences with people, lack of trust in people in general, or a host of other psychological issues, they push people away and opt for clutter to be their companion instead. Basically, the clutter becomes their “companion” in a weird sort of way. It gives them a sense of security and comfort, knowing that if they don’t have another human being to rely on in this world, they have their clutter to “insulate” them from the realities of life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an expert on the psychology of hoarding, but this is just an observation I’ve been mulling around in my head for quite a while. All in all, that was a very sad story.

As to the causes of hoarding disorder, they can be as varied as the people that suffer from the condition. One thing I’ve seen pretty much across the board is that hoarders suffer with issues of safety and security. They feel “exposed” without their clutter, almost like an agorophobe feels vulnerable in open spaces. I noticed in my own life that I would get this extremely insecure and anxious feeling any time I would walk in a very open space where there was a lot of distance between me and anything else, such as certain areas of shopping malls that are out in the open. I would feel like I needed to find something to hold onto. I know it sounds weird, but it’s true. This same feeling of vulnerability or lack of security is probably one of the roots to the hoarding symptoms I’ve dealt with. I can say that even as a young child I just remember that the more “clutter” I surrounded myself with (stuffed animals, toys, etc.), the more safe & secure I felt. I remember many times I would even take all my toys out of the toy box, lay on the floor or on the bed, and then pile all of them up around me and on top of me, and once I was done, it felt good to be surrounded by all that junk. LOL.

So for those who are seeking help with hoarding, I would say that the first step is to examine your own sense of security. Do you feel unsafe without being surrounded by a lot of stuff? Just some food for thought…

Feb 20, 2009

OCD Hoarding (Part 2)

When I first started this study on compulsive hoarding, and it really started dawning on me that I was truly a case study on hoarding myself, it was somewhat of a shock to my system, and also somewhat embarrassing. I still can’t believe how blind I’ve been to it all these years. Let me let you in on a few things about me: I would keep practically anything that represented something I didn’t want to forget. For instance, I used to ride the trains before I got my own car, and when you ride the trains, you normally buy a transit card to get around. I actually have a collection of transit cards that I kept, week after week. I actually kept about three years’ worth of those weekly cards, and I still have them today. In my mind, as whacked-out as this sounds, they are a reminder of a time in my life where I was struggling financially, and part of me never wants to forget that time so that I don’t get lazy and end up going back to it. That sounds pretty noble and inspirational, but then there are other things I have accumulated that simply don’t make any sense. I would keep napkins from any fast food place I visited throughout the week. I always made sure to grab a ton of napkins when I would eat in at any fast food joint, and then I would keep all the extra napkins in the glove compartment of my car, or in my laptop bag. My rationale was that just in case I spilled something, or needed to blow my nose, or whatever, I would have something to wipe my hands with if I ever needed it. This turned into me keeping half-used napkins with unidentified stains on them, and then this turned into me balling them up when they were fully used, but still keeping them for some reason.

I was an absolute pack rat, and I felt guilty for throwing anything away until I felt like it could absolutely not be used anymore, in any way whatsoever. One of the worst examples of this (shamefully) is the way I would keep plastic Ziploc bags. If I took some food to work in a Ziploc bag, I would keep the bag and rinse it out, and use it again. This would get to the point of ridiculousness after a while, because I would accumulate Ziploc bags but procrastinate on rinsing them out. Consequently, after a while I would have a desk drawer full of Ziploc bags with gunk and crumbs in them from days or weeks ago. Talk about hoarding disorder taken to ridonkulous levels.

About the only thing that has ever paid off for me in the hoarding arena is when I started keeping all my Altoids tins. I’m an Altoid-aholic, and I have always kept the tins for really no reason other than they just seemed too useful to throw away. After a while, I had accumulated around 30 or so Altoids tins, and I decided to find out if people bought the empty tins on eBay. To my surprise, they actually did, so I sold a lot of 25 Altoids tins for about 15 bucks…Hey who said that compulsive hoarding doesn’t pay! LOL

Feb 14, 2009

OCD Hoarding

Growing up, I never would have classified myself as a hoarder, nor would I ever have imagined that I had an issue with compulsive hoarding. But the more I could break free from it and look at it objectively (and unemotionally), the more I realized that there were a lot of things about the way I thought and my very thought patterns that absolutely fostered a hoarder’s mentality. The psychology of hoarding is a very delicate subject, and it’s one that can’t be written off or resolved with blanket answers. As a matter of fact, I would venture to say that there are just as many “shades of gray” when you talk about OCD hoarding as there are people who suffer from the disorder. And let me be clear: Hoarding is definitely a disorder. Take it from someone who has felt the effects of it, and has actually had to come to terms with it for himself. I can hardly believe that I even had an issue with it, but the more I started doing research on hoarding, I started seeing myself as someone who fit the bill!

I can’t even hardly describe the “weirdness” of it all: So many times I would attempt to clean my room, or some “junk drawer” (I had several of them), or some other cluttered part of the house, and any time I would pick something up that I hadn’t even looked at or thought about in 8 months or whatever, I would sit there and agonize over whether or not to throw it away. I would justify keeping it in my own mind by saying “Hey, I might need this later”, or “What if something happens and I’m not able to find this anywhere again?”, and stuff like that. It’s amazing how the mind works like that. I’ve heard it said that “The human fear of losing something is greater than the human desire to have more”. I can truly say that this applies when it comes to compulsive hoarding. I was the quintessential pack rat; I would keep all kinds of receipts from grocery store purchases, along with old utility bill statements, ticket stubs from ANY kind of event I went to, and Lord knows I kept every single birthday card, Christmas card, Thanksgiving card, and any other type of holiday card (heck, even Ash Wednesday). My whole big rationale for keeping all that crap was basically the fact that I just felt guilty about throwing it out, or I felt unsure that I wouldn’t ever need it again, or I felt like I was being irresponsible by throwing it out, because hey, you can use it sometime in the future, right? I would keep screws, nuts, bolts, etc. for pieces of equipment that I didn’t even own anymore, all in the name of “just in case I need it one day”. What the crap??!!??

Compulsive hoarding is a dirty devil. It really is. I have learned in so many ways how to tame this issue in my life, especially after marrying my wife, who is the EXACT opposite of a hoarder. The main issue with Obsessive Compulsive Hoarding Disorder, however, is the fact that your whole mentality has to make a shift before you can really be liberated from its clutches. I plan on talking about this more as I continue in my journey of being completely free from compulsive hoarding.

Feb 7, 2009

Compulsive Hoarding Disorder: Some Case Studies

Compulsive Hoarding Disorder

One of the things I always love to do is research. I’m somewhat of a research hog, and when it came to my new interest in compulsive hoarding disorder, I realized that I had a whole new playground of research to work with. A whole new dimension is added to it when you are also personally dealing with the problem that you are researching…you can understand the experience from an entirely different angle.

Basically, in the midst of my research, I discovered that YouTube is an awesome place to look for basically any topic you want to research. I started searching for any kinds of videos about hoarding disorder, compulsive hoarding, clutter hoarding, and other related topics, and I came upon some great documentaries and videos that were pretty darn astounding. I found quite a few videos that document extreme cases of hoarding disorder, and let me tell you, I thank God that I discovered “the error of my ways” before it got to the extremes that I have witnessed in some of those videos. Here are two videos I found that I believe you will find fascinating:

Compulsive Hoarding Disorder (Part 1)

Hoarders Part 1

Compulsive Hoarding Disorder (Part 1)

Hoarders Part 2

Continue to stay tuned to Compulsive Hoarding Help for more insight into this serious and fascinating issue.

Jan 2, 2009

Clutter Hoarding

Accumulating stuff that has little intrinsic value and then assigning it a disproportionate amount of value is one major symptom of clutter hoarding. One of the worst ones for me was keeping practically every birthday card, Christmas card, Thanksgiving card, and any other type of card that anyone had ever given me, even if it was for a birthday that I had 10 years ago. I always felt guilty at even the thought of throwing those cards away, so I had a shoebox full of cards from over the years. This is yet another symptom of a hoarder; they attach such a sentimental value to everything that they feel it would be doing the giver of a gift an injustice if they were to throw it away, even long after the usefulness of the gift was obsolete. This attachment of “sentimental value” actually runs pretty deep; it’s a way to preserve your sense of sameness and normalness, and is actually an offshoot of the fear of the unknown. You’re afraid of letting go of things because of what they “mean” to you, and it’s always based in the past…it’s almost as if you believe that the way things were in the past is the best your life was ever going to be, so you want to keep the things that remind you of the past. You basically short-change yourself right out of believing that anything good (or even—gasp—BETTER) can happen to you in the future.

So in a sense, that old saying is true: “The human fear of losing something is greater than the human desire to have more.” This is an offshoot of a poverty mentality, one that says you have to hold on to everything you’ve got (or ever had), for fear that you may not get anything else like it again. That, my friends, is broke-minded thinking. A lot of what I’m learning about this hoarding disorder stuff is basically helping me to see how much my upbringing has had to do with my current state of living. Growing up, we never had anything more than just enough to stay afloat. There really was no such thing as having “disposable income” in our family; it was basically “Let’s rob Paul this month to pay Peter instead, since we owe him from last month.” So it was ingrained into me to hold on to whatever I had, because there may not be enough to make it next week. It’s really hard to let go of stuff when you’re not sure you’re going to see the likes of it again. This has obvious drawbacks, namely the fact that you’ll go into “hyper-accumulation” mode and not want to let go of ANYTHING. So, you begin to hoard and accumulate and clutter up your living space with all of these items that are basically worthless now, but will be “worth something” in the future (a little side note: That future date where these items all of a sudden gain in value by leaps & bounds never happens).

It’s amazing how as you go along, you begin to peel back layer after layer of this stupid hoarding disorder mentality, almost like an onion. I’m determined to eliminate the whole clutter hoarding way of thinking out of my mentality, and hopefully shed some light to help others along the way as well.