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…