April 13, 2011

Sleeping Under The Stars vs. A Messy Garage

Sleeping under the stars is as basic as it gets

Frost & Hartl's ('96) definition of clinical hoarding:

(1) the acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions that appear to be of useless or of limited value; (2) living spaces sufficiently cluttered so as to preclude activities for which those spaces were designed; and (3) significant distress or impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding.

I watched my first episode of Hoarders recently when I had access to a TV with more than one fuzzy channel. After two episodes I didn't need to see any more. It made me think about these individuals that make up less than 1% of the population, but represent a situation most of us are familiar with in some way in our own lives.

Hoarders represent the far end of the spectrum - hyperstuffism. At the other end we have hypostuffism, or asceticism - living without stuff. The majority of us fall somewhere in between the two, but we may show signs of both.

For example, I enjoy simple surroundings, and have always enjoyed camping. Of all the places I have slept, the best were nights spent in a tent in the wilderness. I have always loved how primal it feels, with nothing separating you from the life surrounding you.

For the full effect, when nights are nice enough, I like to sleep under the stars. I have been woken up by mice repeatedly jumping off of drift logs onto my sleeping bag while I camped out on the beach. I find that kind of simplicity exhilarating.

Then I turn attention to my inner hoarder, because despite my enjoyment of living the pared down life, I also exhibit some traits from the other end of the spectrum. When I look around my living space I can see my own brushes with acquisition, clutter, and impairment of function.

How about the paper plate that a gift of Christmas cookies came on? I can't seem to get rid of it - I found a (questionable) use for it as I absorbed it into my loot lair. Then there is my stash of paper bags of all sizes. Those are useful. Aren't they? Boxes of old bills. Things I haven't used for years taking up room both in my space and my head.

Funny thing is, the definition at the top describes most of us, although in a less clinical way. The owners of most of the garages I have peered into could be seen as exhibiting all of the criteria of hoarding. And there is little doubt that our collections of stuff are causing "significant distress or impairment" both personally and globally.

One solution is to not involve oneself in "the acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions that appear to be of useless or of limited value". But that is darn hard to achieve, and doesn't this describe most of our stuff?

Am I free of the burden of stuff?
If you have ever seen an episode of Hoarders you will know how hard it is for the patients to relieve themselves of their things. But in order to relieve the distress and impairment, possessions that are of limited value or are causing dysfunction, must be eliminated.  

It will be easier for those of us that have not been diagnosed as clinical hoarders, but we may still feel some discomfort as we transform our lives toward increased sustainability and freedom.

But it will be worth it, and it will be a wonderful thing. Like mice using you for a trampoline in the middle of the night as you fall sleep under the stars listening to waves breaking on the beach. A tad unnerving, but when all is said and done, more free and joyful than a messy garage.


  1. My mom is a hoarder. She could be on one of those shows. Which might be why I tend towards the opposite. Although, there are some things that I find inexplicably hard to get rid of. Like the fondue set I got for my wedding and have used a grand total of three times. But it's really nice. And I like the idea of a fondue. It's really got to go.

    Looking forward to camping season. Especially now that I have my fancy inflatable mat rather than a thermarest riddled with holes.

  2. Geneviève,

    Wow, that is quite something about your mom. It can be a difficult situation for everyone. On the other hand, if (or when) we experience collapse, some hoarders homes will become the new General Stores.

    Sooke River Campground is very nice. Come on warm weather.

  3. Yes,that's exactly what my mom says. She always conjures up the poor upbringing and her dresses made of flour sacks. Have you read "World Made by Hand"? It's a post-climate change collapse novel. People started excavating the dumb and created a general store out of the stuff they dig up. Kind of interesting.

    We definitely want to head your way this summer. We'll have to plan around the tides because I'm crazy about tide pools. See you then!


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