September 23, 2010

We Are All Hoarders

Have you seen Mom? She's in here somewhere...

 The most famous example of a compulsive hoarder, Langley Collyer, is mentioned in the opening pages of Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding And The Meaning Of Things by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee. Between 1933 and 1948, Langley filled his mansion in Manhattan with 120 tons of stuff. He gleaned the streets at night, and neighbours watched as the items flowed into (but not out of) the large house.

Both Langley and his handicapped brother Homer were found dead among the possessions that included 11 pianos (one a gift from the Queen of England), and all the parts for a Model T Ford automobile. It was found that Langley was crushed by a heap of stuff that he rigged as a booby trap for potential intruders. Homer, dependent on his brother, died shortly after and was found sitting in a chair in a small clearing amidst the ceiling high piles.

With that kind of beginning I had to continue flipping the pages of Stuff. The stories were fascinating, and I could see that 'normals' are not that much different from the compulsive hoarders described. Most of us are into collecting, whether it is countries visited, or shoes, or decorative spoons, or food. We can not seem to escape our tendencies toward too much.

Before reading this eye-opening book our small apartment had a spacious empty look and feel to it. But now I am starting to feel stifled by even our small amount of possessions. When I look around I see things I have not used for a long time. We have a small storage space on-site, and I don't even like to open it up on the rare occasion that I need to retrieve something.

My space needs a white tornado, a monkanization, an enema. I will use the following words for inspiration before the impending purge.
"As has been apparent to us from studying hoarding, we may own the things in our homes, but they own us as well. Objects carry the burden of responsibilities that include acquisition, use, care, storage, and disposal. The magnitude of these responsibilities for each of us has exploded with the expanding number of items in our homes during the past 50 years. Having all these possessions has caused a shift in our behavior away from human interaction to interaction with inanimate objects.

This is partly a function of the commercialization of our culture. Never has there been so much stuff for people to own and so many ways of peddling it to consumers."
The times of my life that have been the most memorable and meaningful are those times that I had the least amount of stuff. Times that luxury was not present, and I was challenged by life instead of having my skills atrophy in a pampered world of too much.

The no frills student life, living out of a small backpack for a year while traveling, and camping have all taught me that I do not need about 99% of what the corporate world is trying to sell me. Let the purge begin. Freedom will follow.


  1. From this post on you are in the zone dude. Peace out

  2. We just moved and did a massive purge. There will be more to go when we get settled in and figure one what we can use and what is extra. It feels awesome when it's done. Good luck with your purge!

  3. Geneviève,

    Happy housewarming to you all. Enjoy your lightened load. It is a good feeling.

  4. So interesting. I really find the quote from the book regarding human behavior and how we are moving away from human interaction to interaction with "stuff" instead sadly accurate. This is a great blog, I'm enjoying reading here.:)

    1. The good news is that as soon as we make the decision to value people over things, our lives change.

      When we quit focusing on work and stuff, all that is left is us and our relationships.

      Thanks for visiting, and joining in on the conversation.


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