Apparently 1 in 20 Americans are secret hoarders. This frankly does not surprise me at all.
I remember when my parents used to tell me to clean my room. It seemed impossible to ever clean my whole room—I had a room then about the size of my apartment now, and it was filled with stuffed animals, craft supplies, and books. So my parents put duct tape on the floor to divide the space in quadrants. I was a Star Trek fan, so I named them after the four galactic quadrants used in the show. And every time I “cleaned” one, I would just move the junk into the next quadrant over. Nothing was every really tidy, just precariously piled. I didn’t go through some of those boxes until I was 19 and moving to California.
I didn’t realize growing up that having a house filled top to bottom with stuff was not how most people lived, in part because the people we hung out with were mostly pagans who had similar clutter in their lives. In a way, it expressed how many interests we had, and there was always something interesting to unearth if you went looking for it. When I went to other kids' houses, the cleanness was unsettling, the cream colored carpets alarming. I was terrified I would stain the floor or break some trinket. I was used to sitting on the floor to watch movies with my parents, because the loveseat was half filled with books and there was no space for another seat.
I thought then it was a little weird but not that strange that one of my chores was to alphabetize the catalogs my parents got, throwing last seasons' away and replacing them with the next. The piles of recycling made sense, because we were ecological—the piles of books made sense because we valued reading and critical thinking. Sure, not being able to sit at the dining room table was sometimes annoying, but we were just messy, or that’s what I told myself. I didn’t know that what I was so used to was not, in fact, normal.
Apparently 1 in 20 Americans are secret hoarders. This frankly does not surprise me at all. We live in a consumerist culture that regularly rewards us for buying things, and encourages us to buy more via sales and coupons. “Treat yo self,” as made famous by Parks and Rec characters Tom and Donna, is all well and good but when you begin to compulsively consume in order to manage feelings, of course it becomes a risk for hoarding. Instead of eating my troubles, I tend to buy makeup and clothes to make myself look good when I feel down.
As I move I still find myself wanting to get a few new clothes or an organizational tool I’m sure will make my life easier and more sorted this time around. I have had to be strict with myself that I can only get something new if I get rid of a full bag—some going to Goodwill, some going to Ebay, some going to a femme clothing swap. The desire to manage my feelings of anxiety through tiny boxes that are too small to be practical from the Container Store is overwhelming and resisting the urge to add to my piles of stuff is very difficult.
For me personally, I think my hoarding nature is in part what feels normal after growing up in a house with parents I might consider hoarders, but hoarders that weren’t SO bad that there were severe health issues or problems with sleeping on a bed. I remember feeling emotional distress when my parents got rid of one of their old cars—I felt they were killing it. I used to sleep on the floor because I couldn’t decide which of my stuffed animals most deserved to sleep on the bed, so they all did. Even to this day I struggle to get rid of stuffed animals. The partner I live with also came partially from hoarding stock, and together we live in an apartment that still feels like it’s messy more than piles of junk, but it still makes me incredibly anxious to be around.
It’s also in part because of having been severely poor, and having to make choices like “buying clothes to wear to work and eating bug filled food from the food pantry” or “wearing clothes that were falling apart but going to a grocery store.” I’ve always struggled most to buy food, because there’s some part of my head that thinks anything you digest and poop out isn’t as worthwhile as a piece of clothing you can wear for years. Eating disorders mixed with severe anxiety mixed with hoarding makes for a pretty miserable combination. And then every time I buy something I want to save it til it’s worn into the ground, because I’m terrified I’ll never be able to afford to buy myself nice things again.
Moving house somewhat frequently has helped with reducing the hoarding, but I have definitely left piles of boxes in people’s homes to “sort through” sometime and felt incredible anxiety about following through. I have to abandon things for long enough to lose attachment to them or getting rid of them, even to Goodwill, becomes so anxiety-producing I am frozen in place. Even now, with all this information in mind, as I pack and sort and get rid of things, I’m finding I need the compassionate but firm supervision of my lovers to keep me from having a panic attack surrounded by boxes. I was horrified to discover I’ve lived with mouse feces under furniture for years and not known because I didn’t move a bookshelf til a couple of days ago. I found black mold in the bathroom, and mold in the dishes in the sink. I try to conquer the mess but it seems daunting, like it’s always so much bigger than I can do alone. Yet I’m certain the mess is making me sick.
As I fill boxes and decide that I don’t need to keep every movie ticket my lovers and I have seen together, I’ve been realizing that with a new home comes the opportunity to organize properly and do things right this time. It’s terrifying, this transition in my life, moving out from living with a partner to living with a roommate, moving closer to my other lovers and to my job, hoping our cats all get along well. I’ve been also trying to realize my longing to buy organizational supplies when I’m not partially moved in yet is also indicative of my hoarding nature and that collecting boxes and bins is also a type of hoarding. I’m hoping I can kick this habit, over time, and that it will relieve some of my anxiety—admitting it is, I guess, one of the first steps, vulnerable and scary though it is. But letting go isn’t just for headweasels anymore . . . at least, so I hear!