Every morning, on my way into the office building where I work, I pass a certain parking spot in the garage’s basement. The spot is the closest to the building’s entrance door, so the driver who daily claims the spot must be one of the first to arrive each morning. Every day, it is one of two vehicles: a mid-sized four-door car or a small pickup truck. But my suspicion is that the same person owns both of them.
Both vehicles are stuffed to the gills with, well, stuff. There is room for the driver in each car, but not for anyone else. Much of it looks like it might be trash to most people — including empty cups and shopping bags — yet I couldn’t help but notice some shoes and a large purse also filled with stuff.
I suspect the owner is a hoarder. And I’m starting to wonder if I might be one as well.
Let me say that my car looks nothing like those two I have seen in the parking garage. In fact, my SUV is pretty clean and has plenty of space for passengers as long as they don’t have to sit in the cargo area, which is packed with boxes and books and stuff. My house doesn’t look quite like the houses on the TV show about hoarding — not quite.
I don’t want to understate the severity of hoarding disorder, which is recognized as both a stand-alone mental illness and as a symptom of other mental illnesses. According to the staff of the Mayo Clinic, “It’s not clear what causes hoarding disorder. Genetics, brain chemistry and stressful life events are being studied as possible causes.”
As for treatment, that same report says: “Although the primary intervention for hoarding disorder is psychotherapy, research continues on the most effective ways to use medications in the treatment of hoarding disorder. The medications most commonly used are a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).”
At the website for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, hoarding is defined as the persistent difficulty to get rid of possessions regardless of the value. Different from collecting things, the volume of what a hoarder accumulates sets them apart from other people and usually has negative emotional, social, financial and physical effects for the hoarder and family members.
According to the AADA, someone who hoards may exhibit the following behaviors:
- Inability to throw away possessions
- Severe anxiety when attempting to discard items
- Great difficulty categorizing or organizing possessions
- Indecision about what to keep or where to put things
- Distress, such as feeling overwhelmed or embarrassed by possessions
- Suspicion of other people touching items
- Obsessive thoughts and actions: fear of running out of an item or of needing it in the future; checking the trash for accidentally discarded objects
- Functional impairments, including loss of living space, social isolation, family or marital discord, financial difficulties, health hazards
Perhaps the hoarding that I do is a symptom of my depression, which apparently is possible. I don’t necessarily keep trash or hoard food or animals, but I do tend to hold onto many things that logic tells me I don’t need and never will use.
My two-car garage is full to the point of not having much room to walk inside it; a lot of that “stuff” is a collection of boxes with old newspapers, books and used notebooks from the newspaper job I left 15 years ago. One of our bedrooms essentially is a large closet. Our master bedroom is filled with books and clothes. In my basement, in addition to my baseball card collection, I have somewhere stored all the letters I received in eighth grade from my girlfriend at the time.
I’ve always called my piles of books and papers around the house “clutter.” Like many people, I link much of that stuff to sentiment. I don’t need it. I protest that I would discard some of it and sell the rest in a garage sale if I simply had the time. But the fact is, I’m bothered by the thought of releasing much of it.
I won’t say I’m concerned. My eyes are open a little wider, though, and I might need to discuss this with my therapist.