Have you ever seen that show “Hoarders” on A&E (“A&E” for Arts & Entertainment Television; I can see the “Entertainment,” but I have yet to see the “Art”) (see also MTV)? If you have ever seen it, even accidentally, it’s kind of hard to stop watching, like a train wreck. Basically, it seems to be about people in a state of personal crisis, with a compulsive disorder that, triggered either by some innate psychological condition, or some personal tragedy, or both, can’t stop keeping stuff.
And it’s not even cool stuff. Or nice stuff. In fact, if you were to happen upon an episode midway through, without knowing the premise, you would just think that these people had decided to fill their homes full of garbage and live in it. It is all very sad. And yet you can’t stop watching.
I think I find this so fascinating because I have, several times over the years, been accused of engaging in similar behavior. I don’t remember if I have ever actually been called a “hoarder,” but I have been called a “pack rat,” a “compulsive collector,” and a “sentimentalist.”
I don’t think this is accurate (well maybe the last one, a little bit). But I wouldn’t say that I am a compulsive hoarder. I save things, but they have intense sentimental value to me. For example, I have a receipt from the day the twins were born. Not for anything monumental (I think it was Snickers and some Red Bull). But I look at the receipt, and it brings me back to that morning, and it makes me smile. Makes me happy. And who couldn’t use more things like that in their life? And it’s one little piece of paper. So what’s the harm?
I keep movie ticket stubs. Notes and letters from friends I have long since lost touch with. Shoes my kids have grown out of/worn out. Old planners. Clothing items I no longer wear but that remind me of a time or an event or a someone. And many, many other things.
The test is, I look at the item, and if it makes me feel something, remember something, smile, I keep it. And so I keep a lot of things. But I don’t think that means I have a pathological condition (though they that do, too, probably don’t think they suffer from any condition either) (I am reminded of Catch 22, where the crazy don’t know that they’re crazy, and the not crazy are known to be not crazy precisely because they claim to be crazy) (not that wanting to keep things that have a sentimental value to you makes you crazy).
Some people don’t feel this way at all, and have no tolerance for those that do. You can recognize these people because they seem to be in a perpetual state of decluttering. They throw away birthday cards as soon as they get them, give away used clothing, always like to keep things neat and orderly. They may not be wrong, but that doesn’t make them right.
I don’t know, maybe I do have a mild condition. Certainly nothing extreme enough to be on a show. I do hide and sneak things. My house is not overflowing, but I have a disorganized, overflowing drawer or two. And I have a very high tolerance for what I like to call “organized chaos.” Maybe that’s how it starts. Maybe it will be my whole house some day. But you know what, if I stick to my test, and every one of those items represents a happy memory, a special moment, a happy time, I think that will be all right with me.