I should have seen the signs: the way I sobbed after throwing away my twenty-year-old baby blanket even though it was torn and thin (and dirty and smelly). The way I kept all of my elementary school assignments, including the ones I didn’t complete. The cups I kept on my bookshelves filled with staples, sticky notes, and bottle caps that I just couldn’t throw away because… What if I need all this crap someday?
In fact, I did see the signs, but shows like “Hoarders” made it easy to rationalize what I was doing; after all, my home is, basically, functional and sanitary. (Although, here is where I should probably admit that I hire a cleaning service to help with the functional and sanitary part.)
Recently, however, I decided that the stuff in our apartment was becoming truly prohibitive, so I decided to bite the bullet and shed some of my crap. But I had no idea what I was getting into. Seven boxes and five huge trash bags later (and miles left to go) I realized that some was a slight understatement. The word hoarder was in the back of my mind.
In those seven boxes and five trash bags, I have poured piles of old mail, several-year-old index cards with random words scribbled on them, and a box full of decimated shoes.
A stash of past-expiration peanut butter granola bars that neither my husband nor I can eat because of allergies.
A plastic Halloween bag with a ton of candy I didn’t want because I thought at the time, “What if we run out of all other food and we need sustenance?” I chose to ignore the fact that we have two bookshelves full of emergency food storage.
Extra wedding announcements. Approximately two hundred extra wedding announcements. For our wedding three years ago. And yes, I have pulled them out of boxes several times, only to put them right back in. Just, y’know, in case.
Little girl undies and by that I mean MY little girl undies. Undies I haven’t worn in years but that I used to wear them. Now, they would not make it very far past my knees, but still I rolled them up and put them away in a box. WHY?
A box of old contacts that I, also, have not worn in years (approximately six years, to be precise) because I took horrible care of them in high school and they wore down my corneas. I even remember being sad when I lost the box of contacts for my left eye; yet I kept the box for my right. (The list could go on, but let’s stop there, shall we?)
So after arguing with my husband about whether or not we should keep the baby swing that we pulled out of a pile of junk — for the specific purpose of throwing it out — our toddler started pushing it. So now, suddenly, we were keeping it.
We knew we had a problem.
I asked him to pull up what the DSM V says about hoarding, and we started reading.
I already knew that hoarding used to be a subset of OCD (having done a tango with OCD in college that only subsided with medication). I didn’t know that the DSM V had created a completely separate category for hoarding because hoarding behaviors don’t respond to the same treatments that work for OCD behaviors.
I learned that the minority of people who do hoard because of OCD have three major differences. Those with OCD hoarding tend to find their behavior unpleasant or upsetting, don’t actively try to accumulate stuff, and aren’t deeply interested in what they accumulate. I think I probably belong somewhere in between the two camps or, rather, in both of them.
I learned that apparently, the DSM V (the psychologist’s bible) doesn’t consider books, magazines, newspapers, outdated clothing, or old mail to be of real-world value. Strange! And, it turns out, people who hoard likely hoard these sorts of things. In fact people may have a spare bedroom dedicated to the accumulation of stuff. (Yeah. That sounded way too familiar.)
I learned that getting rid of ALL THE THINGS can produce massive anxiety. In fact, I’ve been there before.
So instead of rushing through the decluttering process, which I know I need to do at some point, I have decided that people should give themselves the room to shed their belongings at a rate they are comfortable with and have supports in place to help them deal with the emotional aftermath. Yeah. #whyitherapy
Most of all, I learned that hoarding is a behavior that causes problems, such as obsessing or being depressed. The term “hoarder” carries a sense of finality and identity and shame, not unlike “addict.” So, I will not use that word to describe myself. Instead I will say I am someone who has been known to hoard and am presently trying not to.
Oh, and we’re keeping the food storage supply we put together in 2014 that takes up two whole book shelves — y’know, in case of a nuclear apocalypse.