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A Story of Hoarding

I attach meaning to things that don't need it - Irene

One day, as she pondered why she had saved a newspaper ad for new tires, she fell into gales of laughter when she noticed the headline: SAVE THIS AD. She was also quick to shed tears when she encountered something sentimental, such as a picture drawn by her son when he was a toddler.

Irene was intelligent and well educated. She seemed to know something about almost every subject and displayed curiosity and a wide range of interests. She had a story to tell about each possession -- most of them remarkably detailed and engaging.

I have met few people who are as interested in the world around them as Irene, though I later learned that this attribute is fairly common in people with hoarding problems. As she talked, I could see the way each of her things was connected to her and how they formed the fabric of her life. The advertisement for the tires led to a story about her car, which led to a story about her daughter wanting to drive, and so on. A piece of the hoarding puzzle seemed to be falling into place. Instead of replacing people with possessions, Irene was using possessions to make connections between people and to the world at large.

As I got to know Irene, it became clear that she was a prototype. She possessed all the characteristics we had been observing in other hoarders: perfectionism, indecision, and powerful beliefs about and attachments to objects. Possessions played a role in her identity, leading her to preserve her history in things. She felt responsible for the well-being of objects, and they gave her a sense of comfort and safety. In addition, things represented opportunity and a chance to experience all that life had to offer.

Irene's recovery taught us a great deal about how these behaviors can change. Most significant was the fact that she made every decision about what to keep and what to discard. Such freedom might have been a license to do little. Yet Irene willingly challenged herself to experience the distress of discarding cherished possessions. Had she not done so, she would not have succeeded. Each possession held a story. Often just telling that story loosened her connection to it and allowed her to let it go. 

Hoarding: When Too Much 'Stuff' Causes Grief
Book : 
Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things
By Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee 

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