Friday, April 30, 2010

Hoarding is Ruining Our Country

Yes, hoarding is ruining our country, because it diverts wealth that all of us have into objects the hoarder renders useless. Not very long ago, most people even in this rich country did not own many possessions. If you visit the governor’s mansion in Williamsburg, Virginia, the furnishing are sparse. If you check out Biltmore in North Carolina, built by the wealthy Vanderbilts, furnishings are opulent but there is lots of empty floor space. If you watch televisions shows that depict the homes of current celebrities, you will see that they may have many possessions, but they also have generous space for all of them. Why is it that, today, in ordinary American houses everywhere, excess possessions are jammed into every available space, often on top of each other and spilling across areas where people need to walk?

Everyone, including me, is very kind to hoarders to their faces, because we can see how completely oversensitive they are to reality. They can’t face it and they don’t thank us for telling the truth about how they live. But they want even more from us: They want us to ignore the sheer waste of their behavior. A lot of that waste is monetary. Hoarders usually claim they merely have a sorting problem. If they admit there is any problem at all, they claim they’ve just gotten overwhelmed. If they invite in normal people to help them, it is not to remove the clutter: it is to sort the clutter. They don’t want to part with any of their excess possessions. They just want the enormous piles of clutter to somehow miraculously fit into the inadequate space they have.

A scary television show, “Buried Alive,” visits the homes of extreme hoarders and shows them getting therapy over a period of time and trying to reduce their piles. I hope they succeed. Alas, these are not isolated instances. Serious cluttering-into-hoarding is a growing disease in our country. How many people do you know who waste money by keeping possessions in storage, for instance? Who trash pick? Who are addicted to home shopping television or eBay auctions or flea markets? Some people joke that a yard sale is when you put out all your junk and other people take it back to their homes. So true. How many ugly clothes, badly designed toys, now many completely unnecessary and useless decorative items make the trudge from one household to another each year? I know some people find this an entertaining and inexpensive method of shopping, but why go looking for useless junk?

Why not put your money to work for you? Sure, we've had a tough time recently with the stock market, but historically, the middle and lower classes have not been involved in the stock market and instead found their wealth in other ways. One way is to save money, just save it, whether in a cookie jar or a bank account. Another way is to make investments in people: Help a relative or friend, give money and time to charity, and so on. A third is to nourish a small business; a major reason most of them fail is undercapitalization. You could lend someone money, all tied up legally with a written agreement, or micro-lend through the Internet and earn interest while helping build a capitalist enterprise, whether in this country or elsewhere. You also could do what Americans did 100 years ago: restore broken items to usefulness, and sell or donate them. Finally, you could spend your money on improving yourself: on more education, on recreation that refreshes your soul and restores your body, on maintenance of your home, and much, much more. The possibilities are endless.

Interestingly, a lot of hoarders claim that they plan to fix broken items and then sell them or give them away. But they don't; instead, they stockpile them. People who compulsively shop for clothing don't even try to rationalize their need for hundreds of purses. This is wasteful behavior, and in some cases it is the financial ruination of a family. Unfortunately, no approach to cure hoarding has been found to work on a lasting basis. People who overbuy or overcollect slowly slip into trashing up their homes, renting storage units, even buying additional houses just to hold their excess possessions. They alienate their relatives and friends, and end up alone with their hoard.

What I dislike most about hoarding, aside from the sheer disgusting, unsanitary aspect of it (and make no mistake, most hoarders are creating toxic conditions--imagine all that formaldehyde outgassing in a cramped home, plus all the mold being created), is the waste. Americans are the richest people in the history of mankind, and we are throwing away our wealth on useless trifles and trash, or on excess volumes of useful items that we then turn into trash. That's why I say hoarding is ruining our country.

So far, this might sound like just another antihoarding rant. But we can do something about our hoarding tendencies. That's the subject of my next post.

1 comment: said...

I'm fascinated and would love to see your next post. Sadly, I fall into the "got too much stuff" category myself. Every-time I throw out the garbage I look at it and think of all the money it represents. When I look around my place and see the clutter that stresses me, I think of all the money I wasted. I understand your harshness, too many excuses are made, yet, I think you are not cynical enough. At least part of the reason we have too much stuff because that is the only way the economy will work. Every effort is made to make us want more and more. One of the reasons we are fat is that food is a product. The only way for the "Industry" to grow is for us to eat more. The only way for the "economy" to grow is for us to have more stuff. If you have one TV you need two. If you have one DVD player you need another and a Blueray Player.

A related component, that my wife pointed out, is that the management skills for our domestic life have gone the way of the Dodo. You point out that we are the richest society in the history of the world, and by an insane margin in fact. Historically by the time anyone had acquired as much stuff as a typical American they had also acquired a staff, or at least a helper, to run it. How much stuff did a minor European noble actually have? Less then we might think. For the purpose of this discussion it doesn't matter if the jewelry is real diamonds or glass, it still requirers someone to know where it is, what it good for, what condition it is in, how to clean it, how to repair it, and, when it is not worth repairing, what to do with it. This creates feelings of unhappiness and stress, which we deal with by buying more stuff.