Declutter Dieticians Blog!

Creeping Clutter Can Create Chaos

A Hoarder’s Lament

In the course of managing estate sales, I was summoned by a lawyer to look at a house where a man was found dead faced down beneath a mountain of debris and discovered days after his passing. It was determined he suffered a fatal blow to his head by a bronze sculpture of the Greek Warrior Achilles which had been perched on an overburdened shelving unit near the old man’s bed.  The broken shelving and quantities of objects and magazines that were strewn all around him painted a clear picture of the events leading up to his last moments.

The rest of the room was a riot of massive piles of various and sundry items carelessly thrown on boxes and shelving much like the one that relented under the accumulated weight which led to the demise of the frail old gentleman.  He had lived in the dark, crowded rooms for over 60 years.   He and his wife were obsessive collectors of artifacts and things that struck their fancy.  Over time, the collections grew and somehow eventually took over the house.  His wife left him for her high school beau breaking the man’s heart and he lost all interest in the house.  The neglect of his final decade was evidenced throughout the property.

This may seem an extreme example, but it is not as uncommon as one would think.  By definition; a hoarder exhibits a pattern of behavior characterized by the excessive acquisition of and inability to discard large quantities of objects.  Historical studies show that acquiring and retaining objects, even when they are not necessary for survival, is not only nearly universal, but also has been part of human behavior since the earliest human societies.  Perhaps even the caveman had a stash of clubs of various shapes and sizes cluttering his cave or had nooks

loaded with a tasteful collection of loin cloths.  At that time, it was referred to as hunting and gathering.  Despite the ubiquitous nature of the hoarder, very little is known about what drives humans to collect.  Animals also exhibit this trait...consider the lowly squirrel and his nuts.

Making order in a hoarder house is challenging but also like an archaeological dig and usually the most fun for the prospective buyers who frequent estate sales.  Unearthing a piece of history to complete one’s collection is most thrilling for a buyer.  Many people have had a collection of some kind at some point in their lives.  I personally do not collect but would consider becoming a chocolate hoarder if I could figure out how to keep it from melting once the refrigerator could no longer accommodate my stash for summer enjoyment.

It is conceivable that a collector could one day cross the line and become a hoarder but like so many other cultural shifts, this tendency is declining.  The older generations remained in one place for their entire lives and things just added up.  The younger generations opt for a more streamlined lifestyle.  However, it seems an inescapable historical fact that people tend to collect so perhaps it is only the objects of desire that will change.

In this regard, I have noticed a shift, but it seems inevitable that accumulations will still seem to pile up. The garage seems now to have become the repository for abandoned hobbies, or that assortment of hockey gear left behind by an ex-boyfriend or board games that have been replaced by technology.  The garage also contains other objects that have been made obsolete and seem still too good to discard.  Along with the old paint can the collection of liquor decanters, just about every house I have managed has a George Forman Grill carefully stored away often still in the original box.

I was tempted to become a collector at one time.  I particularly love Victorian furnishings which lured me into a brief fling with Victorian brass easel back picture frames.  They are small and since I usually live in small quarters, I was in no danger of taking things to the next level but after a while, the romance faded.  Perhaps I did not have the degree of dedication necessary for collecting for I have no trouble letting go.  Some collectors cannot let go and I think this has been historically true and in other cultures.  The Ancient Egyptians come to mind as it seems they were somehow convinced they could collect a bunch of stuff and then take it with them to an afterlife.

The type of collectible was, of course, slightly different back in the day.  Collectibles had meaning or were symbolic and held the promise of bringing the wearer good luck.  They collected with a mind toward taking it with them when they passed on.  I am suggesting that they collected Soul Food!  They collected amulets, charm bracelets, Scarabs, the Eye of Horus, or anything considered to be somehow enchanted and would attract good fortune or please the gods.  I must state the obvious here and say that when you are lying in a sarcophagus wrapped in bandages and shoved into a stone pyramid, your luck had pretty much already run out.  It also occurred to me that unless the collections could be vaporized and sent off with the soul on its journey to eternity, they would be left behind in the dirt for somebody else to find and ship off to a local auction or presented to collectors lined up at dawn in front of the pyramid of Giza for the Really Great Estate sale. be continued


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