Are you a hoarder?

Squalor Survivors ( defines hoarding as follows:

3-part definition of clinical hoarding:

  1. The acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value (Frost and Gross, 1993).
  2. Living spaces are cluttered enough that they can’t be used for the activities for which they were designed (Frost and Hartl, 1996).
  3. Significant distress or impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding.

According to this definition, I am not quite a hoarder, but dangerously close.

My mother would not have met this definition of hoarding, but yet I consider her to have been a hoarder. She was born in a rural area of Canada in the middle of the Great Depression. She could never bring herself to throw out broken things. She would try to meticulously glue things back together. However, I believe she really began to hoard her possessions after my father died.

I was 12 when my father passed away. My mother had grown up at a time and place in which she was encouraged to be a stay at home mom for life. When she got married, she quit her job and devoted her life to being a good wife and mother. This was her profession. When my father died, I think she was shocked to learn that her widow’s pension was in the order of $14,000 CDN per year and that her job skills were considered outdated and she could not find work. She financed herself by moving to smaller and smaller towns, living on the proceeds of selling the house. By the end of her life, she was living by herself in a six bedroom house in the fishing village in which she was born. The house was full of things, but it was clean, tidy and carefully decorated. Behind the closet doors, however… She used to save everything. She would wash the Styrofoam that grocery stores sell meat on and stack them in a cupboard. When I had to go through everything after my mother’s death, I found electricity bills going back to the late 1970s, from houses that were several towns away. My father had died in 1977.

I believe my mother saw her stuff as her security. She overestimated the value of many of the paintings and knick knacks. All her furniture and possessions brought in only a few thousand dollars, less than I currently earn in one month.

I was once closer to meeting the definition of hoarding. I was doing a Ph.D., and would bring home, clip out, collect any material I thought I could use in my doctoral dissertation. I ended up with so much stuff, it was impossible and counter-productive to look at it. I became a researcher in the time before the internet. When I grew up, you had to physically look in filing cabinets through index cards to find library books. The internet made a huge difference to what I now feel I should keep and what I am willing to let go of. If I can find it electronically, I can throw it out or give it away.

The experience of having to plough through my mother’s things also made me rethink the value, or lack thereof, of keeping so much stuff. I also have an only child, and I don’t want to inflict the same experience on her. I want us all to live in a healthy environment now, and to die with only what I need. I am still trying to force myself, day by day, to implement this vision.

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