I once helped a hoarder clean her house. For the longest time afterward I couldn’t stop thinking about how disgustingly filthy she had let her house become. It took me a while before I could process the possibilities of why and how she let it get that way.
Hoarding is an obsessive-compulsive behavior in which someone cannot discard possessions they accumulate. For hoarders, it does not matter if the objects are worthless, unsanitary or hazardous.
It was clear to me that the woman whom I helped had an obsessive-compulsive disorder. She considered the condition of her house a little messy – an understatement of great proportions.
Cat urine saturated the carpet. Moldy, expired food sat in the kitchen without refrigeration. Gnats flew about the pungent remains of Chinese takeout. Junk mail, boxes, and a mess of random items scattered the living room floor in stacks. The smell made it difficult to enter the house. The mounds of accumulated waste made it almost impossible to go further.
For anyone familiar with the various TV shows about hoarding it is not difficult to imagine the challenge I was faced with. I spent several months cleaning and helping her get the house in some sort of order. It felt good to have made a noticeable difference in the condition of the woman’s house and life, but I worried my efforts wouldn’t last long. I knew there was a lot more I could have done.
I later found out I was right. Any trace of the progress I made quickly vanished. The house has once again become a monument of the woman’s inability to part with any object.
I understand that hoarding is a mental disorder and it is, to a certain extent, beyond a person’s ability to control. But my experience cleaning the house of a hoarder made me think of other people I know who aren’t hoarders at all, but are hesitant to use ordinary things that are perceived to be superior to other ordinary things. Things like fancy candles, expensive soap, a prized sweater, a handmade coffee mug, fashionable sunglasses or specific dishes.
The lesson I learned from my experience with hoarding is to enjoy what you have. Use it or lose it. Why save “good” dishes to only use a few times a year? Why not use “good” dishes all year?
It is clear that as a capitalist society we have become obsessed with stuff. Material objects are held in such high regard that we are not even able to enjoy them anymore. So it has been said, the stuff we own ends up owning us.
The purpose of life is to live. The purpose of a candle is to provide light and to burn. Wouldn’t it be better to live life and to burn like a candle until the last flicker of illumination is gone rather than to sit unused on a bathroom sink, collecting dust without the satisfaction of fulfilling your purpose?