My younger sister has a friend, “Neva,” whose mother died at the age of 92. Neva, an only child, lived far away in another state with her own family, and because of health issues, was able to visit her mother only occasionally.
When the time came to empty and clean the mother’s house to put it up for sale, Neva and her husband were on their own. For one last time, Neva had to reckon with her mother’s hoarding disorder.
Towers of newspapers, bank statements, and books filled nearly all the rooms, with narrow passageways to navigate. The danger of stacks tipping over and injuring someone was ever present. The doors into the various rooms were almost impossible to open from all of the clutter. Clothes jammed the closets and the drawers of dressers. In the basement, Neva found not only numerous pieces of furniture, but also crates full of porcelain dishware, some of which were wedding gifts to her parents, most left behind by her parents’ grandmothers and great-grandmothers.
As much as it pained Neva to dispose of family heirlooms and items that had meant so much to her mother, she had no choice. She kept her own home clean, neat, and streamlined, and she did not want to create space for her mother’s clutter. In the end, Neva had various thrift stores pick up as much as they wanted, and she threw away the rest.
My sister told this story at brunch to a small group of friends one day. Most of them shook their heads, others listened with shocked faces. Then Jonas spoke up.
“How could they throw away that poor lady’s things like that?” He sounded upset. All eyes turned to him.
“Neva had little time to do so much,” my sister replied. “No one offered to help. And she was flying back home. What was she supposed to do with the boxes and boxes of clothes, shoes, appliances, papers, spices, you name it, things that had not been used or looked at for decades?”
“Still, it’s not right,” Jonas said. His face his betrayed his anguish, as if his own possessions had been thrown away.
No one else said anything. They all knew that Jonas, too, was a hoarder. He had tall stacks of newspapers, magazines, junk mail, and expired supermarket fliers all over his living room and on his kitchen table and counters. Things had become so bad, no one wanted to visit him any more.
I have read that up to 6% of the population may suffer from hoarding disorder.
I see that hoarder mindset on a bigger scale, disguised as “there’s not enough to go around.” It’s a mindset built into the very fabric of access to healthcare, economic opportunity, education, home ownership, and safety.
I have never accepted that view. I believe that there IS enough of everything in this world and that there is no reason to deny access to the things that stabilize a society. The problem is that hoarders want to hold on to more than they can ever possibly use, to the detriment of everyone else.
In the U.S., for example, a generous, controversial tax cut recently went to the wealthiest people and corporations. As justification, officials relied on the old “trickle down” idea (which has never been proven), that the tax break would lead to higher wages, the creation of new jobs, and investment in new businesses. Instead, the money gained from the tax breaks was hoarded, not spent on raises, additional workers, or business expansion.
This resistance to productive investments – such as in economic development, public works projects, meaningful job training – prevails in many other countries. It goes hand-in-hand with the eroding middle class, poverty, mistrust of government, and social unrest.
Imagine if people throughout the world had access to better healthcare, better housing, better food, good-paying and safe employment, clean water, clean air. There would be fewer excuses for wars, for turning to drugs and alcohol, for fear and hatred of each other.
Does this sound idealistic? I won’t apologize – it’s a world I’d like to live in, and it should not be impossible to achieve. After all, hoarding disorder is a treatable illness.