The People Who Can’t Let Go Of Things

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People in modern technological society have developed many different addictions to fill the emptiness they feel as a result of living in the experiential vacuum that is so much a part of everyone’s field of experience today.  Overeating, drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, video games.  There is however one addiction that seldom seems to get talked about very much, seldom seems to be the subject of as great a concern among mental health professionals.  Which doesn’t mean that there aren’t any self-help groups for it based on the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.  I am talking about hoarding.  

Hoarding is the uncontrollable accumulation of a lot of disparate things in one’s home and/or car and it is based on the inability of someone to go through his home or car and get rid of those things that he doesn’t really want or need.  Hoarding is to be distinguished from collecting certain things like dolls or books or antiques.  A collection is not the result of random accumulation.  Rather it is the result of focused cultivated desires, and just as the desires are focused, so the placement of the collected objects is usually organized in such a way that it doesn’t impede movement in the house or apartment.  Hoarding, on the other hand, usually results in random clutter such that movement in the domicile is significantly impeded.  Some people end up with no floor surface on which to walk.  And yet, fundamentally the person has no significant emotional attachment to the objects that form the basis of the clutter.  It’s just that the person, for some reason, has difficulty letting go of it.

I have recently discovered that many of the people in a particular group of friends that I have are practically all hoarders.  Knowing these people has given me a more intimate perspective of what is going with them as well as why there seems to be relatively less attention paid to their problem. 

To start with, I think the reason that there is less attention focused on hoarding as opposed to other addictions is that hoarding doesn’t cause any kind of obvious direct danger to the hoarder or to the people around him.  Overeating, alcoholism, and drug addiction can each lead to physical health problems for the addict related to the consumption or inhaling of certain products.  Sex addiction can lead to a predisposition to contract as well as to pass on STDs.  It can also lead to violent encounters with sexual partners.  An addiction to gambling can lead to unbearable financial losses that can result in the impoverishment of individuals as well as families.  It can lead to a gambler going into debt with the wrong kind of people that, if not paid back on time, can seriously injure or even kill the gambler.  Video game addicts are frequently children or adolescents whose addiction can lead to a psychological withdrawal from the external world: from family, from school and from friends.

All of these addictions have one thing in common: the generation of abrasive stimuli or kicks in order to temporarily pull oneself out of numbness and thus to feel alive.  Hoarding works on a very different principle.  It represents the making of a mess from a lot of different things in one’s home or one’s car.  By making a mess from these random things, one attempts to create an artificial source of organic grounding.  Each new random item added to the clutter adds to the space where one can feel grounded.  In other words, for a hoarder, the clutter forming a mess prevents a person from floating off into space into a living death.  And if one removes the clutter, a person can feel the experiential vacuum emanating from an empty vacuumous floor and living space.  Which is why it is so very difficult for a hoarder to clean up the clutter in his home and/or car, the clutter which impedes his movement in those spaces and prevents him from really living in a more vibrant way in them.

Unlike most addictions, where a person is looking for some kind of abrasive kicks in order to feel alive, here, a person is looking for an organic stillness.  The fact that a person can’t move easily among all that clutter works well into this notion of an organic stillness.  In an organic stillness, a person feels bonded with that which surrounds him in his field of experience.  It is almost as if his stillness is like being in a surrogate womb.  Whereas numbness leads to a living death, this stillness is like returning to a kind of pre-life.  So, the paradox is that some people feel a need to escape numbness by creating a different kind of semi-life that we can call wombness.  It sounds funny, but it effectively expresses the concept.  Anyway, these are people who find most modern sources of abrasive kicks to be absolutely overwhelming.  After all, kicks are good at pulling a person out of numbness, but, at the same time, they further unground him.  A messy clutter allows a person to use the means available to him to attempt to reground, using what is available to him in his world.  The problem with this approach is that clutter really isn’t a substitute for organic grounding.  Each new added piece of clutter can temporarily give a person a feeling of grounding, but, just like a kick with overeating, alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, and video games, it doesn’t last.  So, the hoarder can keep adding more and more pieces of clutter until he runs out of space in which to move around.  In reality, the hoarder needs more sources of organic grounding and not more clutter.

© 2022 Laurence Mesirow

Acerca de Laurence Mesirow

Durante mi estadía en la Ciudad de México en los años setenta, me di cuenta que esta enorme ciudad contenía en sus colonias distintos "medio ambientes vivenciales", que iban desde muy antiguas a muy recientes; desde muy primitivas a muy modernas.Observé que había diferencias sutiles en la conducta de la gente y en sus interacciones en las diferentes colonias. Esta observación fue fundamental en la fundación de mis teorías con respecto a los efectos de la tecnología moderna sobre los medio ambientes vivenciales y sobre la conducta humana.En México, publiqué mi libro "Paisaje Sin Terreno" (Editorial Pax-México), y luego di conferencias para la U.N.A.M. y la Universidad Anahuac. También, presenté un ensayo para un Congreso de Psicología.Ahora que mis hijas son adultas, tengo el tiempo de explorar mis ideas de vuelta. Le agradezco mucho a y en especial al Sr. Daniel Ajzen por la oportunidad de presentar mis ideas.

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