Realtors continue to educate themselves long after receiving their license, which by itself requires a lot of education and testing. When I saw there was a course on hoarding to receive continuing education credits I signed up. Learning about hoarding as it relates to real estate transactions sounded more interesting than a 3 hour class on real estate financing to meet the mandatory continuing education requirements.
This class did not disappoint. I was on the edge of my seat from the moment the instructor said 1 in 6 Americans are hoarders. In a room of 24 people I looked around to identify the 4 hoarders in the room.
To sum it up hoarding is a complicated mental illness with a wide spectrum of hoarder types, but there is some commonality. It is usually triggered by an event such as the loss of a family member, especially the death of a child or spouse, divorce and other major life changes. Hoarders are young millennials and oldsters, well-educated, with advanced degrees, employed, have resources and loving families and relationships. They are our neighbors and co-workers, and you would never know they hoard.
The more she talked about hoarding the more I reflected on my own “collecting” tendencies and developed a deeper understanding of hoarding and mental illness. Some items in my home have significant emotional value to me; they provoke memories of family members who have died and whom I miss tremendously, memories of great times with friends and family, professional accomplishments, activities, milestones, hobbies, travels. They bring me joy, even the items that remind me of those who have passed because I remember the good times, the wonderful relationships and am not overly saddened although I do think about what could have been. The grief, when it appears is usually brief and is replaced with understanding and acceptance of what I cannot change and appreciation for what was.
But still, I see evidence of how it could develop into full blown hoarding based on grief: I have kept my brother’s baseball mitt. He died at age 17, 40 years ago. There is no reason to keep the smooth, worn leather mitt but I cannot throw it out.
A long time ago my mother told me to never throw out any jewelry, even the cheap stuff. Decades later my costume jewelry collection is vintage, valuable and voluminous. Maybe my mother was an enabler, who showed me the comfort and joy of collecting. She encouraged my rock, shell, coin, book, stamp and postcard collecting. I also collected pen knives, dead bees, cigar bands, watches and pens.
I am aware of my emotional connection to a book, photograph, music, pieces of furniture and shoes. The memories are strong and pleasant. But, alas I still have too much stuff. I discarded a baby grand piano (I tried to give it away for two years), gave away dishes, glassware and decorative items, art, furniture, rugs and gadgets. I donated clothing and household items to Goodwill, books to libraries, other items to thrift shops and church fundraisers. I sold cars and boats, recycled plastics and electronics, sold CDs and jewelry. I’ve been trying to minimize my possessions by finding a new home for these treasures. This has appeased my feelings of loss and has comforted me knowing someone else is enjoying or using them.
According to the instructor I am not a hoarder, but I realize how easy it is to become one and how this behavior can escalate and destroy a life and a home.
Now, I have to get back to cleaning, sorting, donating, filing, discarding, letting go, 86-ing, pruning, arranging, culling, fixing, purging, chucking, deliberating, dumping, up-cycling, selecting, eliminating, reducing, re-purposing, recycling, disposing, organizing and more reorganizing.