Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Unable to let go

kw: sociology, hoarding

Social awareness of hoarding comes and goes. I noticed a few recent magazine articles and newspaper articles about hoarding and in particular, how to tell if your child might become a hoarder. The key clue is this: a hoarder will report that losing a possession causes physical pain. They say things like, "I felt like I lost my arm," or, "It hits me in the gut."

I have a family member who is a hoarder. Contrary to the usual image of a "cat lady" or someone with a house piled with old food wrappers, this one hoards valuable books and antiques. Unable to fit everything in the condo any more, "Lin" has at least three rental units piled to the ceiling with boxes of primarily books and similar paper goods, though one also has furniture, clocks, and sundry antiquities. Several years of therapy are beginning to make a dent.

The collecting/hoarding instinct is apparently a spectrum. The guys who run "Got Junk" services seem to have not a sentimental bone in their bodies. They seem not to care whether the truck is filled with "classical hoarder junk", the contents of file cabinets, a formerly treasured collection of stuffed animals, or antique furniture (though they might hint that you could sell some of the stuff). They haul it to the dump all the same.

At the more acquisitive end of the spectrum, the ones that bother me are those who collect living persons. The film The Collector comes to mind, but the much more usual case is a man or woman who cannot bear separation from a "significant other", and will threaten either suicide or murder if the other wishes to break off the relationship. Such people show the symptoms of pain, even agony, seen in a cat hoarder forced to watch as the SPCA or the police cart off the animals. It is tragic to see similar symptoms when a "junk" hoarder is forced to part with a candy wrapper, but it is chilling to see it in a "person hoarder." The most dangerous of such people are those with a multi-person "collection". Having alternatives to fall back upon, they feel little compunction about killing one who gets too independent. One thing they cannot stand is the thought that anyone else might one day "possess" a member of their "collection".

Others seem to collect offspring, such as the former husband of a friend who now lives in another country; he uses a traveling salesman lifestyle to cover a serious level of polygamy, having no more than one child by any of his wives. Once the expenses of caring for a child grew too much, he just got a divorce; there were a few other wives to take care of anyway.

I don't mind people who clutter their lives until they ruin their health. It is a kind of self-selecting Darwinism. I do mind, very much, those who cling too powerfully to a relationship and cannot allow another person to stray from the role they have imagined for them. I know that when a married couple divorces, it is very painful, but for someone who is "overly attached", the pain of separation is somehow enhanced and they feel the need to "do something about it." Too many of them become murderers of those they claim to love. That is a kind of "hoarding" we need to eliminate from the human genome.

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