Am I truly a hoarder? My Significant Other would say so, but I’m not nearly as bad as those folks on A&E’s show Hoarders, which I watch almost as religiously as Project Runway. Hoarders defines hoarding as a mental disorder, but the official verdict’s still out. The boundary between run-of-the-mill cluttering and obsessive-compulsive hoarding isn’t glaringly obvious, either. I could easily imagine myself falling into the predicament of those folks on the show who haven’t been able to sleep in their beds for years because the clothing is piled too high and the beds now belong to the cats.
But perhaps there’s still hope for me. Last week when County Waste, my garbage collecting company, delivered a totally unexpected new black bin with a Kelly green cover, I was positively ecstatic. Were I a true hoarder, the idea of having two big garbage bins rather than one, and thus doubling the amount of trash I could toss each week, would have provoked an acute anxiety attack rather than enthusiastic ambition.
Evidently the garbage company was equally excited, because they glued not one but two lavishly illustrated, full-color promotional fliers atop the lid. One read in part:
Ride the wave to the future of recycling with County Waste!
It’s here! Weekly single stream recycling
AND with your brand new recycling cart!
Now, instead of the old newspaper recycling basket, I’ve got an enormous new bin that will hold the equivalent of four banker’s boxes of paper. They’ll pick it up weekly, along with its grubby old twin, which can now be devoted exclusively to Styrofoam, rotten food from the fridge, yard waste and other unrecyclable trash.
At last I can empty my files, throw out all those old manuscript drafts, all the sample chapters returned in those dreaded self-addressed manila envelopes. The list of acceptable items reads like a laundry list of all the stuff that’s been cluttering my house for years: Computer, FAX and copy paper, magazines and catalogs, newspaper, notebook paper, soft covered workbooks, paperback books, junk mail, and on and on. I can throw glass and plastic bottles in the same bin, along with frozen food containers – in short, practically everything I used to relegate to the regular garbage.
A week has gone by, and tonight is garbage night. I checked the pretty new bin today, and it was still two-thirds empty. What happened to all my fine new decluttering resolutions? As usual, I got sidetracked by any number of activities with higher priorities or greater potential for pleasure.
So am I a hoarder? That depends on how you define the term. I checked my trusty DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, and to my surprise, hoarding wasn’t even in the index. A little Google research led me to the Mayo Clinic’s site, which defines hoarding as “the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them.” That’s me, for sure. Compulsive hoarding syndrome can be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it’s not considered a distinct mental health problem in its own right.
Not yet, anyway. The fifth edition of the DSM, to be published in 2013, will include hoarding as an official psychiatric diagnosis. The rationale, according to The Wall Street Journal: “Hoarding can lead to significant distress, and including it in the DSM is expected to increase public awareness and stimulate diagnosis and research into the disorder.” Additionally, of course, the new diagnosis will have its very own code number, so insurance will pay for therapy sessions to cope with cluttering. I’m sure we’ll see a burgeoning population of decluttering specialists among mental health professionals. You can already watch some of them at work every Monday night at 10 p.m., coaching those hapless hoarders in their painful efforts to let go of the trash that’s smothering them.
I thought the subject of my gorgeous new trash bin would make a nice tidy little post, but clutter plays such a major – and villainous – role in my life that it deserves a three-part series. So stay tuned for the next installments. Part II will feature more general ruminations, and Part III will deal with the paper clutter that afflicts writers in particular.
How would you diagnose your own relationship to all that stuff in your life? Do you suffer from benign cluttering habits, or malignant hoarding? I’d love to hear from you.