Down with hoarding – in praise of my gorgeous new garbage bin

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.


10 thoughts on “Down with hoarding – in praise of my gorgeous new garbage bin

  1. I have clutter, but I’m not attached to it. I just don’t have time to deal with it. 🙂

    We’ll be getting our new recycling bin soon. Like you, I have boxes of old manuscript copies to get rid of. It’s time.

    • Hi Patricia. But what if we become really famous? When I saw the Jane Austen exhibit at the Morgan Library last December, I learned she had thrown out virtually all her manuscripts once the novels had gone to press. So an original manuscript in her own hand is a true rarity.

      One part of me likes to think I’ll someday be so well known that scholars will want to study all my early drafts. But I realize that’s just an illusion. And even if those manuscripts become valuable, we’ll no doubt be dead by then, so who cares?

  2. I was raised by parents who came through the Great Depression, plus we lived 100 miles from town. So, I grew up saving wrapping paper, aluminum foil, paper sacks and cardboard boxes. I still have trouble throwing stuff like that away (or even putting it in the recycle bin) and I still wash plastic bags! As soon as I get rid of something, I find a need for it! So…mental illness or conservationist? I guess it depends on who is defining it. I’m not sleeping on the floor–yet. LOL.


    • I think saving that kind of stuff is reasonable as long as it doesn’t crowd you too much. But washing out plastic bags? I don’t know. A friend recently posted that she washes and then IRONS aluminum foil, or maybe it was that she irons old Chhristmas wrapping, I forget. She was wondering if she’s getting a little OCD. She said it, I didn’t . . .

      I’ve given up saving gently used Christmas wrapping paper, but my husband wants to throw all of it out every season, even what’s still unused and on the rolls. I prevail and save it, though.

  3. I was very like Julie’s husband before I married. Now, I’m more like my packrat husband, but some of it is practical.

    Like Heidi, I’ve started reusing paper and plastic bags. I’ve also started saving colored glass bottles to use for some mosaic projects I’d like to try.

    Cardboard has to go to the recyclers though. We shop online so much that we’d be buried under it in short order. We have enough that it won’t fit in our little basket. I have to carry it off in the truck on a regular basis. I’m horribly jealous of your nice roomy bin!

    • “Some mosaic projects I’d like to try” – ah, that sounds familiar. I have visions of creating beautiful garden benches and tables in mosaic, like Gaudi. When you’re a visual artist, everything is a potoentially valuable “found object.” But that’s the subject of my next post.

      Welcome, Joani – I hope you’ll stop back here. Who or what brought you to my blog?

      • I’ll definitely look forward to that next post, then. Thanks for the welcome 🙂

        I’m a long time listener, first time caller, as they say on radio. I know I first found you through Twitter, but I’m afraid I don’t remember who made the reference.

  4. I can relate to this in so many ways, especially the “visual artist piece.” I am working on digging out of all the unfinished projects and collected items that were going to be repurposed. I do know what is garbage and whart isn’t, but I just can’t keep up with all the ideas in my head and the “stuff” that could be repurposed if I just had the time. 🙂

  5. it’s nice to hear from real people with the same problem. it runs in my family, except my dad and little sis are spared. the rest of us just barely cope, acquiring junk daily. one brother has over 80 guitars, another has antique tools and guns, i just collect almost everything including things my dad won’t let my mom keep which i take in to soothe her fears. looking forward to your next post. susan

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