Never Enough: The Hoarding Mentality

IMAGE Ever wonder how you managed to accumulate 13 black sweaters or 100 pairs of high heels? Incessant collecting is a metaphor for some deeper, perhaps long-standing issues. Crystel Riggs has a thing for toothbrushes. This South Carolina mother bought nine new ones at once because they were on sale, she says. "Now when my toothbrush wears out, I know I will have a new one waiting, and I won't have to use an old scruffy one."June Summers's "thing" is ceramic houses and cookie jars. She has hundreds, many of which are displayed and many that sit in boxes in the basement. "I couldn't walk away from a flea market or a yard sale without picking up another piece—whether or not I really even liked it," she admits. "I was obsessed with having every piece of ceramicware ever created."Summers's obsession with collecting was brought under control while cleaning out her deceased grandmother's apartment. Grandma had also been a collector, salt and pepper shakers, menus, toothpick holders, hotel room soaps. "It was so depressing when we cleaned out her closets and found all of this stuff," says Summers. "That's what was left of her life—stuff. Was she any happier for having it all? All that time and money she spent collecting and hoarding, she could have done volunteer work or purchased things that would have left more of a legacy. That was the turning point for me."Though the object of collection may vary, most people have at least one item they just cannot pass up, be it shoes, baseball cards, notepads, little black dresses or toothbrushes.

Why Do We Do It?

According to Don Haupt, MD, several dynamics contribute to people's propensity to collect multiples of the same item. "It all goes back to relief of anxiety," he explains.It may trace back to childhood, a time when you felt some element of vulnerability. As an adult, you try to distance yourself from that weakness, showing that you are strong and in charge. The thought, says Haupt, is, "if you amass a bunch of things, you'll have some control over the world."Deprivation experienced as a child, says Haupt, can lead to hoarding as a means of compensation. For instance, Carol Marasa now owns over 100 pairs of shoes. She says, "When we were young, we were poor and I owned no more than one pair of shoes at any time. As an adult, shoes give me something I missed as a child.""People reward themselves with 'things' even when the things aren't really needed or wanted. Fancy clothes, shoes, etc. are favorites, but 'toys' of other types are also common," says Bonnie Rice, an Illinois-based professional organizer. Rice's job is to come into people's homes and help them make sense of the mounds of stuff they have amassed. People may use material goods as a way to assuage anxiety from living a hectic lifestyle. "Sometimes these 'things' function as what we call in psychiatry a transitional object,'" says Haupt. People attempt to fill an emotional hole with a physical object. Then, when it does not work, people buy more in the vain hope that if one did not do the trick, maybe five or six will.

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