Sensational news and cheap reality television often salivate to cover the heartbreaking subject of hoarding and hoarders. Compulsive hoarding is a recently recognized psychological disorder, causing people to excessively save items that others may view as worthless, and have persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions, leading to clutter that disrupts their ability to use their living or work spaces. Hoarding disorder occurs in an estimated 2%-5% of the population and often leads to substantial distress and disability.
We’ve all seen horrible photos, like this one on the American Psychiatric Association site:
Why do people suffer from this disorder? Research has identified causes that range from genetic links, to brain injury, to links with other disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
A recent news article about a Toronto woman’s struggle with hoarding made me ask—then why the urge to purge? Why am I consistently scanning my life for “stuff” that no longer has a place? It needs to be tossed, stored, or given away. In no way am I downplaying the gravity of mental health disorders. I’m merely asking, why do I have such a strong urge to purge the “stuff” in my life, and live with less?
I’ve moved eighteen times in my life. To eighteen different homes in the last 31 years. The constant packing and unpacking of life’s goods has made me take stock of “stuff” in an entirely different way than my husband (whose parents still live in the house he grew up in). I’ve developed a strong sense of happiness INDEPENDENT of stuff—and a strong paradigm for how to eliminate the unnecessary “stuff” in my life.
Here are the 5 questions you need to ask yourself before you go all purge-happy:
1) Have I used this within the last year?
Yes: As long as you can see a place for the item in your upcoming year, then you can keep it.
No: If you don’t see a concrete use for it in the next two weeks, you need to purge it.
2) Do I have more than one of these?
Yes: Do you really need more than one? Is this your “favourite” or “most used” version of this item? Sounds like you can keep it (for now).
No: Not a clear reason to keep it, but sounds like you may need to ask yourself more questions before you reach a decision…
3) Do I actually want this?
Yes: Great! Keep it.
No: It’s a clear purge for this. It may sound like a silly question, but we don’t often reflect on whether the materials in our lives are adding value.
4) Does this have a place?
I mean this quite literally. As in, does this fit into my living space and is there a logical ‘spot’ for it to exist in this space.
Yes: Great! If it fits into your space, and has a storage spot that makes sense, then you can keep it.
No: Likely time to purge it. We could be talking about a treadmill that takes up a room, or a set of extra dishes that have no shelf—no matter the size, it can’t stay if it doesn’t physically fit into your life.
5) Is this providing benefit to my life, or is it a mental/emotional/financial/creative drain on my resources?
Yes, it is a benefit to my life: This is an important one to answer. Unfinished craft projects, an unused snow blower, an object with no sentimental value—many of our physical possessions can be a source of stress rather than a useful item that adds value or pleasure to our lives.
No, it is a drain on my resources: Get. It. Gone. Purge away, and never look back.
My advice is to always live as light as you can. Don’t become a slave to your “stuff.” You never know when you’ll need to pack it all up, and start fresh…
If you or someone you know may need professional help for a hoarding disorder, please contact the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health for help and resources.
Photo courtsey of APA website