Possessed: A documentary about hoarding

I found Possessed, a short documentary on hoarders, fascinating because I teeter on the brink of hoarding myself and have to fight it. Some days I am more successful than others. Notice how coherently the subjects talk about their obsession. They know it's pathological, but they can't stop themselves.

I was able to beat my hoarding of cardboard boxes ("Hey, it'd be a waste to toss these cardboard boxes into the recycle bin; I could re-use it someday, like maybe if I have to mail a package or something") when a friend of mine was moving and needed cardboard boxes to pack up his things. I gladly handed over my stash of cardboard boxes, with the instructions that when he was finished, the cardboard boxes were his problem. That solved two problems. I was able to get rid of my cardboard boxes with a clear conscience, and my friend got a bunch of moving boxes.

Comments (19)
  1. Darren Winsper says:

    Interesting, I’ll check that out, as I have a bit of an issue (heh) with hoarding.  I really need to learn to throw more stuff out, or give it away to charity shops and the like.

  2. BOFH says:

    The Swedish word for hoarding is hamstring, which itself is sort of a funny word in English, but the meaning of Swedish word is even funnier, it means "acting like a hamster", referring to the habit of stuffing one’s cheeks full of nuts for safe keeping.

  3. John says:

    I am somewhat of a digital hoarder; in real life I can get rid of anything, but I never delete any files.  I have crap that is 10 years old that I have never touched (and probably never will), yet I just can’t summon the strength to delete it.  Besides, I have a total of 750 GB of storage, and these days storage is cheap.  When you take external USB drives into account, you really don’t have to delete anything.  I guess you might run into a problem when all your external drives are taking up too much space, though.

  4. mikeb says:

    Oh, man.  I have a minor hoarding problem, too.  Boxes, screws (I might be able to use that for something else, I say to myself as I drop it into the can of a thousand screws that never get used for anything), and books in particular (anyone want a copy of MS-DOS 2.1 for Dummies?).

    Occasionally I come across some bit of plastic that I’ve stashed away ‘just in case I need it later’ and I have no idea what the hell the thing is.  Usually it goes in the garbage then.  Usually.

  5. ERock says:

    I used to be compelled to collect the magazines I subscribe to… it would be a waste to throw it away even after I read it because I could always come back to it.

    One day I broke down and got a scanner and OCR software and tried to digitize my collection so I don’t have to keep a bunch of dusty old mags around.

    Long story shortened: I have several gigs of imperfectly-OCRed pdfs, several more gigs of raw image files just in case the OCR gets better and I can run all the files through again, and still have all those dusty old mags in case it turns out my scans weren’t good enough.

  6. whatever says:

    I was able to get rid of my cardboard boxes with a clear conscience, and my friend got a bunch of moving boxes.

    So what you’re saying is that your hoarding worked.

  7. Duncan says:

    I used to be a hoarder until I got an MSDN universal subscription.  After three months my hous ewas so full of language pack CDs I had to move out and live in the garden.  :-)

  8. Matt Craighead says:

    Raymond — it looks like your feed isn’t updating properly?  I generally read your blog through the feed and the last few posts haven’t shown up.

  9. J says:

    I went to a hoarder’s house once, and it blew my mind.  When you stepped into her house, there were stacks of boxes, newspapers, magazines, knicknacks, and I’m presuming everything this person had ever touched. The smallest stack was probably 4 feet tall, and some went to the ceiling.  There was a crooked narrow path that went through the junk to the kitchen and then through the hallway to the rest of the house.  I’m pretty sure the rest of the house looked the same way.

  10. nobodyman says:

    My mother is a hoarder, which is now considered to be a form of OCD.  It was kept relatively in check by my father, but with his recent passing it has gotten completely out of control.  Many rooms are so filled with "stuff" that you literally cannot step inside.  

    One particularity insightful thing I read was that psychiatrists believe that the major contributing factor in hoarding is the subjects trouble in making decisions, and that even minor decisions ("should I throw out yesterday’s newspaper or save it to read later") are given undue importance and consideration.   Hoarding is not just about the inability of "letting go" of things, but also about avoiding the mental anguish of making command decisions, no matter how small.

    The most effective "treatments" for hoarding seem to acknowledge this: almost all of them involve a explicit set of steps for making decisions.

  11. Wesha says:

    The answer to your worries:

    The Freecycle Network

    Network to promote waste reduction and help save landscape from being taken over by landfills. The Network provides individuals and non-profits an …


  12. ::Wendy:: says:

    The UK has a webservice called ‘free-cycle’ which is a fabulous antidote to hording,  you advertise stuff that could be useful but you don’t need/want paying for and people who want/need it come and take it away.  It takes the notions of ‘this could be useful’ that influence individuals to horde and turns it into a socially usable resource.  Excellent.

  13. AndyB says:

    cardboard boxes…. recycle them. If you need more, go to the supermarket and ask – they have hundreds of new ones everyday. Or as you work in a tech company (?!) you could grab a few from your support groups – all those boxes PCs come in are great.

    Or perhaps you could just order a few batteries from Dell…


  14. Mike Fried says:

    I believe that you can reuse cardboard boxes by giving them to your local neighborhood shipping store. They should also accept used packing peanuts and used bubble wrap.

    Just because you can’t reuse something immediately doesn’t mean that you need to hold onto it forever. Keeping stuff around is often more bother than it is worth. Throwing it away requires energy, though. I’m a hoarder because it’s too much work to throw stuff away. :)

  15. N. Velope says:

      I used to keep a lot of magazines and pages of newspapers around, but I found that with a 7 megapixel camera, I can take a picture of any article I might want to keep and it is readable on a computer, so I can throw away the magazine.  I think 5 megapixels is enough for a magazine, 7 seems to be a good spot for a full page of a paper.  My camera has a zoom function in playback mode, so I can even read it later from the camera.  Oh, I currently have cameras with 7, 5, 3, 2, and 1 megapixels (can’t give up my mavica that can use floppys).  I also have 3 standalone photo printers.

  16. nathan_works says:

    Nobodyman, I helped a friend clear out his 3 bedroom/<1200sq ft house when his grandmother went into the hospital. We filled 8 20-cubic-yard dumpsters and 1 10 cubic yard dumpster with her stuff. There was still enough "crap" left in the attic and 1 bedroom that we didn’t get to before his grandma came home. But the kitchen was usable, a car could be put in the garage, and he had a bedroom to use.

    Stuff were telephone bills from the 70s, newspapers just as old, etc. Random crap.

  17. BC says:

    One aspect of hoarding is that once enough stuff is stored long enough to be a bother, you can’t just throw it away, because that makes the bother be all in vain.  

    So, when I am forced to do something about my stuff, I will find something to do with it, which makes it somewhat worth having kept it all that time.  

    Telephone bills from the 70s?  Spend some time looking at them… something positive may result, like recalling an old family friend.  Old equipment?  Take it apart before throwing it away.  Something smashable?  Smash it for fun!!  

  18. kokomo says:

    I think hoarding is in our genes.

    I believe we’ve been hoarding stuffs since the stone age.

    Basically we’re just talking monkeys that know how to use tools.

    Hence there’s a need to keep stuffs(tools) around because we might need it someday.

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