Britain's Biggest Hoarders
Posted Tuesday 6 November 2012
We all know somebody who collects things or has a house full of clutter, but there’s a fine line between having lots of stuff and being a compulsive hoarder.
This programme explored the reasons that can lead to a person being unable to part with anything and went on to show that help is available for sufferers. Hoarding carries a lot of stigma, and because it’s usually such an untidy and noticeable problem the hoarder is often dismissed as ‘the local eccentric’ or becomes the target of abuse and bullying from their neighbours.
As usual, the public at large can be quick to judge and condemn without eaven knowing that the person living with all the mess is suffering from a crippling mental illness.
Hoarding can be triggered by many things – the loss of a loved one, memories of an unhappy childhood or a time of having very little can prompt the sufferer to keep everything they have ever owned. Daily life can become extremely difficult as the home slowly fills up with assorted items and rubbish - packaging which would be discarded as a matter of course in most households - is kept by the hoarder, just in case it has a use in the future. The more stuff a person accumulates, the harder it becomes for them to find a way out of their lifestyle.
I like to have things around me. Familiar belongings make me feel content, reassured and secure. I’ve got several collections that I add to regularly, but fortunately I am able to limit myself and from time to time I have a good sort-out which benefits me, my home and the local Mind shop too. However I can see how easy it would be to cross the fine line between ‘collector’ and ‘hoarder’.
A few years ago I started to collect knitting yarn. I have always been an avid crafter, but usually bought just enough supplies for each project. Unable to resist a bargain I would wander around the local charity shops buying a ball of wool here, a cone or two of yarn there, a bargain bag of assorted knitting needles....you get the idea. After a while my stash had grown to huge proportions and despite my best attempts to organise and keep it tidy it was taking over the spare room. I was getting totally overwhelmed but I still kept accumulating.
Depression makes people do irrational things. The act of finding a bargain, buying it and taking it home would give me a little burst of joy, but this would soon be replaced with minor panic as I wondered where my latest purchase would be stored. From time to time some balls of wool would be bagged up and given away but it made barely a dent in the mountain of yarn. I knew that I would never, ever need or even be able to knit all of this colossal quantity and sometimes I could hardly bear to look at it.
The turning point came earlier this year when I moved house. There was just too much to keep so I set to work and chose a tiny amount of favourite yarns, and the rest was put into large storage bags. About half was given away, and the remainder went into storage and is slowly being batched up and sent to new homes.
There’s always a mental struggle as I sort through my treasures but I tell myself that a new house means a fresh start, and by tackling it one storage bag at a time it is more manageable. The bags are stacked neatly at a relative’s house and I fetch one every few weeks. The mountain is shrinking in size and should be completely gone by next spring, and my relative will have her spare room back!
Britain’s Biggest Hoarders was a sensitive portrayal of how easily a minor obsession can turn into an all-consuming mental illness. Thankfully I managed to move on before my collecting reached crisis point, but before you moan about the neighbour with a garden full of junk why not see if they would like some help to get organised? Not only will it clear their surroundings it will help to improve their mental health, which is the biggest benefit of all.
You can follow Elizabeth on Twitter: @BettyKnitter
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