I found myself a new television indulgence last night. (Like I need one.) Marce had been telling me about this show but I hadn’t gotten around to watching it until I had a rare evening at home last night.
It’s a show called Hoarders, on cable, about people with the disorder of hoarding stuff. Maybe you’ve seen it on Oprah or Dr. Phil. These are folks who: a) tend to bring home a lot of stuff, and when I say stuff I mean, like, a literal LOT or two of stuff; b) have excruciating difficulty letting said stuff ever go; and c) when pushed by some external source, like a coach/purger/specialist/judge, suffer over every minute decision related to what items can possibly go. I mean, they break down over it, they come apart. Which is how they can end up literally buried in the piles and stank and black mold of their own stuff. One guy on the show last night was going to go to jail because a judge had ordered him to clean up the dozens of broken down cars, scrap metal, and old appliances on his property and he was about to shoot himself in the head rather than make those decisions about letting his stuff go. Seriously: running for the shotgun seemed easier than cleaning up. In another family, a seven year-old kid who was showing signs of hoarding (his mom was also a hoarder trying to overcome it) had a flat psychological breakdown over just the idea of letting some of his hundreds of “fluffies” go.
I’m a whore for these shows.
It’s easy to judge–which, of course, is part of the voyeuristic pleasure of watching Hoarders. As with The Biggest Loser (about a variation on hoarding, when you think about it), you can feel pretty righteous pretty quick about how you’re not a hoarder, how your life could never be that out of control. No one would have to do an intervention on me; after all, the ARC truck pulls up to my front door once a month! I can have people over for cocktail parties!
Then again, I don’t think these shows would work if most of us didn’t recognize a little bit of ourselves, our shadow selves, in these hoarder/’losers’. There’s a part of me, for sure, that gets the urge to shovel Cape Cod chips into my maw at the speed of light, when I’m tired or overwhelmed or stressed. There’s a part of me that agonizes over recycling the stack of New Yorkers I haven’t had the chance to read; that can’t deal with, for example, the patient piles of miscellaneous paper I’m looking at in my office right now. Each piece needs to be filed or dealt with or thrown away, but that’s a fairly overwhelming process, so I only do it every so often, and I’ve consciously given myself a certain leeway. But luckily I have that signal somewhere in my psyche that tells me “when” I’m going to, at minimum, feel embarrassed in front of guests if I don’t deal with the piles. What would happen if some trauma, some depression, turned that signal off and I gave up? What if a loved one died and I could no longer deal?
I shudder to think. So I try to watch Hoarders with more compassion than voyeuristic horror-pleasure, which is a good exercise. Because like those ‘Losers’ who are publicly facing every fear in the world at fat camp to lose the pounds that smother their lives, the Hoarders are trying to work it out, even if it means humiliating themselves in front of millions of people watching and judging.
Besides, do we really get to judge when we’re such a fat, consumption-addicted, hoarding horde? I mean, this nation, which is neither the geographically largest nor the most populated, uses the most energy resources in the world. Or, let me try to be more accurate (and, Jen, correct me cuz I’m Googling on the fly): We’re 5% of the world’s population but use 24% of its resources. Which is to say, we’re sick and wrong, as a whole. The fattest fatties in the world, and the hoardiest hoarders. I read an article in the Times on Sunday about how we’re actually shipping our trash, legally and illegally, in huge containers for Third World nations to deal with. Literally, we’re hiding our hoarding. Something wrong with this picture.
But maybe there’s hope in the fact that we’re trying to let go, we’re trying to lose it, and some part of us wants to change. So we make shows featuring the worst part of ourselves to cathect our collective shame and judgment upon while we learn that change may, in fact, be possible. Are these people our losers, or are they our unbelievably courageous heroes?
Maybe, just maybe, they can show the rest of us the way.
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