Lessons learned from “Hoarders”

By EditorProofer Emma's Corner 2 Comments on Lessons learned from “Hoarders”

I watched the show, Hoarders, last night for the first time ever. So many people rave about it but really it just made me sad to see people in such desperate situations—and generally not even realising it.

We all form attachments with ‘stuff’. I’ve forged an unbreakable bond with stationery and office supplies. I could spend hours perusing the aisles of an office supply store, admiring the paperclip dispensers and poring over reams of copy paper. Thankfully, I don’t seem to possess the inclination to take more home from the store than is left on the shelves, but I’m happy to acknowledge that I devote a disproportional amount of time to this little obsession.

Most of us have clutter in our homes to some extent. Often it’s minimal and able to be shut away in a cupboard or behind a closed door when guests arrive, but, at the other end of the spectrum there are the hoarders who can’t even walk from room to room because miscellaneous boxes and piles of newspapers, teddy-bears, and other assorted odds and ends are blocking access. Watching the show last night, I could see that the featured hoarders had an overwhelming bond with each and every item they had collected, and they seemed to find it difficult to get rid of the objects because, to them, that meant they would be throwing away or even discounting the memories that went with it. Personally, I can’t see the importance of five broken and stained coffee pots, but these hoarders did, and that’s why they couldn’t let them go.

If you find yourself wanting to get rid of some of your stuff, but can’t bring yourself to do it, a Newbie Writer’s favourite pastime—writing—could be the answer. Anyone with children can attest to the seemingly infinite number of keepsakes and mementos that seem to multiply while your back is turned—but you needn’t force yourself to continue displaying fingerpaintings if your children are actually in high school.

It may not be possible to hold on to every thing forever, but you can hold on to the feelings and emotions that are attached, in a way that is more tangible and reliable than just your memory. Why not write down a short (or long) story to yourself about the item, where it came from, who was involved, and what it means to you. If you like, take a photo and attach it to your story. You’ve now preserved your beautiful memory, and don’t risk losing it if you move house, are broken into, if your house burns down, or simply to the inevitable deterioration caused by the passage of time.

What was previously an entire household of clutter can be condensed onto a single memory card that fits in your hand. Of course, electronic memories are only as secure as you make them; I’d recommend keeping at least one or two backups of your digitised feelings and emotions. Best of all, you will create an important piece of family history that can easily be shared with children and grandchildren who won’t have to squabble over who gets to (or has to) take possession of Nan’s collection of broken and stained coffee pots after you’re gone. Instead they’ll be fondly remembering how Nan loved to scour the classifieds for local garage sales—from which she’d always return with some broken or damaged appliance.

Why not take a few moments to give it a try. Look around, pick one item from your home and write its story. When did you get it? Did you buy it or was it a gift? What memory does the item evoke when you think of the purchase or perhaps the person who gave it to you? This really can be a cathartic experience, and is another way to flex your writing muscles. Once you’ve reached the point where it’s no longer vital to keep the physical stuff, you’ll be able to donate or sell it—let it go—yet you’ll still be able to hold on to what it means to you.

When I was younger I created a small memento box where I kept things like cinema ticket stubs (living in a small country town, it was a rarity to go to the movies so they were important to me), a broken wristwatch with sentimental value, and other little odds and ends that were meaningful to me. I’ve kept this box for a long time and pulled it out today. There’s one small, faded piece of paper which would mean nothing to anyone else, but I treasure it and simply reading its words takes me back to that moment. Without this note, I doubt I would ever have remembered that day. I’m going to take my own advice; it will be one of the first items converted to a digital file and added to my newly created electronic “Memories”. It’s difficult to read the words in the photo so I’ve reproduced them below.

It’s so small. Meaningless to anyone who wasn’t there, but so valuable to me.

“The time we went to visit Jody while she was pregnant with James and we saw an echidna on the road. I said “I’ve never seen an echidna before” and Dad quite happily turned the car around to look for it. It wasn’t there anymore but he was so nice about it and it made me love him heaps.”

My most precious memories from my childhood
Emma is a freelance editor and writer who got her start at Newbie Writers two years ago. In her previous career she was an accountant, but escaped the numbers game to envelop herself in the literary world.

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  • Damien
    Posted on December 8, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    Ive seen that show too. I did have to laugh at the guy who was dating that woman who had NO IDEA he was a hoarder so bad he could barely walk in the door. To see the look on her face when she opened the door!

    I wouldn’t say I’m a hoarder, but i do have some crap. I think i’ve mentioned it on a show before. I have a workshop full of odds and ends. Usually because I could fix them, or use them for parts. However, each year I do a mass clean out. Hire a skip or leave it for the council to collect. Problem is, other hoarders usually see my crap and suck it up quickly.

    The memento box is a good idea. Should get your kids to start one!


  • Jane Isaac
    Posted on December 9, 2011 at 3:21 am

    This is lovely Emma. Memory boxes are a kind of family tradition with us. I have one for my daughter that follows her life – full of tiny hand prints, splodgy first paintings, first writing and school reports. Every one of these items tells a story. Needless to say it’s overflowing now. (She’s 10!) Great idea to record it on a memory stick – might give that a try.

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