I don’t have a TV- oddly enough this is something that people comment on when they visit my home. “Where’s your TV?” They say. When I tell them I don’t have one, I feel obligated to confess that I still waste plenty of time watching TV shows, I just do it on my computer. It works out pretty well for me. I generally watch one episode a night, commercial free. And when there is a cliffhanger I can just start the next episode right away. It’s very nice.
Last week I finished watching the Life of Birds and didn’t know what to watch next. I tried Cake Boss, and thought it was silly. The next night I decided to try out Hoarders. That show has turned out to be a brain worm. I just can’t quit thinking about it. (Hence this post).
The whole thing made me really uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. Upfront there is the voyeurism. It feels wrong to use people who are obviously ill for entertainment. You can kind of mitigate that by saying that in exchange for appearing on the show they actually do get help, but that doesn’t really make it morally neutral. I also found it uncomfortable for what I noticed in my reactions to it. For example, I found myself feeling surprised at how attractive some of the people were. This is something that still bothers me; am I really that judgmental of appearances? It looks like the answer is yes. For some reason it isn’t surprising when ‘ugly’ people have bad habits. But attractive people with bad habits? That’s shocking- even though it shouldn’t be.
The thing that really got in my brain though, was how reasonable the people all sounded to me. I found myself nodding along with the declarations of “I could clean that up and sell it at a yard sale for 10 bucks.” “I kept that because I could make something out of it.” “I thought I might be useful someday.” I felt myself getting physically uncomfortable at the workers throwing away things, valuable things. Certainly I could see they had too much stuff. Get rid of some of it, yes. Sell it. Recycle it. But throw it away? Really?
Watching several episodes in rapid succession helped me notice some patterns, some of which were worrying to me. I heard “My mom’s house was like this.” and “My dad was always saving things.” I’ve written before about my Grandma, and how her stuff is ruining her life. My Mom is similar, but not so bad. I also am similar, but not as bad. That said, I have a sister who is actually worse than our Grandma about her attachment to stuff.
Another thing I picked out was the connection to depression- something I’ve inherited from my Dad’s side of the family along with crippling perfectionism (it has to be perfect or it isn’t worth doing at all). And the last thing that worried me the most was this sentence and the variations of it: “I wasn’t like this until [X]” Where [X] is the death of a loved one, lost job, marital troubles and so on.
While talking over all this with my husband he was kind of frustrated. In his mind I am obviously not a hoarder. Obviously. Why are we even talking about this. Don’t be silly. Then I told him about the empty ketchup bottle that I washed which has been sitting on the shelf in our pantry for a little over four months. Why? Because I could use it for something. Someday. Sitting next to it was the empty laundry detergent bottle that I washed out for the same reason.
Suddenly the conversation was a little less silly than it had been.
Here’s the thing I realized. I am not a level five hoarder. I’m not even really a level one hoarder. But it is not inconceivable that I could get that way. Nobody gets that way all at once, and ignoring the signs of it doesn’t help. Telling yourself that it is unthinkable is what creates the denial necessary to start down the long slide to living in a truly dangerous house. Knowing that about myself, admitting it, keeping an eye out for it, fighting it, isn’t being silly or paranoid. It may be all that stands between me and living out my retirement just like my grandma is- torn between the life she wants to live and holding on to all of her stuff.
There are a lot of things that we think of as unthinkable. “I would never do that” we say. I would suggest taking a moment and admitting that many of those things are, in fact, thinkable. It is possible for you to do those things you say you would never do, because you are not necessarily fundamentally different from those people that do. Admitting that risk, and keeping your eye on the temptations is far safer than sticking your head in the sand and pretending it won’t happen.