May 28, 2010
A Metaphor For Our Times?

Here’s a story we can all relate to these days, particularly people living on the Gulf Coast:

CHICAGO (CBS) ― An elderly couple is hospitalized in intensive care Tuesday hanging on to life, after being rescued from their own home.

Police say they were trapped in their own garbage for days, possibly weeks. There are reports they were covered in rodent bites and both were in critical condition when taken to the hospital. It was so severe that firefighters had to don hazmat suits before they could go inside the home in the South Side’s Grand Crossing neighborhood.

These people were literally drowning in their own garbage, which was piled six feet high in some places and crawling with cockroaches. Why does that seem so relevant to me? Many of the neighbors, who could smell the stench, suspected the two were hoarders. The article concludes:

Some experts believe “hoarding” worthless things is a compulsion that can easily turn dangerous as it did in this case. Possessions take over living space, becoming mountains of stuff that hoarders cannot bring themselves to toss out.

How to cure hoarding? Some stimulant drugs sometimes work. Therapy also works… sometimes.

Buried in shit? No worries, take a stimulant!

If hoarding worthless things that crowd out living space is a sign of mental illness, then we all probably need heavy drugs and therapy. It’s better just to call it economic growth.


Posted by OHollern at May 28, 2010 10:41 AM
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When somebody asked Norman Mailer if he wasn't worried about nuclear war he's supposed to have said, "Hell, no. We'll drown in our own shit first."

Posted by: Fast Eddie on May 28, 2010 11:18 AM

Wouldn't nuclear war itself be "drowning in our own shit?" Apart from this nitpicking I agree with Mailer on this. (Although not on much else. Basically he was a sexist pig.)

Posted by: Mamasan on May 28, 2010 12:56 PM

People hoard in response to insecurity. On the surface of the hoarder's mind, it's old-fashioned thrift or plain inertia. A little below the surface, it's fear that giving things up means being cheated or accepting someone else's intrusion. Fundamentally, I think it's a way of literally building walls against a hostile, buffeting outside world. So it might make better sense to say that our economy makes hoarders by breaking down the parts of our society that help people feel secure.

Michael Pollan has a lovely phrase about that in the June 10 NYRB: "The cultural contradictions of capitalism -- its tendency to undermine the stabilizing social forms it depends on..."

Posted by: Martha Bridegam on May 29, 2010 1:10 PM

The most likely possibility is that it is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) because hoarding is a somewhat common symptom of OCD. OCD is generally treated with SSRIs (Prozac, Zoloft, etc.), not always successfully, and/or behavior therapy, again, not always successfully.

Posted by: Theo on May 30, 2010 9:02 PM
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