Affairs

Health

The morbid fears of a hoarder— London

Preface

One of the more horrifying stories I’ve read of late was about the man who was found dead in his home buried at the end of a very long tunnel of rubbish that stretched all the way to his door.

Collecting

15 November 2012

One of the more horrifying stories I’ve read of late was about the man who was found dead in his home buried at the end of a very long tunnel of rubbish that stretched all the way to his door. His name was Mr Stewart.

My horror wasn’t so much that he died alone and that it took days for anyone to notice his absence from life. Nor was it that the police who eventually found him had to use deep-sea breathing apparatus to crawl through the tunnels because of the stench. No, my horror was that he’d hoarded himself to death.

It horrifies me because I hoard too and until reading about the tragic fate of Mr Stewart I’d never considered that it was a potentially deadly foible. It has a name that’s more specialist than OCD and less fun than hoarder disorder: it’s called pathological collecting and I’ve spent a lot of the last week pondering anxiously on the topic while I stare at the mounting piles of things I share my life with.

I’m not at the tunnel stage yet but when I consider how I feel about my “stuff” I’m sure it’s not so far away from how Mr Stewart felt about his mountains. It’s a difficult sensation to easily put into words but it falls somewhere between emotion and fear. By emotion I mean that every individual thing, from books to scribbled notes to receipts, carries emotional significance for me. They remind me of moments in time that I don’t want to forget. The fear I feel is that in throwing them away I will forget these moments, processes, experiences, memories.

My fear of forgetting gets greater the older I get as my capacity to remember wanes horrifyingly. Hence keeping things that act as memory triggers around me at all times seems ever more necessary. Perhaps it will reach a stage where it becomes urgent, obsessive, and suddenly I’m not just stepping on or knocking over piles but tunnelling through them to get to my desk or front door.

I’m looking at a few unwieldy piles on my desk right now: books, business cards, magazines, last month’s research notes, letters, press releases, printouts and invitations. I know roughly where everything is and though colleagues gawp when I tell them there is a bit of a system to my chaos, being surrounded by the hoardings of my daily life comforts rather than panics me. Or it did until I read about Mr Stewart and considered my cluttered life not as mere habit but as a potentially unravelling syndrome that, if left to escalate unchecked, might one day be my end.

I know it’s a little premature to start thinking of resolutions but come New Year I’m going to invest in a very big diary to chronicle the memories I’m so scared of forgetting – and a very big bin to get rid of everything else.

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