The Boston Globe Magazine recently featured an excellent story by Scott Helman about the reality of living with hoarding disorder.
ALMOST ALWAYS, the piles tell a story. One man collected thousands of stuffed animals. His menagerie, waist-high in places, covered his bedroom. He’d missed out on a true childhood, he explained. The animals offered a chance to reclaim it. Walking into that room, he could be a boy again.
Another man saved many thousands of church bulletins, family photographs, and obituaries of schoolmates. Earlier in life, he’d planned to enter the priesthood. He’d gone to seminary, fulfilling his family’s wishes. But after realizing he was gay, he left the church, unable to reconcile his heart and vocation. His accumulating mementos became a tether to that life unlived, emblems of a complex relationship with his faith.
A third man installed 10-foot-tall bookcases of cinder blocks and plywood, neatly stacked with hundreds of books organized by subject and author. He suffered from schizophrenia but believed that, if not for his condition, he’d be at Harvard or MIT. To him, the massive library communicated the depth of his intellect. Take the books away and he was just another guy with mental illness.
For these three Boston-area hoarders — and thousands like them in and around the city — their clutter isn’t really clutter at all. The items they collect often assume a magical quality, imbued with meaning and memory. Where others see dangerous, even revolting heaps of junk, hoarders find identity and belonging. Stuff is an extension of the body. Stuff doesn’t let them down like people do. Stuff allows them control in a world that wobbles beyond their drawn curtains.