There’s Something Else About Mary
Our beloved Mary Poppins has returned, not as Emily Blunt but as her original self. She seems edgy, perhaps even a tad anxious. She’s darker in spirit, a little confused and can’t decide where to land with her trusty umbrella.
Despite being immaculately dressed, something has changed. She has a mobile phone and checks it incessantly. She fumbles for a cigarette, becoming visibly distressed as she struggles to find a lighter. Exasperated, she checks her phone again and looks skyward. The relief on her face is apparent as her excess luggage falls gracefully from the sky. The days of ‘hand baggage only’ are well and truly over, but it’s not just excess luggage that has arrived, it’s excessive luggage – Mary has become a hoarder.
Hoarding, generally speaking, is the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their value. Hoarding can have harmful effects on both the individual and those around them, especially loved ones who live with the hoarder. There are emotional, physical, social and even legal ramifications for the hoarder, something that is often pushed aside in lieu of the relief gained by having their ‘stuff’ around them. It’s worth pointing out that collecting or having an untidy house is very different to hoarding, specifically the quality of the item rather than the quantity. Usually a hoarder will have trouble passing something up that is free or presents as a bargain – newspapers, magazines, plastic bags, empty bottles, clothing, cardboard boxes and even food.
Despite the cramped conditions in a hoarder’s house, they often don’t see it as a problem. The narrow pathways from room to room are seen as nothing more than an inconvenience.
Hoarding tends to be private behaviour that gets worse over time, often going unnoticed until it becomes extreme, unhealthy and impossible to manage. Professor of Psychiatry Irvin D. Yalom writes about a particular patient who presented as dignified, attractive and self-assured, with an established career as a radiologist. The patient wanted help with his inability to hold a relationship due to his anxiety. After a number of sessions it became apparent there was more to it. Finally Yalom’s patient revealed he was a hoarder, finding it impossible to get close to someone for fear of them discovering the truth. Those who hoard may also have concerns in line with obsessive-compulsive behaviour, attention difficulties, anxiety and depression.
Unfortunately, it is still not clear what drives one to hoard. Possible causes being researched include genetics, brain functioning and stressful life events. There are milder forms of hoarding that are less debilitating. Magazines and lifestyle shows are constantly showing us the benefits of de-cluttering. Their message is usually clear: if you feel the weight of ‘stuff’ in your house is getting you down, consider recycling, selling it or just throwing it out. Easier said than done perhaps, but the feeling of discarding junk with no remorse is uplifting to say the least.
In today’s world we are sick from stuff, bogged down by consumerism, materialism and buying unnecessary things that have no real place or meaning in our lives. Richard Denniss’ book Curing Affluenza has a clear message: “Buy less stuff and save the world.” I might add to that by asking, “Do you really need it, do you really want it, and will it change your world if you don’t have it?”
If you, like Mary, feel a bit crushed with all the stuff around you, maybe you should consider throwing it out, or at least stay off the garage sale trail. And if you feel you need assistance, seek help from a mental health practitioner.
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