Yeah so, today is Monday, which is apparently hoarding day on television. I don’t like that it’s seemingly okay that a mental illness is being paraded around on all of these shows just because it’s weird enough for most people to gawk at. It’s basically a freak show that we pretend isn’t. We (the general public) pretend that it’s fine to watch these people at their lowest point, falling apart, living in garbage, because we’re “helping” them; look: we’ve got them a garbage truck, a shrink and an organizer. We’re fukking saints.
It really bothers me. Not the getting help bits but the exploitation stuff.Because that’s all this really is: exploitation.
Hoarding is an interesting thing. I mean, I’m not a hoarder, but I’m a collector who has had messy moments that made me question myself and even purge my once precious loot. I don’t live alone, so my stuff isn’t distributed throughout the house. I have a teeny room that we’ve remodeled to give me the cleanest lines and the most optimal storage which resulted in sacrificing a tiny closet for a built-in unit. On top of that I have my own shed that is just a wee bit larger than my room, and it’s full of bizarre shiz. I mean really bizarre, like bags of bottle caps, stacks of pressed paper beverage trays, no-longer-salvageable jeans, and junk mail. I even have a small collection of dead bugs (primarily moths). But the shed is actually quite organized and all of those things I have because I am an artist and the shed is my studio. I like to work with repurposed or salvageable materials, so it can sometimes appear to be a mini recycling center in there, depending on what I’ve got going on.
From the outside looking in, someone would see my stuff and go ‘what the fu-‘ but never think that I was a hoarder. Unless everyone considers Martha Stewart a hoarder, because while my shed is not nearly as nice as Martha’s craft rooms, it’s probably even more obsessively organized. (I should say ‘usually’, as right now it’s more of a construction storage as it has been designated housing for the overflow from our endless home renovation.)
So, other than making me paranoid about my own things, I also find hoarding interesting because I know some hoarders. The first hoard I had ever encountered was when I was a teenager and moved to this sorta-suburb from the inner city. I became friends briefly with these girls from my new school, one of whom lived just around the block from me. She was a pseudo-intellectual with average grades, but an above-average idea about how much smarter than the rest of us she was. I may sound bitchy and bitter but I’m not; she was always making little comments here, insinuating that we were all imbeciles who were lucky to be within her orbit. Her mom was a substitute teacher in the local school system, and I believe her father was a mid level engineer. They seemed like they were a put together family and they really sort of exuded airs – if that makes any sense.
Anyway, the first time the girls and I were invited back to the smart girls’ house I was floored. Going into the enclosed front porch was like a peril from the Lord of the Rings: the room was filled floor to ceiling with stacks of newspapers and magazines. There was a narrow little pathway leading to the backdoor and into the kitchen. Navigating it was accompanied by a genuine (and realistic) fear of avalanche. Their excuse: ‘we are really passionate about recycling and the town hasn’t begun its recycling program yet.’
The kitchen was incredible. The door didn’t open all the way; there was too much garbage on the ground behind it. The place smelled moldy and chemically off all at once. Every surface, every countertop, was covered by what I could only assume was garbage. Nothing appeared functional, useable or salvageable. There were two refrigerators – both broken. They were using a cooler to keep their food. Before I could ask they told me that they ‘couldn’t replace the refrigerators yet because one of them was leaking Freon.’ To which I responded “?”
Half of the kitchen table and one chair were clear and empty. There was no treacherous path like on the porch, but the floor was littered ankle deep with trash.
The next room was a family room, with things – books, videotapes, magazines and random electronic equipment – stacked everywhere on everything, very much like the paper goods on the porch. Some of the stacks featured precariously balanced potted plants on top. There was a mostly clear couch aimed at a small television with a bunch of VCRs and Beta cassette players stacked on top (and no, this was not the 1980’s). I would later learn that only one of each worked. There was a basement room that the kids used as a game room. It was functional on one side and completely smothered in crap on the other side. It was unnerving – more potential for avalanche. The only other room I ever went into was smart-girls’. It was fairly clean and neat compared to the rest of the house. When we came over we mostly spent time in there or watching a movie on the couch.
(The other thing I remember about that house was the girl had a balalaika hanging on her bedroom wall, which I completely coveted. She said to me “I don’t know what’s wrong with it; I can’t get it to work for me.” So I tuned it and played it, and she was PISSED.)
That was the first time I had ever seen anything like that. I didn’t even know what to call it, I had never heard about hoarding before. And I suppose an argument could be made that these television shows are doing a service by educating the public. But if that was what it was all about, I’m sure they could come up with a way to do it that didn’t feature humiliating people, annoying therapists who are too aware that they are being filmed, self righteous haul-away organizers, and horror-movie like soundtracks. Back in the day however, I was completely floored. I didn’t understand how people who considered themselves to be so above everybody could think that that level of filth was acceptable to live in. I couldn’t even adequately explain it to my parents until very recently that this was why I didn’t want to go over that girls’ house anymore. At the time the concept was so out there they thought I was exaggerating.
Since then I have met two more hoarding families. This time around however, I knew what it was and how to handle myself. When I was a kid it was sort of stressful trying to remain in the situation (trust me, I wanted to leave) and be a polite guest. Don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t judging that family or that girl and I still don’t. I was just really taken aback and confused; I couldn’t reconcile these people and their external, intellectual image with their home. I had no context for what I was seeing. Now I get that this is a disorder, one that needs a lot of outside help and work to resolve.
I can understand hoarding to some extent. I can understand the need to seek comfort, and finding comfort in objects makes sense. You can touch material things; you can hold them and look at them. You cannot touch emotions; you cannot touch memories. What I don’t understand is the point when the hoarding leads to unsanitary conditions. When there are smells and feces and rot; when your home just deteriorates from the filth. I mean, clearly this is when it becomes severe mental illness, but one would think something deep down in your lizard brain would alert you to the health hazards.
So I guess the moral of this story is: ‘Hoarding is a mental illness that deserves our understanding and shouldn’t be exploited on television. People in pain are never casual entertainment.”
I can’t stand how channels like TLC and MTV and Discovery are such shitpiles now. Remember when the L in TLC stood for ‘learning’ and the M in MTV for ‘music’? Remember when the Discovery channel was awesome, and showed documentaries and not ‘reality’ shows about drunken hillbillies and motorcycle builders who fight? And it happens to every channel that is good. Animal Planet has shows about bounty hunters and tree house builders now. SciFi changed their name to Syfy – supposedly to incorporate fantasy (as in science fiction/fantasy) – but it plays wrestling matches. Sleuth played mysteries and then changed its name to Cloo and now plays USA reruns and castoffs (that’s when it’s not playing hours and hours of Law and Order spinoffs).
I swear, TLC makes my eyes catch fire. What the frak happened to that? They should be ashamed of themselves: Fake Gypsies and mocking trailer park families, and Rumspringa romps, hoarders and couponing.
Oh and by the way, those couponer people are assholes. Why? Well I’ll tell you. First off, hoarding food is seriously shitty, especially when something like one in six (or five depending on who is doing the counting) children in the United States goes hungry every day. I mean really. If you’re doing it for a food bank or something then good for you, but we all know that most of these people are stockpiling for themselves. Another thing that may be equally significant is this: people doing this couponing thing for sport, and this series on television documenting it and making it more popular, is making manufacturers and groceries change the rules on how they accept and distribute (and if they distribute) coupons. It’s making it harder for people who actually need coupons to stretch their very small budgets to do so. So these super couponers or whatever they call themselves are just unbelievably selfish, there really is no other word for it.
Before I go I have one more brief rant, and it’s about so-called superfoods. Just so you know superfoods are contributing to cost inflation (and unfair farming practices) of important nutrition. Groceries – and unfortunately, especially ‘health-conscious’ stores – use the term superfood as a marketing tool to inflate prices on key items. The problem is, these key items are truly as nutritious as they say they are and in many situations the new inflated costs make it so that people on a limited budget (poorer people) are unable to get them. Therefore, when at one time they were able to purchase proper, more-bang-for-your-buck foodstuffs, they now can’t afford it at all and are forced to go without proper nutrition. This is called food gentrification and you may have heard of it. The best example of this would be kale, which was primarily eaten by lower-income families, and was affordable, but since being declared a superfood has risen in price over 75%. Next on the ‘superfood’ chopping block are collard greens.
This sort of thing is done in the free market all the time – a manufacturer has a product and they reimage it in order to appeal to another, more affluent demographic. The problem is food isn’t a manufactured item. Food is a necessity for everyone despite their demographic. Food gentrification is making it so that only wealthier, or better off people, can afford to eat properly. It’s not only unfair, it’s unethical and immoral. So next time you hear of a superfood in some magazine, don’t buy it. Or, don’t buy it from a store like Whole Foods that is trying to turn a profit at the expense of people’s health. Better yet, grow it yourself or buy it directly from a local farmer or farm stand or food coop. Trust me, you’ll get better quality food, without a marketing team behind it. That alone should save you some coin per pound.