Hoarding or clutter: When do you cross the line?

Beat back clutter. Get organized, donate unwanted items and get some benefit. Photo: Stop clutter before it becomes hoarding

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., July 11, 2013 – The term hoarders has entered into our lexicon in the last decades with a very specific meaning. It refers to people that have become obsessed with collecting things to the point that they have been overwhelmed.

Their houses look like a sanitary landfill with paths that (sometimes) allow the owners to move around. In many cases the resident has lost use of one or several rooms due to the accumulation of things. In some of the most extreme cases, the resident doesn’t have access to sanitary facilities and the dwelling is littered with plastic bags full of feces.

This affliction, widely unknown until the last decade of the 20th century, has become fascinating to many. There now are several reality type shows broadcasting episodes of some of the more extreme cases.

Hoarders as seen on the TV

Rats and other vectors abound in these episodes. Litters of dead cats are also found in the accumulated debris. What is most amazing is that many of the items that are hoarded do not have any rational value.

They could be old newspapers and magazines, plastic bags, food wrappings, clothes, unopened merchandise, and just about anything.

Typically in these shows, a psychologist or other behavioral scientist is called to facilitate the removal of the offending junk. Throughout the episodes we witness the torture the hoarders suffer as strangers handle their treasures and suggest they should be discarded.  Frequently, after agreeing to get rid of some junk, they go up to the hauling truck and retrieve it.

In our current society, there are plenty of us that hoard to a lesser degree. Men usually think that almost anything can be used later for its intended or other purpose. “One never know when this [insert word here], may be needed” is a common excuse to keep almost anything. It is easy to fill a basement or an attic with these “irreplaceable” items. In many other cases we purchase something at a high price and feel guilty getting rid of it.

The most practical solution in the case of items that still have some intrinsic value is to donate them to a charitable organization and receive a receipt. This receipt will serve as evidence of the gift and can be used for tax purposes. TurboTax and other tax preparation software obviate this task.

For those that want a more immediate solution there is a nationwide group generically known as “freecycle.” In such groups, members offer items from used plastic bags to cars that other members can request. The old saying that “one man’s trash is another’s treasure” rings true in the freecycle world. For those that think others may want to pay for a particular item, there are groups like Craig’s List. Many Internet users should have had experience with both of these Internet groups.

On the other hand there are people that can’t stand it having something old or that they are not using at the present. They are constantly renewing their homes and some are even minimalist, believing that any type of adornment is too much. After leaving a suitcase in a relative’s house when I got drafted, I came back to find out it had been thrown away when one of the residents got tired of looking at it in the crawl space under the house. A first edition was in that suitcase along with all my clothes.

Hopefully, for most of us, the issue is that we are not very organized, and while we may not have more junk than normal, it seems to occupy most of the space in our home. For those, the minimalist and the beginner hoarders, the first step is to find out what you have, what you really want to keep and what you want to discard.

In response to this need, innovative entrepreneurs have created a new service. This service includes an organizational expert visiting your home, organizing your belongings, separating the items that can be donated and assisting in donating them. In the Washington Metropolitan area there is a company called ClutterBusters. The organizing specialists are people that have special expertise in organizing and efficiency. They may include housewives, psychologists, teachers, etc.

So if you feel that “stuff” has taken over your life, follow these steps:

* Get organized yourself or hire an organizing service;

* Consider donating unused items to a charity to receive a tax break;

* Contact freecycle or Craig’s List for items that may be of use to someone else;

* Don’t get rid of anything without inspecting it closely. There may be a first edition book in that suitcase.

Follow Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist in Facebook, Mario Salazar and at Twitter, @chibcharus.


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Mario Salazar

Mario Salazar is a combat infantry Vietnam Vet, world traveler, renaissance reconnaissance man, pacifist, metal smith, glass artisan, computer programmer and he has a Master of Science in Civil/Environmental Engineering.  Now retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and living in Montgomery County, Mario will share with you his life, his thoughts, his musing on living in yet another century of change.  He will also try to convey his joy of being old.

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