We used to call them Pack Rats.
Since the inexplicable popularity of shudder-worthy reality television programs like “Clean House” or “Hoarding: Buried Alive,” pack rat is nowhere near a descriptive enough term to define the nastiness found in those homes. Consequently, instead of pack rats, the denizens of such homes are creatures known as Hoarders.
If you look up the meaning of hoarder, you may be surprised at some of the benign alternatives such as collector or saver. The term “collector” conjures images of a tidy collection of figurines or dolls or toy cars, or perhaps the regrettable Beanie Babies. The innocuous word “saver” brings to mind a stamp collection encased in one or more volumes, depending on the dedication of the collector.
Neither word can conjure the depths of nastiness the hoarder programs display. Perhaps the other meanings for hoarder are more fitting, namely: accumulator, miser, stasher or dedicated garbage collector.
In the interest of full disclosure, the extent of my contact with either of the two reality television shows is a few episodes of “Clean House.” But the host’s squeaky and nasal voice (which is a feat in itself) forced me to make a choice between watching until all my brain cells suffocated or turning off the television.
During those irretrievable minutes of exposure to the unfortunate homes on “Clean House,” it was difficult to comprehend why people just threw their belongings into the basement. Why not pack stuff in boxes and store them in the basement? Since the pile was level with the top step leading to the basement, the family exercised the tossing rather than boxing method far longer than a month or two.
Having never seen “Hoarding: Buried Alive,” I pulled up a show on YouTube. Within a few minutes of watching, my gag reflexes were a hair’s breath away from a déjà vu moment with my last meal. It seems roaches and hoarders are content cohabitants of the hoarders’ homes. One of my sacred mottos “A Good Bug is a Dead Bug” was sorely tested as I tried to watch the Mongolian Horde of critters cavort in those homes. In fact, I deserve a medal for intestinal fortitude for watching as long as I did.
Do you suppose the same tangled thought process is at work in the minds of people who live in such cluttered homes as the storage rental inclined? On the one hand, the clutter they cannot seem to part with is confined behind storage building doors. While on the other, stuff oriented folks feel they have to be surrounded and immersed in their piles, in their homes and garages.
The optimistic outlook on storage rentals is if their excess belongings are locked in storage facilities, the hoarders could live in uncluttered and clean homes. In reality, the storage buildings only hold the overflow while their homes become increasingly overrun by more stuff.
In most cases of hoarding, the person or persons think “I might be able to use that someday.” Historically speaking, that rarely happens. The people who cannot bear to part with anything, not even what most would consider trash, could well have been traumatized by extreme poverty either in their youth or because of life experiences.
My parent’s generation lived through World War II, the dust bowl, and the Great Depression. Those experiences taught them to waste nothing. Even when things improved, they could not shake off the poverty mentality. A relative’s mother saved everything, including old newspapers. It got to the point where the overflow from the house covered her front and back porch.
Some collectors like to accumulate anything they deem to be of sentimental value. Even if those items are buried in the basement or garage and never used, they find comfort in the possessing. Consequently, when collections or items of sentiment overrun our lives, they become clutter.
Given the choice between treasured memories or hoarding, memories will continue to warm our hearts while stuff remains inanimate and cold.