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Is It Hoarding Behavior or Not?
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Now that I've cohabited with a true hoarder, I've come to understand that my mother's "collections" weren't the result of hoarding behavior, but of her inability to deal with the emotions that going through old stuff--books, clothes, mementoes, papers--evoked.

So instead of doing anything about the stuff, she simply threw it in boxes, put it in a closet or the garage (and when those were full under beds and tables) and there the boxes sat, gathering dust bunnies unto the trump of doom. Or moving day, whichever came first.

I really hated it, especially as a teen, when my own space and privacy became important to me. I thought she was a hoarder and should just get over it. Not until several decades later, when I found her crying over a box of stuff that she had unpacked and was trying to sort, did I understand the emotional impact of dealing with the past.

My husband, on the other hand, is a true hoarder. I say "is" because even in his assisted living room he has every possible place packed to the nth degree, much to the consternation of the staff, mandated to accommodate patients' wishes, and yet who have to maintain their own medical and professional standards.

I do my best to help them, even sneaking stuff away when he isn't looking, but he seems to have a dragon's instinct to know when a bit of his hoard has been moved or removed. His resistance to clean out, clear out, is ferocious and his anxiety peaks to insane levels when the staff or I try to mitigate the mess, even just to straighten it up a bit.

He's told me that it's because this is his stuff, and he identifies with it. Without it, he's disoriented, confused, and lost. Which is exactly how he felt when he was whisked away earlier this month to the hospital. Without his stuff, he didn't know who he was or where he was, even though he seldom uses it, apart from inventorying it to be sure it's all there and imagining that he's being ripped off.

As if anybody would want a 2-day-old bagel in a baggie.

I look around my house and see how much stuff of his is still here. Books in boxes, on shelves, in the garage. We catalogued between 3,000 and 4,000 books one year. It's amazing how many can be accumulated when they're not displayed for access, but just piled and stacked. Then there are the closets of clothes....

It's been a good lesson for me, to evaluate my "stuff" and understand how much of it is irrational attachment to things versus how much of my keeping is for useful items (that I actually use).

Life seems to be a years-long lesson. That's a good thing.

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