What Extreme Hoarders Can Teach Us

Extreme hoarders aren’t just troubled people – they are teachers; albeit likely unknowingly.

There’s been a spate of news headlines relating to hoarders recently, including a Sydney family that apparently has accumulated so much stuff; they are now sleeping in a van parked outside their house.

Another story is that of a Dallas man who died and health services needed to cut through his home’s roof to get to his body; which took them two days to find due to the volume of stuff in and around his house.

In yet another incident, the apartment of a man in Manhattan is so cluttered he has to access his home via the fire escape.

To some, these stories are amusing, to others tragic – the obsessive compulsive disorder that leads to hoarding on such a scale can be quite terrible.

We certainly shouldn’t sneer at these people and their struggle has some value for the rest of us – it gives us an inkling of just how much rubbish we generate.

For most of us, trash goes out in the bin and whisked away – out of sight is out of mind. However, all that junk has to go somewhere and we create so much of it. Imagine if our garbage services suddenly stopped for any length of time.

In addition to the day-to-day waste; I think about the major cleanups I’ve performed during my life and the amount of stuff I’ve thrown out.

It all really adds up.

According to the USA EPA, folks in the USA generated about 251 million tons of trash in 2012.

While 87 million tons of this material was recycled or composted, that still leaves an amount equivalent to 2.87 pounds (1.3 kilograms) of trash per person per day. I suspect the stats would be similar in Australia.

Whenever I see these hoarder stories, it reminds me that what I’m seeing in the often shocking photographs is probably the same as what I have been responsible for generating during my life – it’s just that it’s all in the one place. For the hoarders that also collect from other sources; it’s a case of our garbage becoming theirs.

These stories are just as much about our own impact as it is of the individual or family of focus.

When I’m shopping these days I try to remember to ask myself not only if I really need whatever it is I’m contemplating purchasing, but what I will do with the associated trash it will generate – and what I can do with it once I’m done with it.


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