Sunday, February 7, 2016

OCD and Hoarding - Organized Hoarding Disorder

This image is of the pantry of an "extreme couponer" and raises the question, can hoarders be organized?

Hoarders are generally known as slobs - living in their own filth, garbage piled high, and a dead cat in the freezer (why, I don't know, it is just a thing they do).   OCD people are known as the opposite - people with hyper-clean homes who organize everything, comb the fringes on their rugs, wash their hands constantly, and then spin three times counter-clockwise.

They seem like the opposite of one another.  And yet psychologists tell us that hoarding disorder is a form of OCD, which seems kind of non-intuitive at first.   Or at least I couldn't get the connection.

Until I saw it firsthand.  Organized hoarding.

There are hoarders who don't live in their own filth, but instead hoard things in a very orderly manner.  In fact, in a hyper-orderly manner.  Not only is everything stashed in boxes and totes, there are lists - endless lists - of what is in each box and where it is located.  And they spend hours sorting and organizing these totes and boxes and revising the lists accordingly.

It is fascinating - and horrific- to witness first hand.  But witness it I did and it is interesting to observe.   Mental health and financial health go hand in hand, as I have noted before.  And the desire to acquire things is one of the prime reasons most middle-class people fall down the economic ladder.  And Hoarding and OCD behaviors are certainly one of the things that causes people to waste time and money on a monumental scale.

But organized hoarding also gave me an insight as to how dead cats end up in the freezer.   Most hoarders, I suspect, start out as organized hoarders - carefully cataloging and indexing everything they own - using totes and boxes to store things and label them.   And this works for a while, until the hoarder ends up with so much stuff - and accumulates it so rapidly - that they cannot keep up with the organization end of things.   They pine for the day when they can sit down and "really get organized" but lose interest in the cataloging and storing aspect of hoarding, but maintain a keen interest in the accumulating part.

It is just a theory, but I think one that has merit.  Our desire to accumulate goods is a genetic behavior and to some extent a survival instinct.   But as I noted before, in our caveman days, sharp rocks and sticks and nuts and berries were free for the taking.  The caveman didn't go broke hoarding things, unless his hoarding took precedence over survival skills.   Today, we have to pay for things with Visa and Mastercard, and yet we still look at a mountain of possessions as a sign of "wealth".

I know I did - even when I knew better.   I had cars, houses, boats, and whatnot - all carefully maintained and organized and cared for, so I thought I was not a hoarder, just "well off".   But I realized over time that these "things" were costing me real wealth and delivering less and less satisfaction as time went on.    Owning less turned out to be a pleasure, not owning more.

In the media, the rich and famous are depicted as owning mountains of consumer goods - huge homes with garages full of cars as well as walk-in closets full of designer suits or dresses and of course, shoes.  Having a lot of "stuff" is what is promoted on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.  And in recent years, it is been sold to us - the middle-class people - that we, too, can have walk-in closets and three-car garages with hobby cars and lots of stuff - even though we don't have the army of servants the really wealthy have to maintain it all.

Our ancestors had less "stuff" in their lives not necessarily because they had less money (they did) or that things cost more to buy (they did as well) but also because they realized that having a lot of things was costly, time-consuming, and could bankrupt you both financially and in terms of time-management.

The image above is of a collection of items bought by an "exteme couponer" and if you've seen these shows or read about the trend, you've seen this kind of thing before.  The couponer buys these carts of "free" groceries and often times stacks up the product in a garage or basement in specially-bought shelves, so that their house looks like a supermarket.   It is odd behavior - not buying something to use it but to merely have it.   Again, the mind associates wealth with "having things" and hey, having your own supermarket is about as wealthy as you can get, right?

(Of course, the "trick" with extreme couponing is no trick.   Couponers make "stunt buys" with coupons they obtained often by purchasing the same product earlier.   I get a manufacturer's dollar-off coupon for dog food - every time I buy dog food.   This doesn't mean the dog food I get for "free" with the coupon didn't cost me anything).

If you look at the lives of successful people, you won't see these sorts of behaviors.   Warren Buffett doesn't clip coupons.   Bill Gates doesn't have a dead cat in the freezer (but Steve Forbes just might - his latest editorial suggests we go back to the gold standard!).  The very wealthy don't comb the fringes on their rugs or organize old broken lawnmower parts into boxes in their garage.  They don't obsess about "understanding their childhood" or trying to make sense (or make up) with Mom and Dad.   They live their lives and obsess less about the past - which is really all obsessing about possession is, obsessing about the past.

And maybe right there is the key to their success.