Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Life Coach Gets Schooled by Hoarder

You can't fix hoarding.  And the whole "life coach" concept is flawed.

I have noted time and again that I am not a big follower of religious leaders.  For some reason, we look up to religious leaders as having some sort of inside track to God, when their life experience is really not much more than our own.   The Pope has no more insight into what happens after you die than you or I do, yet we hang on his every word with reverence.   And the same is true for other religious leaders - all of whom cloak themselves in elaborate or archaic garments, as if to enshrine themselves and make them look noble and wise.   (I think if we saw them all naked, we might have a different view of their opinions!).

It is not that they have nothing to say, only that what they have to say is of no greater or lesser import than what the rest of us have to say.

In the USA in recent years, a new form of secular religious Imam has come to the forefront - the so-called "life coach".   Like other types of religious leaders, these folks have no real special credentials or training in what we call "life" - any more than the rest of us do.   What they are selling is pure pablum, plain and simple.   It doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell you to stop compulsive spending, gambling, drug use, or alcohol abuse.   It takes willpower and discipline - and you can't get that from a "coach", but that is perhaps, why people are attracted to charismatic leaders who promise to tell everyone what to do.   And that also is perhaps the attraction of religion - giving up your own impulses in favor of someone telling you what to do (and usually the first thing they tell you to do is give them a sizable portion of your wealth, if not all of it).

A reader writes to me that one of these "life coach" charlatans is about to be schooled by a hoarder.  It seems a local hoarder - replete with junked cars on his lawn and the de rigeur dead cat (what is up with the dead cats?  Usually in the freezer?  Is it some sort initiation rite into the hoarder club?) is about to be "fixed" by a life coach who is volunteering his time.

The scenario is pretty familiar - at least to me.   A house with broken appliances (stove used as furnace, other appliances "tweaked" and disassembled - check!).  The utilities turned off regularly (check!).  The house filled with garbage and junked cars on the lawn (check!).  The house in need of major structural repairs due to neglect of basic maintenance (e.g., letting the gutters fill with leaves until the roof rots through, then letting the water damage accumulate for years until the walls are full of mold and the foundation has shifted - that sort of thing).  Check, check, check!

But this "life coach" has jumped in with both feet, and boldly promises to do what no other person on planet Earth has managed to do to date - and that is to cure a hoarder.   Truly, this is a super-man!  But that is indeed the case - hoarding cannot be cured, at all, whatsoever.  There are no "former hoarders" out there - or damn few, if any.  Most die early and that in turn "cures" the hoarding, unless, of course, the heirs turn into hoarders themselves upon inheriting the hoarding house.  Yes, I have seen this happen - twice now.  Once with the hoarding house across the street from me, and another time with a friend of mine.  Either there is some sort of mold in the house that makes the new tenants into hoarders, or it is an inherited illness.  It is a sad situation to see hoarding passed down from generation to generation.

Our "life coach's" plan is simple: he will just take complete and utter control over the hoarder's life and re-arrange it so he no longer hoards.  And he plans on doing this for free and use donated materials and services to turn the hoarder's life around.

Neat plan.  It has a few flaws.

First of all, few of us want others to run our lives.  Yes, you could "intervene" in my life and argue that I should go back to work as a Patent Attorney - no more goofing off!   No more writing blog entries!  And you could argue that I should eat healthier foods, exercise more, and drink less.  No doubt I would be wealthier, healthier and live longer.   Problem is, I have other ideas on how to live my life - even if they are not optimal in your view.   We have this thing called "free choice" and most folks are reluctant to give up on it - without a fight.

Oh, sure, there are folks who will check themselves into "rehab" - but usually only when forced to do so because of legal troubles.  And in re-hab, someone takes control of your life, telling you what to eat and drink and do, and often you do get better.   But then they leave re-hab and go back to their old ways.   Change has to come from within, it can't be forced from outside.  Otherwise, it doesn't stick.  and change is a very rare thing.

Speaking of which, a few years back, I got angry e-mails from people saying that I was "telling them what to do" - as if I could reach through the computer screen and grab them by the neck and get them to stop taking out payday loans.    I am not telling anyone what to do - or even offering advice.  I merely make observations.   And as I have noted before, if you identify with the hypothetical, maybe that is telling you something.  Maybe.

But getting back to our narrative, the second problem with this battle-plan is how to implement it.  The hoarder in question has already stated that removing the junked cars is a non-starter.   Guess what happens when you start taking out the stacks of old newspapers and piles of broken lawnmowers?   A major battle is what.  The hoarder will argue that the "junk" you want to throw away is in fact, valuable antiquities.   After all, he's seen similar crap sell for millions on Antiques Roadshow or on Storage Wars.    Why make him part with his precious collectibles?

And again, these are not negotiable points.   And by the way, under the law, that "junk" you want to throw away is legally the property of the hoarder.   Start tossing his crap without permission, and you'll end up in the back of squad car.

Oh, and by the way, he will never give you permission to throw away any of his junk.

The third problem with this approach is why are you spending your own time and money to enrich someone else?  The "life coach" says his plan - which involves conning some "handyman" to live in the home and repair it - will "preserve the equity" that the hoarder has in the property.   In other words, after all of this time and effort, if you were successful, all you've done is made some other guy wealthier, at great cost to you and no cost to him.

If the hoarder has equity in the home, they have wealth.  And often hoarders do have some income, wealth, and equity - they just squander it by hoarding.  A friend of mine who inherited their parents' hoarding house also inherited several million dollars.  Mom and Dad were not destitute, they could have called someone and fixed the house in a matter of months - or simply bought a new house.  The hoarder across the street from me did just that - buying a new home once the old one was filled.  By the time he died, he owned at least four homes - all full of junk, with junked cars on the lawn.  He was not "poor" in any sense other than in his mind.  If hoarders really wanted to "change their lives" they could so do by selling off or throwing away their junk, repairing their homes or selling them, or doing other things to take charge of their own lives.

But the bottom line is, they don't want to, and you can't make them.   So don't bother.

Trying to "fix" other people is an enormous waste of time.  And oftentimes the people trying to "fix" other people's lives are in worse shape than the person they are trying to fix.  As I noted before, my late sister once tried to stage an "intervention" for my late Mother.   It was a nice gesture, but my sister had a boatload of issues of her own to deal with, and trying to "fix" Mother was, perhaps, a way of distracting herself from her own problems.

A massage therapist recently tried to convince me that I would live longer and be healthier if only I would convert to his vegan lifestyle.  I kept my own counsel, but I could not help but think that although he was a few years older than me, he was not in any position to retire anytime soon, and I strongly suspected that, like most people these days, he was hopelessly in debt and likely would never be able to afford to retire.  At that point, he might regret living such a healthy lifestyle - and living so long!   There are two sides to every coin.

It is all-too-easy (and kind of fun!) to pick apart other people's lives and think (or discuss) about how they are doing a shitty job of living, and "if only they would..." they could be happier or wealthier or healthier.   It is a game we all play.   But so long as it is limited to "dishing the dirt" about other people, you could argue it is a pretty harmless game to play - albeit one that leaves you with a bad feeling about yourself when all is said and done.  I am never happy after people start a "bitch session" about the one person not in attendance, even if I do join in the fun on occasion.  It leaves you with a hollow feeling inside.  And let's not even talk about how awkward it is the next time you see the person in question!

But bitching about someone's (perceived) poor life choices is nothing compared to trying to intervene in their lives.   In every situation I've seen this happen, it ends up badly for everyone involved.  The person intervened complains bitterly about the people who tried to "help" them, and the person who was trying to "help" ends up bitter than the person they wanted to rescue doesn't express their eternal gratitude.

This is why I say I am not an advice columnist.   People ask me for advice on "what to do" in their lives, or take what I write here as advice.  It is not!   The problem with the advice model, is that people love to take advice cafeteria style and then complain when it doesn't pan out.   If you want to become wealthy, for example, you have to save more and spend less.   If you do half of this - save more but still spend more - you will end up broke, as you cannot afford to "save" money unless you cut back on spending by at least the same amount.

And advice for one person might not work for another.   No advice is universal.

There is an upside to this whole sad story, though.   The "life coach" in question will eventually learn a valuable and humbling lesson in life - if he is receptive enough to learn from this.   From what I have read, though, I suspect he will just end up bitter and angry and convinced more than ever that he was "right" and that the hoarder was just not appreciative enough of his skills and efforts!

And who knows?   Maybe he will be the one in a millionth person to actually fix a hoarder.  But I am not holding my breath on that one.  I think I'll take the better odds on the powerball, quite frankly.

But the real lesson is this:  people are not like cars - you can't fix them.  I have never owned a car that said to me, "I prefer to be broken!  Leave me alone!" - although a Fiat I once had came awfully close.  It is tempting to want to be "helpful" and want to make the world a better place.  No one wants to see others suffer, even if they are suffering from their own malfeasance.  But the end result of intervening in others' lives is often there ends up two victims - the intervenor and the intervenee.  Both end up bitter, angry, and mad at each other.  Much time and money is wasted and nothing of substance is accomplished.

* * * 

By the way, this urge to "fix" things or people may appear often in your life.   I have been sucked into more than one crappy deal in life by wanting to "fix things".   Rednecks often sell broken cars, campers, boats, or whatever, with the premise that "you can fix that" - as in, "Well the motor done broke the crankshaft, but you can fix that!" - often in a Craigslist advert (which is one reason not to buy cars on Craigslist.  The other is, often the cars are not really for sale, but advertised by hoarders and other lonely people who want validation that their piece of junk is a priceless collectible).

It is if by saying "you can fix that" it is, in fact, already fixed.   As a car nut (or former one) I would often see such abused vehicles and want to adopt them, much as people adopt stray cats - to give them a good home.   But the bottom line is, of course, that the "fixer upper" car or house or whatever, is often a nightmare money pit.  You are almost better off starting over - buying a better car or tearing down the mold-infested house.

Don't fall into the trap of "you can fix that" - with houses, cars, or even people.   It is a dead-end!