The Assignment2:30 PM: Read e-mail assignment letter from editor at The Cooperator. Topic is compulsive hoarding: who does it, how it mushrooms into problems for shareholders and their neighbors, what can be done to remediate it. 2:40 PM: Start looking for notebook under piles on the desk. Discover old bills, pizzeria menus, Backstreet Boys CD without a case, a screwdriver, several hair scrunchies, and a phone number with no name on a scrap of paper.3:00 PM: Find notebook - start hunting for pen. 3:10 PM: Stoop to clean up piles of paper that have been dislodged by pen search. Pile them on foot of bed, next to yesterday's socks, a Beanie Baby, and a pile of clean laundry.3:30 PM: Use pager on cordless phone base to locate handset. 3:35 PM: Remove phone from under comforter and remake bed, restack papers, socks, laundry, and Beanie Baby.3:40 PM: Call story contacts - feel oddly connected to topic.
Does any of this ring a bell for you? Do you have a cabinet full of mismatched Tupperware? A room so filled with papers that you can't find the floor? Closets brimming with stuff, and more stuff? A dining room table that no one ever eats on? After talking to several experts and poring over several Web sites, I'm relieved to have found that I am one of the millions of people who clutter and/or hoard. I'm worse than some and better than many. But no matter where you are on the spectrum, there's help available to cut the clutter and enable you - or your hoarding shareholder - to see the floor again.
"The smarter they are, the more stuff they hold onto," says Ron Alford, president of Disaster Masters Inc., a professional disaster management firm based in Queens, speaking of people with hoarding tendencies. "College professors, nurses, lawyers - they're all information junkies. They hold onto articles, magazines, notes, because they feel like they never know when they are going to need them again." The answer to that question is, of course"¦probably never. The truth is, most paper that goes into a pile is never seen again. One PTA flier left on the kitchen counter because it is "urgent" breeds countless other pieces of paper. Usually it is completely buried by new mail, supermarket circulars, and last week's spelling tests until long after the expiration date of whatever it originally advertised.
There's a difference, however, between little piles of clutter and a serious hoarding situation, and the root of it may lie in the "whys" of the packrat's behavior. There are many different reasons why people hang onto seemingly random, worthless bits and pieces - and these reasons dictate what they keep. Some people suffer from what Alford has dubbed "disposophobia" - the fear of throwing things away. Other people are afflicted with "affluenza" - an addiction to spending money on things because of the rush shopping gives, without any thought to whether it is needed, or where it will go once purchased.
OrganizedHome.com is a Web site designed for the person who has decided to do something about their clutter. According to site publisher Cynthia Towley-Ewer, there are other categories of clutterers too. The Sentimentalist keeps - you guessed it - mementos.
My mother is a mild Sentimentalist, keeping all my baby teeth, corks from special bottles of champagne, sugar cubes from fancy restaurants, and every playbill and ticket stub ever. The only reason she isn't overwhelmed is that she is so organized. All her pictures go in albums and the albums into closets - unlike the type of hoarder known as The Deferrer. This is the person who says, "I'll think about that tomorrow." He puts everything down right in front of him, and puts off finding a regular place to keep it - forever.