Do you know a hoarder? Though the details can be quite unsavoury, it’s a topic that many people find fascinating. The very idea that someone would fill their home with all manner of unneeded objects (from broken TVs to empty milk bottles) seems strange, disturbing and possibly a little creepy to most of us, and yet there are an estimated 3 million hoarders in the UK alone. (We didn’t just make that up, it’s from the Counselling Directory.)
So, what exactly qualifies as hoarding? After all, countless people enjoy collecting things, and though stamps are seen as nothing more than functional items by most, they’ve been the focus of obsession for avid philatelists since way before the days of Postman Pat. We wanted to find out more, so we had a good rummage through the above website and discovered some real eye-openers. For instance, some experts believe hoarding to be a survival instinct left over from when early man had to hunt and forage for himself. Meanwhile, others believe that it’s hereditary and can be passed down from parent to child, and a further set of boffins theorise that it can be brought on by traumatic experiences. And then there’s Sigmund Freud, who argued that hoarding all boils down to the ‘anal stage’ of childhood, when we’re forced to potty train and our long-term perceptions and behaviour concerning material objects are formed, rarely to be reshaped. (He was an odd one, old Siggy.)
The fact that hoarders stockpile used teabags, antique clocks, fusty old wigs and mouldy cornflakes packets from the fifties is irrelevant; the individual’s behaviour is down to psychology, not personal taste. Where we would have a spring clean, tidy a room, redecorate, give a load of unwanted stuff to charity or simply clean the dishes, a hoarder will instead leave the items and waste materials to grow, spread, fester and eventually take over the household. Though sometimes seen as a mildly amusing condition (e.g. similar to any other eccentric or quirky behaviour), hoarding has its risks. From fire hazards and eviction by landlords to the harbouring of disease and severe structural damage to the house itself, obsessive compulsive hoarding is not to be taken lightly.
The topic is so popular with psychologists and nosey parkers alike that it’s been at the heart of numerous newspaper articles, interviews and TV series over the years. And now hoarding is even spilling onto the stage, as Sticks Theatre present us with The Hoarder (pictured), a play inspired by the true story of Richard Wallace, a real life sufferer of the condition.
So the next time you go to a friend’s house and think it’s a bit messy, or scold your kid for leaving half a bowl of Sugar Puffs next to their bed, look on the bright side: at least they don’t have a dozen broken toilets in the corner of their room, or a pet ferret that no one has seen for years, but which everyone can hear scurrying around at night.