Years ago, my cousin in San Diego invited us for a beach weekend. Who says no to that? My husband and I set out with the kids on a road trip to spend time with extended family and acquaint our little Arizona offspring with the ocean.
After a six-hour drive, we arrived in a tidy neighborhood of modest mid-century ranch homes. So far so good. The front walk led through a serene patch of tidy grass surrounded by a neatly trimmed hedge — California dreaming.
And then we went in.
Four-foot piles of clothes, toys and household items cascaded from the walls to our feet. The piles were covered with a variety of tablecloths. The counters were clean but chaotic, with containers of food, papers and dishes. A tower of brown paper grocery sacks teetered by the fridge.
We could not set down keys or sunglasses or wallets for fear of them disappearing into the mayhem. That night I lay nervous, visually overstimulated, heart racing, in a sleeping bag on the living room floor.
“We need to leave,” I whispered to my husband. “We need to go to a hotel.”
Well, there’s no way to make that exit politely, and we were young and broke and a hotel was out of the question.
I blog frequently about hospitality, and here I am breaking one of my own rules for both host and guest: suspend judgement.
It’s easy to be judgmental of hoarding, to ascribe character flaws like laziness, materialism or greed to people who are mired in piles of useless stuff.
It’s less easy to judge if you realize hoarding is an anxiety disorder. The Anxiety and Depression Association of American defines hoarding as “the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value.”(1)
The ADAA lists these symptoms and behaviors related to hoarding:(1)
- Inability to throw anything away
- Severe anxiety when attempting to discard items
- Great difficulty organizing possessions
- Distress and embarrassment about excessive possessions
- Suspicion of other people touching items