Simple-Living Lessons I Learned From "Hoarders"
Give me a strong cup of coffee and a marathon of the TV show "Hoarders," and I will get my house cleaned. It seems there’s nothing quite so motivating as a caffeine-fueled, hoarding-motivated cocktail to whip my house in shape and restore my sense of simplicity and balance.
Without making light of the very real journey each of the featured guests are on, there are some quiet truths I always take away from that show. "Hoarders," and shows like it, are commentaries on American consumerism and reminders (in the extreme) of what’s important in life. What follows are a few simple-living lessons I learned from "Hoarders" — lessons that are timeless and universal; lessons that go well beyond the shock and awe of what viewers see on the show. (See also: 25 Things to Throw Out Today)
Things Are Only Valuable If They’re Used
The value of anything we own lies in the beauty, joy, or usefulness it brings. Though, arguably, hoarders may get some satisfaction out of possessing things, each thing is rendered useless because of the sheer quantity of competing items, their condition, and their inaccessibility. If I have 15 dustpans, how can know where they all are? How can I use each one? Why would I need to? What is an unused dustpan besides conceptual art?
There Is an Inverse Relationship Between Quantity of Things and Joy
This is an important and hard-won lesson. We all need a basic level of material items to live a convenient and comfortable life. But after a certain point, objects crowd us out, require too much maintenance, monopolize our time, and require near-constant labor to pay for. Over time, the chase for newer, better, bigger, different, and more things saps our joy. Recognizing this, simplifying our needs, and embracing our own optimal level of "stuff" is liberating.
Objects Become More Useful When They Are Shared
As mentioned earlier, hoarding objects renders most of them useless. That’s because the value of an object typically lies in its utility. Hoarding so much that there’s no way to use it all takes the worth out of objects. But putting stashed items we don’t or can’t use back into the consumer cycle takes them out of the abstract. Isn’t it wonderful to give an item to a friend, donate it charity, sell it in a yard sale, or set in on the curb, knowing it will be used? An old lawn mower mows again; a great book has new reader; a rusty bike gets a new lease on life.
Possessions Reflect Our Inner World
Whether we like it or not, the things we choose to surround ourselves with reflect our inner world. Sometimes, it’s a literal reflection; sometimes, it’s artificial. But things always have way of displaying our priorities, confessing our fears, and betraying our secrets. People who struggle with hoarding are stark examples, but maybe no starker than the rest of us.
It’s a Fine Line Between Acceptable and Not-Acceptable Shopping
Our modern consumer world can be a confusing place. Shopping, spending, saving, and storing is beyond a national pastime — it’s downright patriotic. It seems to me that the line between a typical consumer and hoarder is sometimes drawn quite arbitrarily. Maybe hoarding shows strike such a chord with audiences because we all see a bit of ourselves on the screen.
Objects Tend to Distance Us From One Another
Not only is there a declining return on joy once we reach a certain level of material comfort, there’s also a decline in intimacy and connectedness to one another. Maybe a bigger house isolates us from our neighbors, the expense of a new car forces us to work 10 hours more per week, or a smartphone kills the family dinner conversation. New toys can be wonderful, but without mindful use, they can intrude upon and interfere with our most important relationships. Watch any random episode of "Hoarders" to see the havoc that unchecked accumulation has on friends and families.
My hat goes off to each of guests featured on the show. The lessons they’re learning so publicly are lessons we can all take to heart in large and small ways. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.
Are you a fan of "Hoarders"? How do you react to shows like it and how has it changed your behavior or attitude about what’s enough?