The Hoarder Next Door

I have a friend who lives next to a very nice man. Unfortunately, he also happens to be a hoarder. His yard is full of junk cars, and his backyard looks exactly like that compound in Sacramento where the kidnapped Jaycee Dugard was held for 18 years.

My friend says she’s never heard any signs of life back there, fortunately. And he doesn’t seem to be the type of person who hoards animals or urine, because the place doesn’t seem to smell. Who knows what it’s like inside, though.

I firmly believe that people have a right to live exactly as they please, as long as it’s not harming anyone else. My friend isn’t detecting any kind of health hazard, and this man isn’t hurting anyone or anything but himself. In the Seattle area, nothing short of a nuclear waste dumping ground seems to negatively impact property values. He’s also the neighborhood’s go-to guy when someone needs to borrow a tool.

But I can’t help but feel sorry for the man. Clearly he has an anxiety disorder, and the accumulation of crap is his way of soothing himself. But it doesn’t seem to be working for him. Even though he’s pleasant enough, I detect this underlying tension and unhappiness. I hope someday he gets help. And I pity whomever has to deal with that house and its contents once he’s gone.

The compound where Jaycee Dugard and her children were held for 18 years.

A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book.


It Takes All Kinds

I used to work with someone whose anxiety came out in the form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). On really bad nights, she’d actually walk up to the bridge on the roadway, on the dotted yellow line, because to her way of thinking, encountering a 4,000 pound vehicle was vastly preferable to walking on the germs of the sidewalk, or stepping on the places where tires had touched the roadway (because, she reasoned, most tires had gone over road kill at some point).

I felt sorry for her. I really did. It must be exhausting to live under the weight of such stress. Her world was full of illogical rules that she absolutely had to follow, or disaster would surely strike. For example, under no circumstances could she wear her glasses into the bathroom. And all her dirty dishes must soak in bleach for at least 12 hours.

I also worked with someone who was a compulsive hoarder, which is also considered by many to be part of the OCD spectrum. To see the way he lived was heartbreaking. I’d say 90 percent of his home was full of garbage and useless junk. And he’d come to work and just take the place over. He wasn’t comfortable unless he was surrounded by possessions. In fairness, though, he’d take all his stuff with him at the end of his shift. That must have been tiring, too.

It was always scary to see him walk into the roadway to retrieve something that had fallen off a passing vehicle. It didn’t have to be anything of value. It just had to exist. If it existed, he had to have it. That bridge had the cleanest roadway on the face of the earth, despite what the OCD lady thought.

Actually, that’s probably not true, because for some reason I’ve worked with quite a few bridgetenders who were OCD and/or hoarders in my career, so there are probably quite a few picked-over bridges out there. I have no idea why these types of individuals are attracted to this job, but it seems to be very much the case.

Maybe it’s because as a bridgetender you tend to have more control over your environment than you do in a lot of other jobs. You work alone. You have your own way of doing things within a narrow field of requirements. And the job is, for the most part, predictable. (Except, of course, when it isn’t. But those are stories for other days.)

And maybe there’s another way of looking at this. You actually want bridgetenders to be all about the rules. The safety of the traveling public depends upon bridgetenders not cutting corners or getting too complacent. And if you have an anxiety disorder and yet still have to earn a living, it’s probably better for all concerned that you work alone.

I’ve never met a bridgetender who wasn’t unique in one way or another. The same could definitely be said about me. As the saying goes, it takes all kinds to make a world.


The Futility of Accumulation

I long to have one of those minimalist homes with wide expanses of floor space and no tchotchkes to dust or arrange. No clutter. No collections. I want to be able to move all my stuff from one house to the next in just one or two carloads.

I often look around at the mess in my life and wonder when, exactly, I lost all control. When did the stuff start controlling me instead of me controlling the stuff? This has been in the forefront of my mind quite a lot lately since I’ve moved 3 times in the past 3 years. It gets old, lugging boxes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those hoarders you see on TV. My home is sanitary. I don’t pick things out of the garbage, and you won’t find dead cats wedged behind my dresser. But I definitely have more than I need to survive, by a country mile.

The irony of it is that 2/3rds of my possessions currently reside in my sister’s garage, 4 hours away, and they’ve been there for a couple of years now. If I can live without them for years, do I need them at all? But there are things there that I love and miss. Certain pieces of furniture, much used tools and items that would really come in handy should I ever be lucky enough to own a home again. These items would also be expensive to replace, but what does it cost me, figuratively, to keep them?

I’m profoundly grateful that cameras are now digital, because I have a ton of photo albums from a bygone age. I’d hate to think of what life would be like if I were to have to collect hard copies and photo negatives for the second half of my life as well. What will become of these albums when I die? They won’t mean a thing to anyone but me, most likely.

And clothing. Don’t get me started. It’s high time I accept the fact that I’ll never be a certain size again. I keep telling myself that if I haven’t worn something in a year it should go. But I never seem to get around to doing that.

Thank heavens I’ve never been the type to own exercise equipment or highly specific kitchen gadgets or, I don’t know, action figures. Things could, indeed, be a great deal worse.

But I often think that if there were a fire, as long as my dogs and I made it out alive, there would be relatively few things I would be heartbroken about losing. Stuff won’t love you. It won’t even like you. It won’t keep you warm at night (unless it’s a blanket or a pair of thermal underwear). The more stuff you accumulate, the less you will be able to travel lightly through this world. And that is something to consider before making your next purchase.


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