Has my semi-compulsive hoarding been the cause of anxiety?
My anxiety can be split into several distinct types. There is the social anxiety that gives me difficulty talking or being around even the people closest to me. On top of this there is an anxiety which stems from my own lack of productivity – but even this isn’t the worst. By far the biggest thing I worry about is the amount of stuff I have. It’s a problem that has been growing for two decades now, and I’ve known it’s a problem for at least half of that time; why then can’t I stop it?
About my stuff.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hoard everything – or anywhere near. My stuff is mainly the cause of merging both my own belongings with my partners when we moved in together. There is a lot of furniture, a lot of clothes, and then there is my hobbies which creates its own problems. Tools, parts, bits and pieces from various part finished projects over the years, every bolt you can imagine and every tool needed to do them up. There are two project cars (technically three if you count our daily drive) and all of the associated parts for these.
As for collections, my own personal collections are not small either – some people collect stamps, or antique plates – but my preference is in vintage tools. Hundreds of calipers, vernier, gauges, dial indicators, micrometers etc. These are relegated to storage shelves in my workshop but they still take up a good deal of room.
We also had another problem to contend with, we moved from two houses into one large house, then we moved into a much smaller cabin. When we last moved we also closed down a company and took the majority of equipment, materials and supplies with us – needing to find somewhere to store these. We now have a 5,000 sq ft barn with everything piled up in various states of dis-array. It’s a struggle every day to cope with the sheer amount of stuff we have.
So where is the problem?
A large part of my anxiety about stuff stems from an embarrassment about it. I don’t want people to see it. I feel they will judge me for it, or compare how they handle their stuff to how I handle mine. My brothers are the opposite of me, they have very tidy homes, they get rid of things frequently and only buy what they truly want. For the longest time I thought this was primarily down to finance, but I think the problem has deeper roots for me.
Here is why having too much stuff bothers me, in handy bullet points:
- Worrying how others will see my hoard of belongings.
- The stress of maintaining a tidiness.
- Wanting to be free of the grasp possessions have over me.
- The responsibility of maintaining thousands of items I don’t even use.
- The cost of storage.
The house is cramped even when empty, so adding our stuff in makes it homely – but only requiring a small nudge to push it into the realms of unmanageable. If either my wife or I start a project that requires us being indoors the lounge quickly gets filled and the mess seemingly grows exponentially. This leads to a lot of arguments. If it’s my mess I am reluctant to get rid of it until I finish my project, and if its hers – she is the same.
It costs money to store the things we don’t want, not a great deal but enough to have an impact on our lives. Perhaps more annoyingly though is the fact that getting rid of the belongings is even more expensive. In our part of the world a skip hire would cost around £350. Even if we had twenty we would only make a dent on getting rid of what is surplus to our requirements. If we wanted to store our truly valued possessions properly the costs keep growing. Plastic mouse-proof boxes retail at £15 – on their own not too much – but in the hundreds of a boxes it becomes a large expense.
Trying to get the problem sorted is more difficult than I ever imagined it would be. When I finally get the energy to break away from my depression for long enough to be productive I find the job to be very overbearing. I also struggle with the anxiety of being outside or in my barn for other reasons (most are silly – but still there). Procrastination is a big issue for me, and its been years since I originally committed to solving the problem and both procrastination and finances have always been there to fight against.
Getting it all sorted.
My approach to fixing the problem is three-fold, and is focused on addressing some of the underlying psychological problems causing it.
Step 1: The belongings.
“We can fill our lives with ‘stuff,’ but as we do we’re concurrently filling our lives with the obligation to maintain that ‘stuff.”
― Craig D. Lounsbrough
95% of the stuff I have is not useful, and yet I keep it anyway. I need to tackle the emotional attachment I have with the possessions I own. It’s easy to justify keeping something because I create excuses as to why I should, here are some examples – and how I need to change my thinking to battle these excuses.
Before: “I’m keeping that because it reminds me of my Grandfather”
After: “My Grandfather would think I’m mad keeping that junk.”
Before: “I’m keeping that because I might need to use it one day.”
After: “Let’s save the space, I can always buy another one if I do need one in the future.”
Before: “I’m keeping that because I think its beautiful/special/important.”
After: “It’s not beautiful/special/important enough to be inside and treasured so it needs to go.”
Before: “I’m keeping that because it was expensive.”
After: “My capital is tied up in this item I am not using, I could spend the money on something I actually need.”
Step 2: Collect Experiences
“There’s never enough of the stuff you can’t get enough of.”
― Patrick H.T. Doyle
I don’t want to spend my time at home tending to my possessions, I want to be out enjoying my life. I want to spend time enjoying working on my cars, so I need to keep my tools. If every time I want to work on an engine I have to spend two days clearing space it becomes a chore. The money tied in assets can go towards these experiences, and the experiences will be more enjoyable. I won’t be out having fun whilst simultaneously worrying about the hoard at home.
I need to make a fundamental shift from buying the things I want, to doing the things I want. I’m not saying I’ll stop buying material things – that’s not practical. I need to switch my focus to buying things that enable me to do things, be things, go places – instead of just stuff that brings momentary joy.
Step 3 : Taking Action
Writing about it, talking about it and thinking about it are the first step but it wont go any further until action is taken. I need to book time with the family to really tackle the problem. Try and set aside some spare days to get out in the barn and sort. At best my previous attempts have been sporadic, often mid-afternoon decisions to make a start. A more formal and practical plan needs to be put in place. Below are some of the resources I have been using to help me get to grips with my stuff.
I’m an avid reader and this book has a fantastic, practical approach to dealing with both the stuff we have, and the control that stuff has over us. You can grab it from Amazon or get the audio book on Audible if you prefer.
The NHS also published their own help page for people suffering from Hoarding Disorder. Click here to visit the NHS Hoarding Page