Life as a hoarder: thinking inside the box

Suitcases, bare walls, an obscene amount of cardboard and ‘Safestore’ sticky-tape: it’s moving day and I feel a little bit sick when I think about what we have to do today. We’re about to transfer everything we own from one place to another. Sounds simple. Obvious. Except for when you think about what that actually means.

As I sit here waiting for the removal men to arrive in their portable warehouses, I can’t quite believe how much stuff we have. Old stuff, new stuff, half-forgotten-about stuff, that we’ll be lugging from this house to the next, and probably to the one after that. So why do we feel the need to cling on to it all?

Now, I’d be the first to admit that both my mum and I suffer from mild HD (hoarding disorder). For us, it’s mentalities such as, “Oh but so-and-so gave me that for my birthday ten years ago,” and, “I’m sure if I shrunk this a bit I’d wear it again,” that stifle the voice screaming, “But we have no room!” amongst the folds of my old baby blankets. That aside, I refuse to believe that we’re just weak-minded people with minimal will power. There, I said what all you minimalists out there were thinking. So humour me, while I try to explain away the two (make that three) industrial storage units we have rented to stuff with childhood keepsakes and auction-worthy furniture. Here we go then: the science behind the storage; the sense behind the nonsensical.

While I wait for my credible source (Chrome and Safari et al 2015) to load, I hope that the studies I’m about to come across are called something equally as cheesy as the title I’ve given this very article. I wonder how they would go about collecting this kind of data. I imagine white-coated lab technicians examining some other-world “me” equivalent as she sorts through boxes, andhow they would ask her to rate her attachment to each item out of ten, before collating the results and dividing each by the amount of time that has passed since that item counted as being part of the present tense. Or something like that. Although it does not offer me answers to my Google question, “why do people get emotionallyattached to stuff ?”, ‘Miss Minimalist’s Blog: Self-help for Hoarders’ presents a striking conundrum for those of my persuasion. “Imagine that the place you live is suddenly struck by political unrest or natural disaster. Could you walk out the door and leave everything behind?” I think back to when our house flooded and Mum waded in to save some old sweaters. I scroll down and decide against completing the survey entitled ‘Are You Irrationally Attached to Your Stuff ?’. The ‘Purpose Fairy’ cannot help me magic-up an answer to my madness either, but does offer a helpful motto for those hippy-hoarders out there, ‘Love Everything, Be Attached to Nothing’. Going for a more medical approach, the article ‘For the Love of Stuff ’ steers me towards the diagnosis of ‘Terminal Materialism’, but I really don’t think my instinct to cling onto things is driven by a desire to show off how much stuff I own. Believe me, most of it I would never dream of showing anyone (Primary school Sports Day certificates for the coveted prize of ‘Tried the Hardest’ – I mean, hello?).

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No, that definitely wasn’t it.

To my disappointment, there seems to be no mathematical formula to explain my indecision when it comes to my belongings, but my internet hunt does seem to come to one, overwhelmingly scientific, conclusion: we’re human. Well, duh, you might say, but I can reason with this grand discovery. Despite the efforts of time’s numbing effects, there are some items that no amount of tape and years will make seem old or irrelevant.

Fast-forward through the move itself – when the box-numbering and furniture allocation system crumbles; you fail to piece together the cut-and-stick IKEA kitchen correctly; and the local Costa is cleared of its entire caffeine stock. Fast-forward through all of that to the traditional take-out pizza and bottle of wine amongst your very own cardboard fortress – the only bit of the day that is guaranteed to go as planned. This is when you look at each other and say, “We did it, yet again. Move number seven!” and you do the selfish internal gloat that you’re escaping to Oxford the next day for the Trinity eternity of Pimm’s and sunshine that is your illusion of a summer term without exams. This is when you tear open the box next to you in a desperate search-and-rescue mission for the corkscrew and find your Grandad’s binocular set staring back at you.

Suddenly, you remember how he used to “bird-watch” and offer commentary on his findings, making up names of birds for you as you sat next to him on his striped deckchair, your little feet not yet grazing the graveled floor. You remember how you were none the wiser to his little game and how to this day you swear that, somewhere out there, there really is such a thing as the lesser-spotted bird, the ‘Featheroo’. You turn to each other; smile together; and for that brief moment he’s with you again.

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Rewind back to the present and I’m still sitting on the floor of my empty bedroom. My phone goes and it’s a text from Mum, “We’ve left the storage units. On way to you. Need coffee.” I make my way downstairs and nudge the kettle on. As it boils, I see the shadow of bright yellow, shiny canvas rolling up the drive, the green hedges tickling its sides. They’re here. And, shit, I still haven’t stripped the beds.