Thursday, January 7, 2010

Hoarding: Breakthrough Part II

After my post yesterday about the extreme urge to buy and eat junk because I CAN, I got lots of wonderful comments about this issue. I also started thinking more in depth about this behavior and the thought patterns that have led to it. It really IS all about fear.

There were those who left comments that they tend to buy lots and lots of food out of worry/fear that they might run out. And there was a comment by someone who started hoarding basic care items like shampoo, in response to that almost-subconscious fear of being unable to afford such things later.

Aha. Now I see the even bigger picture!

More than a decade ago, when my first marriage was ending, I knew things were going to be bad. I'd been a stay-at-home mom for several years; I had four little kids and no income of my own. We'd just bought a house and a car and I saw the divorce looming, and I got a little panicky worrying about how I would have ANY money to buy anything. In the month before my husband left, I started buying extra stuff: shampoo, soap, toothpaste, food, etc. In fact, one of the basement closets was actually stuffed full of my hidden stash of toilet paper, paper towels, and feminine products. Another closet had several flats of tuna and canned soup and tomatoes. When my husband moved out, I was suddenly *completely* without income. It took 3 months to start getting child support, and another couple of months for me to find a job. And if I hadn't had that stash of stuff, I have no idea what we would've used to brush our teeth or wipe our butts. Seriously. And the food helped immensely. But you know what? It wasn't *enough* of a stash, I ran out, and I had no money to buy anything. It was quite difficult.

Later on when things got better I always looked back on that and thought, "wow, it was a good thing I had the foresight to stock up on essentials before I was broke." But I also remember the daily stress of not having things I *hadn't* stocked up on, like shoes or socks without holes, medicines, pencils, deodorant... all the little things you don't think about until you need them.

I guess I have become a hoarder of sorts. I didn't ever connect this with my eating, but it *IS* connected. When things in my current marriage started going south (if you are really interested, you can find some info on this blog, but I am not going into it any further right now), I almost subconsciously started buying extra "stuff." Instead of one deodorant, I'd buy two. Every trip to the store, I'd grab an extra bottle of shampoo, laundry soap, Windex, whatever. I did not even really notice what I was doing, but now if I look in my closet there are a dozen deodorants, 10 containers of dental floss, a couple months worth of bath soaps, 8 bottles of glass cleaner, 6 months worth of multi vitamins, 3 bottles of Children's Tylenol.... you get the picture. It's a little over the top. But it makes me feel safer. I see all that extra stuff and I think, "well, if things turn ugly and I am suddenly broke, at least I will have this STUFF." I worry that IF *something happens* I will not have the money to buy toilet bowl cleaner or laundry stain remover or trash bags, so I buy 3x what I need NOW. Just in case. Food, too. Pantry is well-stocked, but I am always bringing home an extra bag of lentils or beans to stick in the back of the closet, just in case.

This has even bubbled over into not wanting to get rid of "stuff," which is a sign of a classic hoarder that lives in a house stacked to the hilt with all manner of things they will never use. I'm not THAT bad... I don't mind getting rid of junk. But anything that might have value? I keep it. I don't sell it because WHAT IF *something happens* someday? I will want to have some items of value to sell for cash. So even though I got rid of most of my fat clothes, I kept back the nicest, brand-name items in a box. Even though my youngest (and final) child is 4 years old, I have tub after tub of Gymboree baby clothes because *someday*, if *something* happens, I know I can sell them on Ebay for some decent cash. When I was poor before, I sold off just about everything I owned just to pay the bills... until I had nothing left I could sell. Part of me feels comforted that I have stuff to sell, even though I do not need any of it and would rather not have it in the house right now.

And then there is the body hoarding. I used to be afraid that if I lost all my weight, there would be some kind of famine or food crisis and I would die of starvation. I know how ridiculous this sounds, but it was a very real fear. In my mind I thought, "All the skinny people will die first in a famine. We obese people have a reserve of fuel ON our bodies and we would survive longer on less food." This used to bug me a LOT. I was using my body as a "food storage" mechanism. But I processed those thoughts, I got to the point where I convinced myself I am better off healthy NOW instead of killing myself hoarding food in my fat cells for some future possible famine. I have overcome that fear.

It's all the same fear. Fear of someday, something happening, and not having enough. I don't really know what the solution to this is... part of me wants to buy a ton of healthy canned food and keep it back, just in case. Part of me says it is ok to hang onto things I can sell later, as long as the things are not taking over the house. I have been able to let go of the need to stay fat to feel safe from famine; I think I will also be able to work through this tendency to hang onto extra "stuff" in case of disaster, too. I want to be prepared, but I want to stop worrying.

Knowing what's going on is helping me tremendously. I feel so much better acknowledging the fear that's been the driving force for my behaviors. And now I can make a solid, sensible plan for the *realistic* just-in-cases... a plan that will help me feel secure. A plan that won't hurt me anymore.


Pubsgal said...

Wow, this is a really powerful insight, Lyn. I definitely tend to do the same thing with regard to food, and to some degree with stuff.

I don't know if it's feasible for you--maybe not, you probably would have done it already if so--but regard to keeping stuff around that you might be able to sell someday, perhaps it would make sense to liquidate the stuff and save the cash itself somewhere (Bank account, safe deposit box, fireproof cash box/safe at home)?

Anonymous said...

I was given a good piece of advice many years ago-- that every woman should have two months living expenses tucked away. If the husband never asks there's no need to lie to him. I took that advice and have always had a few thousand dollars tucked away just in case. So far (23 years of marriage later) I haven't needed it.


Rebekah said...

Just wanted to give you another big big hug.

Steelers6 said...

I say sell your dear daughter's things now, either consignment/resale shop, or ebay and use that money for a massage or something special for YOU, dear girl! They become less and less desirable and valuable the longer you hang on to them, which is an interesting part of this whole discovery.

I am rejoicing with you for this recent enlightenment. I love how tuned in to things you are these days.

Wishing you only good, yummy foods and the ability to afford them forever and ever!
ps - how is the foot?? Chrissy

Dinah Soar said...

Every generation goes through daddy, who was born in 1913 and lived through the Great Depression never got over the fear of want. I too have had the same fear, for reasons different than daddy's. The only remedy is to make a reasonable plan, and after that to trust the Creator who put us all here for an express purpose.

When it comes to control, there are some things we have power over, but there are many more that we can't control and trying to is an exercise in futility. Becoming a mature adult means we finally understand that there are just some things we have no power over and never will .

When I finally "got" that in my fifties I wrote an essay on it. I call it my dog butt licking essay. My point was you can try but you can't stop a dog from licking his butt.

There are a lot of other things you can't do as well. That is a fearful thing, I think we all innately know it, but we don't face it and attempt to control our life in an effort to diminish our fear. But that fear won't go away until we face the things we are afraid of.

You're making a lot of progress..all part and parcel of losing weight for good.

Also, you are not alone or unique in your experiences ...for every person you can find who was better off than you are, there are probably a dozen who were even worse off.

Don't let the past hardships keep you from enjoying the present. And make reasonable preparations so that you will always be able to support yourself should you find yourself alone in the future. You can't depend on your husband to do it for would be nice if he would, but very few wives have husbands who are going to see that their wives are provided for. It's more likely they will leave you high and dry and when you least expect it.

Take any fear that remains and channel it into doing something for yourself and your future.

Losing 100 said...

It is so awesome that you have had such a breakthrough! I wish I knew why I do some of the things I do!

Twix said...

So basically we are kind of like piglett running around scared the sky is going to fall in. That's not a pleasant feeling. We live in the what if moment instead of the right now moment? Or the it happened before moment. I kind of got scared reading the new house, new car, divorce is looming part. It sort of echos what I'm now going through. And you bet ya! I'm fighting hard to not freak out and stash everything insight. In fact one of the ways I'm fighting this is to give a bunch of stuff away. That's kind of contrary to preparing for a yikes what if. But still my driving factor is fear and it'll be less stuff to haul around. Now I just need less of me to haul around! Hah! Funny thing is I haven't been keeping track of my eating and yesterday I was around an eldery friend who said I looked smaller. Maybe all this getting rid of stuff is rubbing off. How do we go from the it happened before and the what if future thinking, to right now just in the moment? When it's so ingrained in some of us. To some degree it must be for all of us, after all some of our ancestors were cave people. They must have been preppers to some extent. But what exactly happened to those of us whose switch was triggered into high gear and have no clue as to turn it off or down to some degree. Well you got me thinking.... ;-)

Emily said...

This is so interesting, and I hope that understanding it helps you!

What about setting up a new bank account where you can put the money from the things you sell? You can also add a few dollars to that account every time you go to the store ($5-$10) to account for the extra deodorant/toilet cleaner/whatever that you're not buying.

Leslie said...

Awareness is the first step to change. You keep getting more and more. Thanks for such an interesting and powerful post.

BTW, how's the foot feeling!

The Chubby Girl Diaries said...

What a great a-ha! moment! This will help so much on your journey! This blog is fantastic!


jenn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

What great insight! I could see myself in some of what you were describing. My ex husband was gone with almost no warning and I had to start selling everything (including the house and one of the cars). I think I've become a hoarder to an extent because of it. Maybe it's time to go through those baby clothes....

Hope @ Hope's Journey said...

Wow, reading these last couples of posts have been really interesting. I wish I could figure out why I do some of the things that I do. But, it's a journey. Keep on keeping on!


Duddes02 said...

Interesting post. My parents are "hoarders". They stock up on everything-they have shelves of lightbulbs, canned corn, telephones, screws, oil, toilet paper...everything! My mothers biggest thrill is going into the basement and lining everything up.

Personally, I'm the opposite of a hoarder- I love throwing things out! I can count on my hand what I have in my cupboard (shredded wheat, split peas, chocolate chips, corn flakes, and a can of chicken soup)

Money is a different story-I do hoard money.

Good luck on your journey-I'm rooting for ya

Name: Lynise said...

I must have missed something, as I remember reading a post where you wrote about bettering yourself and getting an education so you would not be poor.

I can understand if a relationship isn't good that you may worry about losing your spouses income, but what about your income. I know I read that you have a degree and that should guarantee you security of your own.

I have in some ways had a similar experience and also got a degree after children, but that scroll of paper guarantee's me income as I know my job is secure and I bring in more then enough to keep the wolf from the door on my income alone.

I am puzzled as to why the behaviour of hourding has continued when you have done all the right things to get out of the poverty trap and be an independent person due to the job your degree will have given you.

Lyn said...


You are very blessed to have a secure, guaranteed job because of your degree. Sadly, in a lot of parts of this country (including where I live), there are not enough jobs for all the degreed people. I have a bachelor's degree which does definitely give me an advantage, but there are a lot of people I know who have Masters degrees and are unemployed. Lots of layoffs going on right now. So while I have done the right things, I have no guarantee of a job waiting for me when I am ready to re-enter the work force (which will be after my youngest child starts school full time, if my financial situation holds).

Tammy said...

Now that I've been unemployed for 11 months and counting, I've definitely got the hoarding thing going on....I'm clipping and using coupons like a mad woman. When chicken breast goes on sale,I stock up! I buy extra non-food items, like paper towels, toilet paper, garbage bags. I keep a clean house, and i have visions of losing my job again one day and not having garbage bags and trash overflowing in my kitchen and i just FREAK OUT. Weird how our minds work, isn't it?

Name: Lynise said...

sorry my mistake, I assumed you secured a job after you had graduated. I would say don't leave it too long as my sister gained her degree in the US (married an American) but waited three years before trying to enter her chosen field but found she was passed up for new grads. Ended up having to work for free and do an internship to get her foot in the door as knowone seemed to want a 35 year old with very limited work experience.

I had assumed by some of your posts that you had become independent by securing your degree and didn't realise you hadn't done that.

Name: Lynise said...

I mean, in relation to getting a handle on the need ferrit things away, I'm sure getting yourself independent and standing on your own too feet will asssit this immensely, because as long as you are relying on someone else to keep the wolf from the door then you will remain without the power to keep these things from happening.

As I said, I've been in a similar situation myself (and my job is certainly not recession proof) but being independent gives you the power to control your own destiny, rather then living under the umbrella of all the things that 'could' happen when a person is not providing for themself.

Lyn said...


That's okay :)
I did work until I gave birth to my last child. She had some health problems that kept me from returning to the work force at all for her first 3 years, and now I am very much enjoying my SAHM status and hope to continue as long as I can (as long as my husband supports it). I may have to take some classes or even go for a masters in order to get back to work, we'll see.

Rina said...

Hmm. One thing popped into my head while I was reading - why don't you sell all that stuff you don't want *now* and put the money away? Then you have a stock of ready cash in case of emergency? Better than stuff, no?

Oh, oops, I see people have already suggested that. Well, I'm in :)

Chibi Jeebs said...

My mom was on income assistance when I was in high school, so I grew up with it being "normal" to stock up on shampoo, soap, toothpaste, etc when it went on sale. Mom never stopped, and I continued the habit. I never equated it with hoarding before, but it makes perfect sense. (I have gotten better, and am okay to just have one spare of this stuff in the closet instead of six.)

Cynthia said...

My advice would be sell the Gymboree clothes on eBay now and bank or invest the money. Trust me, stuff that is easy to sell today is not always AS easy to sell in the future. Fashion and styles change. eBay fees continue to increase.

I'm kind of kicking myself now, because a classic camera I own might've brought me $100 on eBay four years ago, now, it might bring $25. If I'm lucky enough to sell at all. Procrastination can cost you.

Besides all that, excess "stuff" kind of just weighs on me. It's a reminder to me at least of tasks undone, clutter in the house, even if it is neatly organized.

Another thought... if you have a mortgage, sell the stuff and put the money towards that. Even little contributions make a difference. One year, I put just 5% of every sale of excess "stuff" towards the mortgage. By the end of the year, that 5% had made half a mortgage payment!

BTW... on the food thing, I also have the binge urge and sometimes the urge to put a lot of junk in my cart at the store. My reasons are not the same as yours, but I have learned that if I put stuff in the cart, I can also take it out again before I check out! Hell, I get extra exercise out of going back and stashing it on the shelves, LOL!

Anyway, even if I'm not around to comment often, I LOVE your blog! It's been very helpful to me!

midlife_swimmer said...

great blog! glad I found you!

courageforpeace (formerly flyingwoman) said...

Just like always, you say things that ring out to me.

I have hoarding tendencies too. In fact, for one period of time in my life I did have stacks of stuff in the house that actually hindered my living in the space. Of course I lived in a really small space at the time, so it was easy for things to get out of control.

I've recently looked back on my childhood and seen a number of things that point to classic OCD hoarding mechanisms, too. I'd especially save anything that reminded me of good things and times, movie stubs, concert tickets, cards, letters, comic strips and cuttings from newspapers all of which sounds reasonable enough until they start to fill boxes and boxes and boxes.

Even though I had a really poor period in my life too, I don't think for me that fear of that time was the source of the hoarding. For me, I think it's strongly related to anxiety,about capturing pieces of possibility and tucking them away.

For me, the fear is about scarcity, butin the end, but my fear of scarcity isn't about money it's about love and belonging. It's about comfort and happiness, and the fear of not having any of those things. It's about filling up my space so that there isn't emptiness. Emptiness and loneliness are strongly linked in my brain.

It also always used to become a reason not to have people into my space. Still does, sometimes. Such a contradictory set of flags, really. The loops my mind will go through to set up vicious circles.

But in the end all parts are also related to my body, and my body is related to it.

hoardaholic said...

I have really enjoyed your article and see myself in a lot on instances. Both hoarding and shopping are a great struggle for me.