I've known about hoarders before seeing this show. I used to live in the flat next to one in California. This poor woman was a complete nutcase. We both had flower boxes outside our doors. I filled mine up with herbs and watered them every day and used them for cooking and was pretty pleased with myself for having such a green thumb. She put bark and plastic flowers in hers. The backseat of her car was filled with garbage that obscured the windows and she'd cover it with a blanket, as if the rest of us wouldn't notice.
One time she was locked out her her apartment for three days because a pile of her stuff fell over and blocked the door. Of course she was too scared to call the landlord--if he saw what she was doing he'd have kicked her out--so she sat outside for three days trying to dislodge the stuff behind the door by pushing sticks through the mail slot. Eventually, she got back in. She was completely insane in this really suburban, middle-aged hippie sort of way. She asked that I never knock on her door, but that I call her special voicemail line if I ever needed anything. I suspect she didn't want me to see her "stuff."
I never had any concept of what was truly going on in the next flat over until I saw this show. I had always assumed that hoarders were collecting worthwhile things. For example, my father has a tendency towards hoarding but it's always German antiques and cookbooks. My mother refuses to throw away armchairs that clutter the living room, but from an objective standpoint they aren't junk-heap material. I thought that's what hoarding was--having too many things because they're still nice enough to keep. (I'm consciously trying to not mention my father's collection of phone books). But on Hoarders, people are just collecting garbage. Rotting pumpkins, empty Coke bottles, pizza boxes, scraps of paper, dolls with no heads. It boggles the mind. And what is most unbelievable is how some of these people find someone else that compliments their complete insanity, like the compulsive shopper who is married to a compulsive hoarder. She brings stuff in and he won't let it go. It was really terrifying.
And everyone on the show eventually breaks down weeping because of their "stuff." They don't want to get rid of their "stuff." "It's my stuff!" they wail. "I don't want people touching my stuff!" "My stuff is all I have!" It was profoundly depressing. I saw this on the back of reading an article in the New York Times Magazine, The Self-Storage Self a few days ago, while at the same time waiting for all of the storage companies I called to get back to me with price quotes. I'm going to go travelling around Asia for a while and need somewhere to put my "stuff." And now I'm gripped with fear.
Stuff is one of my obsessions. I wouldn't go so far as to call myself a compulsive shopper, but I certainly love accumulating. Out of fear, I've counterbalanced this habit by being a compulsive thrower-outer. I throw a lot away. I go through my apartment and donate bags to charity. I'm so terrified of being one of these people where their entire lives are controlled by their stuff that I throw things away and get rid of things constantly. I get rid of more than I buy and manage to hold on to the sides. But just barely. And don't ask about the boxes I have in my parents' garage. That's my stuff.