Ideological Hoarding

I’m not a fan of reality shows. In fact, I really hate ’em…. Especially the ones with half-naked people performing pointless tasks like drinking gross stuff mixed up in a blender or bouncing off giant inflatables, or singing and dancing not nearly as well as people who have been doing it without much recognition for years — all for the sake of TV ratings.

Recently, though, I happened on a fairly new show called “Hoarders” on A&E. This program follows people whose inability to part with “stuff” has actually been classified as a mental disorder. Their homes have become firetraps and health hazards and their pathology has invaded other aspects of their lives as they hold onto bits of string, broken motor parts, old magazines, and any number of things that they “might need someday” even though they can’t possibly find them if they do. An organizational therapist comes in to work with the person and with the help of volunteers, they attempt to help dig through the clutter to find some semblance of order and help the person part with items that have begun to bury them alive.

It soon becomes apparent that despite the well-intentioned help of friends and family, the pace of the adjustment is too much. The hoarder desperately attempts to hang on to these items of comfort that no longer serve — they wind up right back where they were. The same phenomenon happens with obese people who lose weight and then gain it all back — and then some. But that’s a whole other story…

When the therapist asked what kept them from throwing things out and getting organized, the hoarders explained that they sought perfection in all of their efforts. It they couldn’t arrange things just so, they didn’t want to attempt it. They’d rather leave it until later when they felt assured that they could complete the task perfectly. Intellectually, they knew that there was no such thing as perfection but they couldn’t convince their brains that middle ground was acceptable.

As I watched these scenes unfold, I began to replace in my mind the circumstances and players with the current political atmosphere in our country, and I wondered if there is such a thing as “ideological hoarding”…

I’ve heard it said that our country is as politically polarized right now as it has probably ever been. Why is this? What cataclysm has happened to drive us so fearfully away from each other? In the past it seems that despite tensions on either end of the divide, there was still a strong middle keeping the rope from breaking. But now it seems the rope is unraveling a strand at a time and few of us can articulate why.

From a hoarding perspective, it seems we have devolved from a healthy sense of values and morality in our own lives to becoming pathologically worried about everyone else’s. The distances that used to divide us are gone and we are in each other’s faces 24/7. China is as close as Tennessee and I can talk to people in Australia more easy than I can talk to my own mother. We’ve adopted an “objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear” mentality, certain that our enemies are breathing down our necks at all times.

In order to cope with this panic, some turn to the comfort of thinking that there ever has been a time of perfection in this country. They are tempted to see the people, ideas, and objects of the past as somehow ideal when in reality, there was often more to fear then than there is now.

So they’re grasping at and gathering up all their ideas of what safety is, what prosperity is, and mindlessly hoping that being surrounded by these obsolete representations of comfort will make them happy. They are so irrationally certain that someone is out to take their stuff away that they simply gather more and more and more. They become blinded with rage that someone is questioning their reasons to have allegiance to their stuff that they become even more committed to it. They begin to hoard their beliefs.

On some level, we all do this. Our lifetimes of learning and world views established by our circumstances have left each of us with our own expectations of how things should be. We think that unless we convince everyone else that our way is the right way, we won’t have accomplished anything.

Yet it is in letting go of our ratty security blankets, allowing the spaces in our “mental homes” to open up and let the moving air dry up the toxic molds and send the asthma-producing dust bunnies on their way, that we create an atmosphere for growth. We need never forget the times and places in our lives that gave us comfort. We need simply to believe that all things are perfect just as they are.

If we could have it all cleared away — our memories, our learning, our lifetime experiences and expectations and those of others that we’ve taken on for ourselves — what would we have left? What would we seek out to hold onto? Would we find freedom in the wide-open spaces of our psyches or would we again seek to bury ourselves in repetitive habits and ideas that send us right back where we were?

For me, I will question myself each day to see if I am irrationally holding onto things that anesthetize me yet hold no real value. I will go through my boxes of memories and fondly place the items in the scrapbook of my soul then send them on their way. From this unobstructed place I’ve created I will look at the world around me and attempt to mold a new ideology that allows me to keep only what is necessary and discard the rest. I’ll not fall so deeply in love with my own things and ideas that I don’t recognize the need to give them up for the sake of someone else.

But don’t anybody else try to throw my stuff away…. I’LL DO IT MYSELF!!! Really, I will, just as soon as I make sure there’s nothing that I might need to keep in case I decide to build that thing that I was thinking of  that will make me a million bucks so that I can save all the starving people in Africa because they’re counting on me to get it just right and… (trails off mumbling to herself as she starts creating a new box to put all the pieces of loose string, etc….)

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  1. Tina
    April 2, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    As much as I enjoy your visual art, I’m so glad you’re back to bloggin’ baby! 😉 I enjoy you and your rantings and writings very much. Now, go outside and soak up some Vitamin D!

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