After reading in the March 2010 edition of Discover magazine the article titled "What Quirk of the Brain Turns People Into Compulsive Hoarders?" the other day, for just a fleeting moment I understood the head and the heart of a hoarder.
My particular brand of hoarding presents itself in terms of compulsive note taking and keeping (emphasis on the 'keeping' part), and it never dawned on me until after I had read the article that this is indeed the case, and not merely an incidence of the Barnum Effect. I made this realization as I was shuffling through old binders of kept notes from previous workshops and classes taken back in the period of 1996-2000 when I was working on my undergraduate degree in Organ and Sacred Music, and then later on my course work for the MM in Choral Conducting. I was hoping to avoid increasing the ever mounting price tag of my new educational endeavors here at the University of Pitt as I work toward a Master's in Social Work, so I thought that in order to serve that end I would simply recycle usable items from those prior educational phases.
However, it was not that simple as I had imagined it would be. As I started to pour through the several volumes of binders overstuffed and pregnant with all sorts of topically arranged information, I found myself stuck in a dilemma as to which information was worth transferring from the binder to the trash bin. My mind seemed to enter panic mode as it initiated an assessment process regarding the question of the down side of pitching the old information. How could I justify throwing away these notes? In that moment I found myself nearly impotent to discharge the impulse to hang on to it, even though everything in the binders was replicated in a file system located on my computer's hard drive, and beyond that, it was also housed on a remote back-up server in cyber space. Nonetheless, there I stood, frozen for a long moment, uncertain of how to proceed.
Standing there in that moment of hesitation I thought about Daniel, the hoarder from the article under consideration. Images of the television show "Clean House" began to crowd my mind. For a brief moment I related to him and him plight. In my particular situation, there was no concrete sensual offense associated with the notes that crammed my binders, which were kept hidden from sight, packed in cardboard boxes. There was no pungent odor to mask with potpourri and equally offensive air freshers, no cockroaches dropping from the ceiling, no piles of useless trash crowding the hallway, restricting access and flow from room to room like clogged arteries---- but on second thought, maybe there was!?
A I thought about it more objectively when later removed from the subjectivity of the moment, I recognized that my need to cling to the 'stuff' of the past actually did contain elements of the obsessive compulsive disorder that Daniel struggled with. If a researcher had hooked me up to a brain scan machine at that moment and recorded the activity levels in the anterior cingulate cortex where the metabolic rates registers higher in moments of decision-making, escalation of activity likely would have registered on the monitor.
Had someone interviewed me and asked why I was retaining two forms of the same records and files, I honestly would not have been able to give them a straight forward answer, because, truth be told, I had not accessed the information in years. Here I was though, clinging to stuff in digitalized form, and while it was not so apparent to the real world I had to stop and wonder if the visual present in the article of a messy domicile dod not have its corollary expression within the mansion of my own mind. No, there were no odors, no visual debris, no tactile repugnance, still I found myself wondering if perhaps there were not at least some evidence of restricted flow in mental energy, some narrowing of the mental arteries as a result of the clinging to the unnecessary clutter in my mind.
I had to ask myself: what purpose was being served in holding on to things that I no longer had use for? Perhaps it was merely some twisted loyalty to the past, and what the information represented. Perhaps my own identity was so wrapped up in the 'achievements" of the past, and to let these things go, would be facing death of sorts. Perhaps in my case, the roots of the 'dis-ease' did not run as deeply as Daniel's, or perhaps the disease was being manifested in a different way, still, my encounter with Daniel did prompt me to begin to consider how clinging to 'baggage' of the past keeps me tethered and less portable.
As I thought more about the importance of the need to anchor, to attach, to imprint the bonding circuitry in early developmental stages of a humans life, it began to make sense that if the challenges of this life phase circuit had not been adequately forged, it would follow that one would seek to have it satisfied in many other allegorical forms throughout the life span.
Regarding the failure of my own attachment process to supply the desired outcome, it would make sense that compensatory fear would drive a need to feel good about myself through the things that represented the goals I had attained, and the knowledge I had accrued. On the other hand, there is likely a bit of a 'hoarder' in each of us, and perhaps my over-arching attempts to manifest that through collection behaviors is innocent and non pathological. After all, in healthy ways, organizing can be a sign of efficient life strategy as long as it's done within flexible limits, remaining subject to reform as shifting environmental variables necessitate the need to readapt.