Maybe I’m showing early signs of hoarding

Compulsive hoarding by humans is this decade’s mental illness of choice



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My dogs hoard. There isn’t a bone too chewed or too new to be ineligible for hoarding, and by now there must be at least a hundred of these disgusting decayed chewies, tucked under the dug-up and re-laid expensive grass that makes the lawn that covers the sand that disguises the swamps that comprise the state that would be Florida. Honestly, it would be cheaper just to spray paint the sand green each night, but I’m sure there is a bylaw against that in Palm Beach, which has bylaws against pretty much anything that is cheaper. (Though I noted in the mini-documentary about the designer Valentino, titled The Perfect Life, that he had his lawn spray painted green for a big bash at his French château, and whatever you say about Valentino, who also put sisal over the Aubusson so that the high heels of Joan Collins et al. wouldn’t damage it, he is definitely not cheap.)

I had six dogs staying with me this past weekend and haven’t had so much fun since The Nightmare started in 2003. We took them out on Worth Avenue where they exhibited model canine manners as they trotted past Van Cleef & Arpels, though shoppers armed with teeny dogs that fit in handbags, like the newly fashionable Havanese with its gene pool of 11 dogs, seemed apprehensive when 600-plus lb. of Asiatic dogdom wagged toward them. “Get a real dog, get a kuvasz” is my motto.

Dogs hoard. Humans hoard. Compulsive hoarding by humans is this decade’s mental illness of choice, replacing last decade’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and is said to affect up to five per cent of Americans and 4.9 per cent of Germans. I expect the Germans are thrown in just in case you think this is one of those sissy American problems like sex addiction, which you will never convince me is an actual mental disorder—in men anyway. Adding up the number of Americans who have ADHD or OCD, which includes just about every neurosis from overeating to Imelda Marcos shoe syndrome, leaves approximately four human beings in the United States who are not mentally disordered. That makes sense to me: watching America these days is rather like the cliché of the lunatic asylum being run by the inmates.

Once upon a time (perhaps before 1995 when Disney acquired an interest in the A&E Network), you could find some genuine arts programming on American stations. If I had to bet, I’d say A&E now stands for Aphasia & Emesis television. Last Monday, after another episode of the excruciating show Intervention, we had Hoarders. These hoarders are not exotic collectors but sad people who fill their homes with junk until cockroaches infest, floors crack under the weight of garbage, families split, and the city comes and takes away tons of old fridges, not to mention sacks of human waste. This is reality television scraping the bottom of the barrel, except this barrel is bottomless.

Actually, saving up one’s own urine and feces is probably the most interesting aspect: this fascination is found throughout history, and includes the concept of divine excrement in ancient Mexico as well as the bedpot fixation of the ancien régime. I spend time analyzing my dogs’ waste in case they have worms, and on occasion I quite forget the bags of it in my pockets. I don’t find the odour off-putting. I don’t know where the clinical dividing line is for compulsive hoarding and I suspect I am still on the right side of it, but it may be that I am showing early signs based on my emotional attachment to my dogs.

Author George Jonas told me about a friend of his in Budapest who used his body for hoarding. The friend was a journalist who at one time was the Hungarian cultural attaché in Rome. He was convinced he was going to starve to death. In order to postpone this dreadful fate he stuffed himself with everything available when food was scarce and when available would eat until he nearly burst. The epitome of this syndrome came around 1950 when he rushed to his friends’ homes to tell them that a new restaurant opening at midnight had received a shipment of fish heads. His friends were coerced into accompanying him to its huge cauldrons to watch him eat not only the soup but every available fish head. Not a pretty picture, I grant you, but an interesting example of compulsive hoarding. Dickens created a marvellous compulsive hoarder in Bleak House named Krook who had so much junk around him and gin within him that he self-combusted.

Our petty bourgeois society takes its rules very seriously, unlike older more aristocratic ones that tolerated eccentrics. L.A.’s Lloyd Drum, 78, hoarder of 5,000 bicycles and 10 years’ worth of newspapers, wouldn’t have faced jail in earlier times. There is an upside and a downside to such tolerance, and since I dislike the diseases unsanitary conditions may cause, I prefer the downside. But I can’t help lamenting a world where grandmothers sitting in homes with rooms stuffed to ceiling with newspapers and broken lampshades could be left alone rather than turned in by relatives to be filmed for the moral delectation of viewers of A&E.

One day I expect to face some horrible thirtysomething female professor of behavioral sciences brightly telling me that “we” can find a way out of my rooms filled with dogs, old magazines, outdated computers and cartons of clothes in sizes I can never again wear. Of course that depends on how you look at “hoarding.” I might also get a medal from an environmental group for socially sensitive indoor waste management: one man’s ant, after all, can be another’s grasshopper.




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Maybe I’m showing early signs of hoarding

  1. Once again Amiel you spend the better part of your article talking about YOURSELF. I learned almost nothing about hoarding, other than the fact that you consider early traces of senility – forgetting that you have dog feces in your coat pocket – to be essentially the same as compulsively collecting old magazines.

    But, for those readers who care about you, your obsession with dogs, and your stunning ability to write long illogical sentences, this must have been a great article.

    • Her column is meant to be about her and her life – ITS AN OPINION COLUMN!!!. Gees Suckit, if you want to read about hoarding I wouldn't look to a opinion column.

  2. That's not hoarding (the photo). It's a mess. And it's owned by someone who is depressed.

    You don't allow dogs to collect bones, chewed or otherwise. They're dirty, and they're bad for their health, not to mention the health of the humans who live with them. Cooked bones break up, and lodge in their innards. Raw bones – better for teeth etc., but collect bacteria.

    She spends time analyzing dogs' waste?? Looking for worms? Jesus — use a vet!! There are stool tests for that.
    Carries bags of dog poop in her POCKETS??

    And what did Barbara Amiel hoard?? Obviously she didn't hoard her marbles, because she seems to be losing them.

  3. Barbara Amiel watches A&E.

    Barbara Amiel is full of surprises. And she writes like an angel.

    • '..write like an angel"? Patchouli, what are you talking about? Have you ever seen an angel write? Or read what an angel has written? Long ago Barbara Amiel used to write things that were worthwhile reading (and even then she was not writing "likje an angel") but that was more than 20 (maybe more like 30) years ago. She should have quit while she was ahead. Now she's just boring.

  4. What purpose does any of her articles ever serve except herself. Maclean's simply provides her with her own blog, in print, where she can talk about her life. What a waste of paper!

  5. To those complaining about the content of Amiel's columns: Don't read 'em. Geez. Her name is on the top of every article; if you've already decided you don't like her writing, don't read further!

    I don't agree with everything she says, but I like her way of writing- sort of breezy, not overly serious.
    And hey, how many of us would feel like sharing anything about ourselves in print after what she has experienced in the last few years? No one is saying she's perfect, but I like that she keeps on truckin.

    • I agree and if people don't like her writing why do they bother reading it?

  6. Can you tell me how to get in contact with Ms Amiel ? Please. Thank you. proplyne@yahoo.ca

    ASAP would be appreciated.

  7. I find Ms. Amiel's writing very entertaining these days. Being a woman "of a certain age," I kind of identify with what she says. She makes me laugh and that's not something to be taken lightly. I don't understand those who think that she is somehow "losing it." There's nothing so wrong with taking a lighter approach to life.

  8. I think this is a hilarious piece! I think it's sad that A&E now features shows showing really pathetic people and their various addictions. Sad to even want to watch something like this. Even if I watch for a few minutes I feel guilty — like a rubbernecker slowing down at the scene of a car accident.

  9. Barbara, you have class. Best wishes to your future,

  10. Why is the thirtysomething professor horrible? Gratitutious assumption.

  11. Whilw it may be the "mental illness of the decade", hoarding is a brain disorder. As with many former "illnesses of the month", when the tv cameras leave the patients who are suffering will still be there. Hoarding is a horrible affliction; it's sufferers know it is illogical, unhealthy, and crushing; but they cannot break free. While many who watch a tv show on this subject may be like those who gather at accidents, some of us watch to see an objective view of what may be close to our life experience. Hoarding is a very lonely affliction, even within the already lonely mental health illnesses. It is the "dirty little secret" that only family knows about. Often a part of the house is ok and the Hoarding is on the top floor….To see other humans who are struggling with this disorder (and maybe winning a bit, for a while) can be comforting in an alarming sort of way. So do not be too quick to judge. Few people can understand the demons that haunt those who live under bondage to their "stuff". Maybe some compassion. Also, it is good to remember that there is no cure, as such, it will be a constant battle for some of us forever.

  12. Well, this one was boring. And distasteful to know that such a classy lady has poop in her coat pockets. Ugh.

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