Hoarding or Not: The [Psycho]pathology of Emotional Attachment to Things and Stuff

handbagsIf I had a nickel for every time I assured a particular individual that we ALL – and I mean *every single one of us* are pathologically something, I would have at least enough to buy a fancy new handbag – which is a thing I did not even know to want until I was given one. Don’t get me started on how many conversations this bag has started.  Or how my pre-fancy bag was made of recycled materials and covered in elephants, and what *that’s* all about. Don’t judge me.

I use (assuring people of things) joining as an intervention when it is beneficial to alliance-building, and never cavalierly, since every move I make in the professional context is purposeful.  Psychopathology is defined as the study of the origin, development and/or manifestations of mental or behavioral disorders. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been diagnosed a few times in my life by those who are (fortunately) not qualified to assess my mental status or impose any consequences that would infringe upon my civil liberties. Forbdayluggage example, during the tumultuous time between introducing them to feminine hygiene products and introducing them to the set of luggage they should use to pack their stuff in and get out, I was diagnosed by my progeny as “Bipolar” because “One day you’re all nice and the next day you’re like this!” Nevermind that one day someone decided to go to school and one day someone did not – or that none of the verbal or nonverbal characteristics I ever displayed when refusing to co-sign my beloved progeny’s bullshit and/or imposing real world consequences met the criteria for severe and persistent mental illness. Nice try!  I was also diagnosed as a “hoarder,” and this is the subject of today’s righting.  That, and the fact that not just anybody is qualified to judge. Though some evidence of [psycho] pathology may be…evident, even to the untrained/unqualified eye, that evidence is not – as they say — sufficient to “convict.” And that is important.
1dwightAnother truth I live by is “It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove.” What separates the diagnostician and the diagnosed is the severity of the symptomology, when such exists, and the ability to manage it.  Well, that, plus a whole lotta credentials.  But the true measure is the functionality test. Period. What does this thing that you are doing prevent you from also doing?  My emotional attachment to things I do not need has no impact on my ability to function as a super-human. Nothing stops me except the various plagues imposed upon me by the population I choose to serve, and I expect to be able to shut that shit down soon with sheer willpower – not unlike Dwight K. Shrute, with the raising and lowering of his cholesterol.

thingsI had occasion recently to rediscover two things I had forgotten I “hoarded,” pictured hereinabove. What we have here are (1) some random cards from a game called “Slamwich” that I once purchased and played with my progeny; and (2) some chess pieces I allegedly stole as a juvenile. I do not have all the cards. I do not have all the chess pieces. But, for some reason, I have kept these things for years. I made the decision today to let the cards go. But only after taking a picture of them and sending it to my progeny like “Remember this?! <3!” The truth is that I don’t remember how this game was even played. What is up with that “guy-eating-a-sandwich” card? What does the “2” mean? It is a mystery. What I remember is the slamming. And how we laughed. I maintain that letting my little birds fly is the hardest thing I have ever had to do.

The first thing I learned to do after my dad died when I was ten years old was play chess. I joined the chess club at school and played every moment of every day that I could, which was only at school since that was the only place anyone cared about my desires to do anything, including but not limited to surviving my incomprehensible grief and playing chess. I caught on quick and played well enough, although my “strategy” is nothing anyone would ever want to mimic, as it is best described as having none. I play chess like I play pool, or blackjack – with a belief in *magic* that infuriates people who understand things like “math.” It is a practice that I am told may one day get me murdered, but I like to live on the edge. Plus, it’s not like I sit around in a pool hall all day playing chess and blackjack. I don’t have to math to understand that the odds of not being murdered are in my favor.

I remember that I allegedly stole the chess pieces when I was 14 years old, whilst one of my associates in orphanry was pawning some other things I allegedly stole. I recall wandering around the shop wondering how many of the things in it were stolen and happening upon this thing I was allegedly compelled to (re?)steal. The pieces were in a plastic bag. I remember allegedly thinking that they were really asking for it (the alleged theft of the thing) by making it so convenient. And that I allegedly despaired that I could not allegedly steal the board, as it could not allegedly be concealed upon my person.

At the time I somehow acquired those chess pieces, I had not played chess in years. I could have bought the whole set for $10. But that was like…three packs of cigarettes. Or two packs of cigarettes and two Mountain Dews. I remember standing there, looking at that chess set, and imagining I had discovered an ancient treasure because look at the carving. I recall that I carried these around for awhile, insisting that various persons who did not care one goddamned bit about a bag of chess pieces look at them and speculate on the magic and mystery of the rudimentary, medieval-esque carving! I liked to imagine that it was a mini-set that was hand-carved by torchlight by some hardworking dwarf father, or magicked into existence by a forest elf mother for their offspring. I knew it wasn’t super-fancy – by which I mean to say that I understood the materials were not precious. But “precious” is subjective, isn’t it?  And how do you put a price on *magic?* I knew that these pieces knew I would take care of them. And that they wanted to be mine. Allegedly.

Over the next 25 years, through many, many moves, some of (the earlier ones) which were hurried, unanticipated affairs, I kept dragging these pieces around and eventually putting them in the top drawer of my dressers – losing a few here and a few there along the way.  Sadly. What became of the bag they were in, or why I did not put them all together in any type of container like anybody with any goddamned sense at all would do is unknown. These are all that remain. I never played with them – not even once, though I imagined that one day I would – with my own prince and/or progeny. Alas, that this did not come to pass, for that would have been epic.

I do look at them from time to time. And hold them.  At least every time I pack or unpack from a move. And I remember how I felt the day they allegedly illegally became mine. Again, it’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove. Or sometimes it’s what you can convince a relatively decent thief/juvenile delinquent (who is unfortunately not a good liar) what you can prove, after which there is a stipulation that the evidence is sufficient to convict. Nolo contendere, or the last vestige of the damned, is the only hope for those who have or know they will crumble under interrogation. Temet nosce.

I hold onto some things I do not need because I am compelled to hold on to them, but this does not satisfy the test for diagnosis of a psychological disorder because, for one, there is no coexisting functional impairment. It is a commonly observed phenomenon for orphans to have attachments to things and stuff – the severity of the compulsion and corresponding impairment/adverse impact to functionality typically correlates with the severity and duration of the childhood trauma. It does not have to be this way because people have the power to learn, grow, and become what they choose to learn, where they choose to grow, and who they want to become. This is the most important thing I teach: resilience is a superpower that can be learned.

I let go of some things I do not need because I learned that what separates the diagnostician from the diagnosed is the ability to manage the symptoms/behaviors. I understand that I could not function as a superhuman if my lair overflowed with ticket stubs or programs or flyers for that awesome thing I did with that awesome person. Or the outfit I wore that time to the thing. Or the thing that reminded me of how much I loved the other thing. I cannot have all of the things. But I can have some of them. What distinguishes a memory from a madness is whether you’re holding onto it, or it has a hold on you. In the words of a certain Fight Club founder, if “the things you own end up owning you,” you have a psychological impairment for which professional treatment is recommended.

Abraham Maslow, the brain wizard who made it clear that one must know where one’s next meal is coming from before one can focus on becoming one’s best self, said “What we call normal in psychology is really a psychopathology of the average, so undramatic and so widely spread that we don’t even notice it ordinarily.” In other words, we are all pathogically something.  Might as well be awesome.

I hold onto the chess pieces because I remember that learning to play chess saved me from drowning in a grief that was beyond my 10-year-old ability to process. They remind me of the importance of the long game. And that it is okay if a coping skill is a distraction; a thing that holds you over until you are able to process the thing that is preventing you from growing, or growing up – until you are ready and able to get the fuck out of your own way. And that it is okay if you play like you are *magic* despite the existence of proven variations, defenses and strategies –so long as you possess sufficient charm necessary to avoid being murdered by those you infuriate along the way.

Just as you are only as guilty as those who are empowered to decide the matter *have* decided it, you are only as “crazy” as those who are actually qualified to diagnose you have decided you are. It is not what anyone knows, or thinks they know, about you — it’s what they can prove. Yet, in the interest of keeping it 100, technical errors could occur in your favor from time to time.  In your heart of hearts, you know what you did or what you continue to do is not right.  If you don’t – let’s just say your situation is not exactly situated, and you need to get some professional help.  If the things you hold onto are preventing you from getting out there – or maybe even in there (you know damned good and well if your lair looks like a Hoarding Barbie Dreamhouse) and learning and growing and becoming, you have a psychological impairment for which professional treatment is recommended. Otherwise, you are sentimental, which — congratulations! — is the pathology of the awesome. So you can tell everybody who does not have the credentials to infringe upon your civil liberties to shut their face(s).

I tossed out the cards. It did not hurt my feelings to do it. But I am holding onto all of the chess pieces that remain of the set that wanted to be mine when I was young and afraid and didn’t know where my next *anything* was coming from. They remind me of where I started and how far I’ve come.  They remind me to be grateful.  And that is worth holding onto.



2 thoughts on “Hoarding or Not: The [Psycho]pathology of Emotional Attachment to Things and Stuff

  1. You sound like an eccentric collector to me not a hoarder. We eccentrics are archivers, or your collections would be in total disarray and they look nicely displayed to me. If you were stacking piles and piles of dirty things along with dishes, boxes and books, I might consider it hoarding. I am an eccentric and I collect turtles, jewelry boxes, more shoes, hats, gloves, clothes and jewelry than most women have ever seen in their lives. Archivers do have compulsive habits to collect, no doubt and like I told Tj, you can put a ceiling on the shopping if you want to put your attention on a purpose such as refurbishing things instead of buying new. You can get free stuff from craigslist and refashion plenty of items into something you made yourself which is fulfilling in and of itself. I make crowns, dresser trays, tables from old windows and I paint for fun. Enjoy your collections and box stuff occasionally to rotate them out so you aren’t bored. Love ~P.


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