I’m reading the Q&A on Randy Frost and Gail Steketee’s recent book, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things (see amazon.com), and the following explains perfectly my own struggle with stuff.
Q: What factors contribute to the development of hoarding?
A: People who hoard often have deficits in the way they process information. For example, they are often highly distractible and show symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. These symptoms make is [sic] difficult for them to concentrate on a task without being diverted by other things.
Most of us live our lives categorically. We put our possessions into categories and use those organizing systems to store and retrieve them easily. But categorization is difficult for people who hoard. Their lives seem to be organized visually and spatially. The electricity bill might go on the five-foot-high pile of papers in the living room, to keep it in sight as a reminder to pay the bill. Hoarders try to keep life organized by remembering where that bill is located. When they need to find it, they search their memory for the place it was last seen. Instead of relying on a system of categories, where one only has to remember where the entire group of objects is located, each object seems to have its own category. This makes finding things very difficult once a critical mass of possessions has been accumulated.
How many times have I started to sort only to get distracted by the first object I found? And then I spatially move around to the next object, and the next, rearranging without really decluttering. Fortunately for me and my loved ones, I’ve been able to learn a more efficient system over the years. Above all, I value efficiency. But I also wonder if part of the help has come in the form of electronic storage. All of those papers are now somewhere stored and shuffled about on my hard drive.