Outside, the house looks normal. Inside is the greatest garage sale in history — toys,
teddy bears, tennis racquets, books, clothes, ornaments, jugs, newspapers, crockery,
knick knacks, cheap jewellery, blankets, cooking pots (possibly even a chamber
pot), junk mail, broken electrical devices.
It is not a jumble sale, although it is jumble — and this unholy mess usually
also includes rotting food in freezers. Cooking, and finding somewhere to sleep, are
ongoing challenges.

A typical scene from the TV show Hoarding Buried Alive.

This is the modern phenomenon of hoarding run riot. The top end of the scale must surely be William Randolph Hearst, who collected art and even had a segmented European monastery in 10,000 unopened boxes. However, he had the equivalent of a castle of sorts to store his artifacts in, whereas the contemporary day hoarders have only a humble house, bursting at the seams with bric-a-brac.
At the level unveiled by this morbidly fascinating series, hoarding becomes a health and fire hazard. And yet the hoarders appear tolerably well dressed and healthy!
The ever innovative Americans have recently identified hoarding as a new form of mental illness, although formerly as a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Hoarders often suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder and, of course, obsessive-compulsive disorder. Generally, the victims are middle aged or older.
Looked at through another lens, one could blame it on a consumer society mentality
— after all, a Kalahari bushman is unlikely to have a thatched hut crammed with objects. And how about those $2 shops (of which I am fond — they’re ideal for Christmas presents) — close them down! Stop hoarding in its tracks!
A recent episode featured one of the most striking examples of this distressing condition. Middle-aged Dale has a daughter aged 21, who, like her mother, is achampion hoarder. The sight of her small form scrambling over piles of clutter is poignant. Enter landlord sister Sheila, who gives them one month to clean up or else — move out onto the snow-covered street.
Despite the gloom and depression of these situations, they always end on a hopeful note. A team of cleaners kitted up in protective gear and wearing face masks plus neat uniforms
arrives to tackle the gargantuan task. Then begins the tussle of wills. Suddenly, the
hoarder digs in their heels and says, “No — you can’t toss out my teddy bears or even the newspapers — they must stay!” In Dale’s case, the ground rules declare that antiques and jewellery must not be discarded.
A psychologist is called in and identifies the cause as rage at her husband leaving
when she got pregnant. The collection of objects forms a protective wall to keep the
hostile world out. The drama twists up a notch.
When half the stuff is dumped out on the snow Dale calls a halt. It must be properly sorted.
We see her angrily pulling things out of rubbish tins … back into the house.
“This is not garbage!” she cries in denial. Then, after a jump cut, we see an orderly
kitchen and lounge. The rest of the house is still not 100 per cent, but is radically
improved. And the stern sister allows them to stay. So we can draw breath. The
question left unanswered is whether the hoarder maintains a clear house or reverts
to her or his old ways.
I have to confess to a mild case of bibliomania instanced by crowded bookshelves.
My excuse is I am a book reviewer and receive free books, and also a writer who needs the resource. From time to time, I reluctantly sell off 50 or so. So if you see me on Hoarding: Buried Alive you will know I’ve succumbed to the syndrome.


  1. I’ve always been fascinated by this topic and enjoy watching the shows about hoarding – mainly because of the myriad of reasons for the behaviour. I used to have older relatives in Canada who always had stores of canned goods, biscuits, tea, etc. They had experienced the Depression and didn’t want to be without these staples again, even decades after those days.

    I even include a character who is a hoarder in my new novel. She started as a collector and archivist, but there are other reasons for her habits.

    I loved collecting in my younger years (comic books, sports cards and memorabilia) and this turned into a book collection during my English studies at university. Moving to New Zealand put an end to that as I wanted to be able to shift more easily if the time came. After almost 18 years here, I am still disposing of things store in boxes back in Canada.

    However, the upside is that I am discovering a pleasure in not having things (check out The Minimalists website: Instead of collecting books, I enjoy borrowing from the library or sharing with friends. An interesting phenomenon being addressed n all sorts of ways at the moment.