The opposite of hoarding

This week I stumbled across an Atlantic article and learned that the opposite of hoarding can be a problem too. It seems to be called “compulsive decluttering” or “purging”. People with this problem aren’t paring their stuff down to the essentials so they can lead a carefree, meaningful life. They’re throwing out stuff they actually need because seeing it in their living space makes them anxious. Then they’re re-buying the same stuff because, y’know, they need it.

I don’t think this is really the “opposite” of hoarding. I think this behaviour has a lot in common with hoarding, and the contributing factors are the same: OCD,  perfectionism, anxiety manifesting as a disordered relationship with “stuff”, a need for control over your surroundings. I completely understand the anonymous commenter (on a different blog post, not the Atlantic article) who says: “I am uncomfortable using a lock box or storage areas because I cannot personally watch over these items.” They describe themselves as having “obsessive-compulsive spartanism”, but I think the reluctance to trust anyone else with your possessions is totally a hoarder thing too. (It’s the reason why I’ve never used a storage unit.)

Unfortunately, this problem is often masked by the current trend for competitive minimalism. There’s a narrative that says “stuff” is antithetical to “experiences”. If you have more than ten plates you can’t possibly brush a rose against your cheek, cradle a laughing child, or interfere with a woman sexually.  So the person who’s just binned their blender gets cultural approval because everybody assumes they will now go white-water rafting while writing the Great American Novel and being the best parent ever. Whereas, in reality, they’re trapped in a cycle of discarding and re-buying the same necessary items over and over again.

I can’t work out if there’s a bright line between the competitive minimalist and the compulsive declutterer, or if it’s more of a spectrum.

We all know at least one person who’s addicted to shopping but wants to keep their house super-tidy, so they’re constantly eBaying and Freegling unused past purchases. And maybe we focus on the shopping as the “real” problem because they’re in debt, but in reality the two behaviours are linked. Is that person on this spectrum?

We all know the person who can’t have anything visibly lying around in their home. Those shoes you kicked off in their hallway will be moved out of sight before you’ve taken your first sip of tea. It’s anxiety-inducing for visitors to realise that the usual not-leaving-things-behind method of doing a quick visual scan for stuff lying around simply won’t work – anything you’ve forgotten will be hidden from view. But hey, presumably it’s anxiety-inducing for the host to see a pair of shoes just CLUTTERING UP THE PLACE by VISIBLY BEING SHOES. Are they on this spectrum?

What about the person who gets anxious about receiving gifts and tries to pass them on as soon as possible, or even refuses to accept them in the first place? Again, pretty common. Are they on this spectrum?

I honestly don’t know. I’m guessing that if there is a bright line between “into minimalism” and “mentally ill”, you’d draw it by asking if the person is happy, fulfilled, relaxed in their home. But I’m inclined to think that “happy, fulfilled, relaxed” is a continuum too.

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