I Am Not a Hoarder

I attended the wedding of my cousin Ken this past weekend. At the rehearsal dinner, the mother of the groom made a beautiful and heartfelt speech about her son's sensitivity and sentimentality. At the end, she presented the bride with a perfectly preserved stuffed animal from his childhood -- his "bun bun.” Naturally, everyone's reaction was how wonderful she had kept this all these years. And hers? To look at me and claim with a half smile, "I know, I know, but I'm not a hoarder!"

Now I know my cousin is not a hoarder. I've been in her home countless times. But this is not the first time (nor will it be the last) where individuals feel the need to defend their attachment, sentimentality, or desire to hold on to precious keepsakes whether I know them or not. Plenty of my initial conversations with a prospective client begin with those five words. Most are surprised to find my home is filled with photos, collections, travel mementos, and keepsakes from my deceased parents.So much has been said about what hoarding is; l’d like to talk about what it isn’t. Hoarding is not the collection of antique tea pots artfully displayed in your kitchen. It's not the boxes of yearbooks or photos from high school that you take out once a year to trip down memory lane. It’s not even a stack of travel magazines that you grab on the way to an appointment. Hoarding is not those special items that make you smile, that you display, that you actively use, or that give you extreme pleasure. Or that you visit with again and again like an old friend.

The best way hoarding was ever described to me for others to understand was "hoarding is NOT defined by the number of possessions you have, but by how the acquisition and management of those possessions affects the owner." In other words if people have a huge collection of items, but are proud of them, celebrate them, have room for them, and display them, then it is not hoarding.

I always ask my clients to name their “10s,” their non-negotiables. Those items that they couldn't bear to let go of. But here's the catch. Not everything can be a 10. Because if everything is a 10, then nothing is a 10. And that is the true definition of someone who hoards. They assign the same level of significance to everything -- whether it is a piece of paper with a phone number that has no name or their marriage certificate -- and can't differentiate its level of importance.

So whether you have a childhood stuffed animal that you can’t part with or a treasured memento from your travels, don't apologize for it. Honor it and celebrate it. Trust me. My daughter's "Becka Bunny" is waiting her turn.


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