Possessed: a documentary about hoarders

POSSESSED from Martin Hampton on Vimeo.

Fascinating and beautifully-shot documentary that profiles four different hoarders.

'POSSESSED' enters the complicated worlds of four hoarders; people whose lives are dominated by their relationship to possessions. The film questions whether hoarding is a symptom of mental illness or a revolt against the material recklessness of consumerism. When does collecting become hoarding and why do possessions exert such an influence on our lives? Made during a Visual Anthropology Masters at Goldsmiths College London last year. Winner of the Silver Egg at Emir Kusturica's Kustendorf Film Festival, 2008.


  1. I saw book hoarding in my future and nipped it the bud buy giving all but the best of the best away. It’s hard not to whored books.

  2. For a couple of these folks(the last two), you could almost call the result of their obsession “art”. Especially the woman hoarder with the packaging. Strange, sterile, garbage.

  3. “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. Have you ever tried to buy bubble wrap? Or foam peanuts? And everyone has read about the horrible problems caused by plastic bags. So I save it all. Someday it’ll come in handy for someone I know.

    And window envelopes, they can’t possible recycle as well as plain paper, right? So I’ve saved all of my junk mail for 3 years, until I find a place that FOR SURE will be able to handle it. I tried cutting out the windows manually but that was going to take forever.

    There’s no way I’m going to “throw out” any of this stuff now, after separating & saving it so carefully for years.

  4. It’s a good thing we don’t have any kind of mental health system any more, or any sense of societal oblgation to help people that live damaged lives.

    Instead, we consider any suggestion of needing ‘help’ as an accusation, an extreme attack that says ‘Yer crazy!!!!’

    We believe we have no right to even allege that someone’s way of life is unhealthy.

    This is a quandary that bothers me a great deal; I’m very ‘live and let live,’ I’m very much against legislating morality or telling people who or what they can have sex with, eat, watch, etc.

    But yet, I do believe that there are behaviors that are quantitatively damaged, not because they go against some old book written in Hebrew, but because the person creates a prison for themselves that needn’t exist. Behaviors that can offer no possible benefit to anyone, and have the potential to do harm.

    If I have no right to condemn someone’s way of life, I have no right to offer to help them, because there’s nothing to ‘fix.’ And yet I believe that some things are objectively broken.

  5. I woke up one morning, looked around and saw (as if for the first time) the mountains of beloved and precious books I’ve been hauling around for lo, these many years. The best solution I found was BookCrossing.com –the global movement to “release books into the wild.” Now, not only are my bookshelves looking fit, lean and clean–I get great joy imagining the delight a stranger might have in finding a treasured book in an unexpected place–for free, no strings attached.

  6. My solution to Too Many Books is Powell’s. They give me money. Or store credit.

    For a while, I was carefully picking up and evaluating all of the PCs discarded in my apartment complex. People throw away a lot of working computers. Alas, most are so old that even the local computer recycle / reuse program will only scrap them. Now I only pick out the truly useful machines. (And sometimes they are amazing finds, like the box I turned into a MythTV system.)

  7. I get around archiving books and newspapers and whatnot by thinking “I can always find it at the library.” Except for those few comics that I can’t find at the library.

    Seriously, Libraries are the organised hoards of books. They’re valuable and magical.

  8. I have a little of this compulsion in me. Not too bad, but it serves no real function in my life. I have a leaf bag filled to the brim with newspaper clippings which I always intend to organize into file folders, always for some nebulous future use. (Never mind that much of said material can be found archived online.) I also have to visit The Hype Machine every night so I don’t possibly miss any mp3 released into the wild that day. My hard drive is clogged with mp3s waiting to be burned to disc, discs which I then don’t listen to nearly as fast as I create them, of which there are presently about 200.

    It’s a good thing my shrink says that stuff is nutty but my eight comic longboxes are perfectly okey-dokey. The hoarding apparently is a behavior born of a need for control, albeit of meaningless crap.

  9. I wish this film were longer so that it had time to examine this in more depth. My mom has a tendency toward this behavior, but she seems relieved when I barge in and organize a purge. This seems to be a different reaction than you would get from a standard hoarder, like the ones you see here.

  10. The film questions whether hoarding is a symptom of mental illness or a revolt against the material recklessness of consumerism.

    Yeah, it’s a revolt against the material recklessness of consumerism… that’s the ticket!

  11. Interesting, it hits home a little bit, I have a little bit of #2 and #4. I collect too much tech stuff, CDs, and DVDs. At least I got out of comics a while back, heh. Sigh, there’s always some new tech toy to buy.

  12. In each of the 4 subjects’ flats I saw a reflection of what some of my relatives do or did (in the case of my great grand parents) and of course what I do.
    The feeling which surged through me at first was comfort. As in, “Yeah, alright. This is familiar – like a cozy memory from early childhood of yia yia and papu’s basement in Flushing. Then, with a paradoxically sudden slowness, the sense was more of contempt, apart from the “you’re already dead to me” contempt I have for my uncle – the tedious minutes, the sweat and dust covered hours, the ruinous days I’d spent at his behest sorting through this garage or that storage space or his apartment or studio. And of course a half a moment later it pits into a sickening splattering of neurons in my pre-frontal cortex, a sensation I know only too well – the tone of self recognition in an other’s pathos and it’s flat note self loathing. Aside from all of that garbage (pun intended) that was a powerful 30 minutes.

  13. I can’t even watch this. My own mother (late 60’s but quite young actually) won’t allow any of her children or boyfriends, anyone, in her house and hasn’t for years. The reason? In her 3 level, 4 bedroom house, there is a path. She hasn’t slept in her brand new bed ever. You can’t sit on the couches or at the table – no room. She keeps my old dollhouse from 40 years ago, even though it’s consumed by mold, for my daughter (who is 17). It’s in her 2 car garage which you literally cannot take a step into. Yet when we plead for her to let us clean her house out, she won’t let us or even admit it needs it. We might throw out something important. Something sentimental or expensive. So sad. But what can I do, she’s a functioning member of society who just refuses to admit she has this illness.

  14. @15: Dena, if she’s living in those conditions, you may need to consider an intervention. You stated yourself that your 40-year-old doll house is consumed by mold. Imagine what else is contaminated by mold, spores, and other organisms? For the sake of your mother’s health, you need to do something about this. That house is a biohazard, and she’s living in it.

  15. I admit my own mother (65) has got a bit of hoarding habits. However it’s descended from her parents who were farmers. Grandma and Grandpa used to store everything because well they may actually need it later in the future, and at the time they couldn’t afford to just go out and buy new. I can see a few of these people in the documentary espically number 3 who fits just like that. Oh, what if I need it later, I better keep it.

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