Washington Post Journalist confronts his hoarding

Michael S. Rosenwald of the Washington Post wrote a a brave piece about coming to terms with his hoarding condition.
Later, I would learn from Frost that I keep my stuff on tables and in piles because having everything in plain sight provides comfort and, in a sense, a form of organized disorganization. If I can see it, I know it's there. That was the practical explanation. But as the students questioned me -- about the pleasure I feel acquiring stuff, the anxiety I feel tossing it -- I sensed that there was something deeper, more philosophical. And it was this: All of the stuff I pile up is a sort of second body, my twin. I am Michael Rosenwald, and those piles -- the books, magazines, fountain pens, inks, newspapers, everything -- are also me. The more I have of it, the more I am me. Up there in front of the class, I was beginning to confuse myself, and then I felt as if I might cry.

I blurted this out to the class: "What would I be without it all?"

The mess he made: A life-long slob decides it's time to get organized


  1. I blurted this out to the class: “What would I be without it all?”

    On the plus side, it’s better to build your identity around your stuff than around your worst personality traits.

  2. Antinuous’s above is the only comment made in the last 3 hours? Bug? Just wondering if this will show up…

  3. I just spent an hour searching for a vuvuzela in a tiny four-room apartment. Haven’t used it in eight years. Mmm, hoarding. You never know when you’ll need to scare off baboons.

    Maybe it’s under the angel wings..?

    And no, I don’t have friends over. :/

  4. Here’s a tip – spend a year travelling the world living out of a backpack. By the end you’ll wonder why you ever thought you needed anything more than what you carried in your backpack.

    Either that or you’ll have a 300 pound backpack.

    1. I’m down to one carry-on.
      I miss my desktop PC, but that’s it.

      My hard drive died, which lost me my nested data-hoarding.

      I’ve kinda become a clean slate. It’s refreshing in a way… but I want it to end.

  5. Stuff gives you security – when they come to get you you can pile it up against the door.

  6. I like my stuff, I’m comfortable with it and it makes me comfortable.

    Yes, if it all disappeared tomorrow, I’d have some adjusting to do. If and when…

    It is good to feel comfortable, safe, secure, although it is also good to recognise that some of that is not all it appears. The safety the thin steel of your car inspires in you is illusory.

    I have no more trouble living with my stuff than I do with contradictions, of which life is full.

    Maybe I’ll start a new institute — and teach people to be comfortable with themselves, but I won’t get rich, because suffering is a much more marketable commodity

    — There should always be something at the back of the kitchen drawer that you can pick up, and wonder, what is this? what thing did it fit?

    — One should never, on visualising the tool for the job in hand, have to think, “I used to have one of those”

    I emigrated. I started a new life 5,000 miles away from the old one. I brought a heap of stuff with me, but I got rid of a load too. I often regret odds and ends that I didn’t bring.

    Of course… others are free to live their lives in the way that they find comfortable. Enjoy.

  7. Hoarding behaviour can fall along a whole spectrum from mild packrat behaviour to really extreme cases. Diogenese syndrome is the name for the most pathological form of the disease.


    Trauma seems to be linked to some forms of hoarding behaviour as well.


    Hoarding can take some bizarre forms, including animal hoarding.


  8. I cried.

    This is me.

    It goes beyond keeping useful stuff, I have lots of junk that I don’t/won’t need.

    1. Don’t cry! Be happy with your stuff — or throw it away, but, either way, don’t cry.

  9. I recognize that I hoard. However, not only do I hoard physical objects, I also hoard data. I think that adds an interesting dynamic: it’s not only that the things one acquires are a second body, but that the data I acquire becomes a second memory. Not a novel idea, but the implication of associating it with physical hoarding is interesting to me.

    Two specific cases interest me: books, because they are the oldest form putting information into a form which can be stored; and compulsive downloading, which I think ties in with a lot of illicit downloading problems of several sorts.

    Or am I off-base in linking the two kinds of hoarding together?

    1. Data hoarding is too easy. Who here hasn’t got a folder roughly analogous to: My Documents \ Old computer stuff \ OldPC \ OlderPC \ My First PC \ College Floppies?

      That’s like hoarding in the Tardis. Every so often it shrugs off some hardware and grows a new library (next to the swimming pool?). And we never look at it…

  10. My mother would never admit to being a hoarder, and even watches the show Hoarders with the insistence that the behavior depicted in each episode does not apply to her.
    She is what some people may call a “clean hoarder”, who hides the clutter well. Her living room and kitchen are fairly clean when guests come to call (which is rare), but her sons’ empty bedrooms have become storage units and her bedroom is difficult to navigate due to the clothing and makeup/personal hygiene products that litter the floor.

    The first thing I did upon moving back home due to unemployment was to clean and organize the kitchen, which got me a good tongue-lashing. She insists that food containers sit on the counter instead of in the cupboards, and like Mr. Rosenwald, tall stacks of books are everywhere. The worst thing I found was the last couple of bags of cat food her cats had half eaten before they passed away, and stuffed in the hall closet with their cremated remains and other cat memorabilia. It seems that spiders had laid eggs in the closet and the thousands of babies fed on the cat food and died, leaving an inch-high layer of baby spider carcasses on each shelf and permeating any item made of cotton.

    I’ve been dealing with the stuff in small amounts over the last nine months, and consider myself about two-thirds done, with two major accomplishments being the basement and the garage.
    This she can handle, the small amounts, and the ability to say what goes and what doesn’t. However, I’m the one doing the work, and it doesn’t seem that she’s going to continue the clean habit if I leave.

    1. I can understand that there are good, sound health reasons for some of the work that you have found necessary to do in your mother’s house, but, so far as the clean, hygienic, non-offensive stuff that she has collected, don’t you think that it is her right to do that with her life and her house, to do with as she pleases …not as you please. We don’t have a right to our parent’s lives or homes once we are adults. Many of us spend much of our youth screaming for independence: we have to be able, in our turn, to give it, too.

      1. I am aware of her feelings, and we have come to a place of peace and cooperation about what I am doing.

        The kitchen, basement, and garage had to be dealt with. The kitchen because of canned/boxed food and cleaning materials that were years old, the basement because of navigational problems and the possibility of hidden vermin, and the garage because of unsafely stacked and old/broken furniture and appliances that were never thrown away or recycled.

        I took my work outside and dealt with her overgrown gardens, fixed her lawnmower, and am now mowing the lawn, which she is extremely happy about because I’m saving her a lot of money by avoiding having to pay a lawn care company, which she’s very happy about.

        We discuss what my next move will be every week, and her piles of books stay where they are for now. She doesn’t know it, but I’m thinking of surprising her by building some bookcases sometime in the future.

        Everything’s going smoothly, but what I’m worried about is what happens if I decide to move out again.

        1. “I am aware of her feelings, and we have come to a place of peace and cooperation about what I am doing.”

          Please excuse my assumptions. Online reactions can so easily be off-target.

          1. No problems here. Actually, I’m trying to understand the disconnect, and what would change her behavior.
            She used to be what I call an “angry cleaner”, who would clean when she was upset about something.

  11. Eh, I think people are too hard on hoarders.

    I’ve been accused of being a hoarder.
    I actually travel very light, but I have a lot of crap.
    About half of my parent’s attic is filled with boxes of my things, fairly well organized.

    Personally, I have a problem with people who throw things out too easily.

    It’s sickening.
    I dated a girl who spend money she didn’t have repeatedly buying new things, because she kept throwing things out.

    Irreplaceable papers and photos, cell phones, even computers.
    All to avoid “clutter”

  12. If there were no hoarders, there would be no history. If everyone in antiquity threw all the crap out, we wouldn’t know anything about antiquity.

    1. People in the past did throw a lot of crap out, but back then, most of it was organic materials.
      The throwing out of durable goods increased with the increase of mass production methods, and has lately been aggravated by the use of plastics and harmful chemicals.

      Here’s an eye-opener for you, with a little bit of historical perspective from Oklahoma:


      From my perspective, we’re not really getting rid of things, per se. We’re simply sweeping it under the rug. We’re treating the world as if it’s our own backyard, and s***tting in it.

  13. I have a real problem with hoarders/garbage house people. Because I had a friend who was so disorganized and filthy, it ended up killing his infant son. I feel empathy for his loss, but the anger at him has been hard to deal with as well.

    I understand the desire to not be wasteful, but then there’s filth, and I simply can’t abide by that. I’m sorry. I’m sure it makes me look like a judgmental asshole, but after my friend’s kid died, I wish I’d been MORE of a judgmental asshole before it.

  14. We don’t have a right to our parent’s lives or homes once we are adults.

    And yet, I remember at least one case of an adult child being prosecuted for allowing a parent to live in squalor.

  15. @ Anon, #20

    We’d know plenty about history if people threw everything out. Trash heaps and ancient broken stuff are the lifeblood of archaeologists. In fact, generally speaking, the more an item is worn out, repurposed, or recycled from one era to the next, the less it’s going to tell any future archaeologist.

    Not that that’s any excuse for hoarding.

  16. Wow. Fascinating article….and I see shades of myself in it. I have mild clutter issues…and a lot of books. Not huge towers but neat piles all over the bedroom. Getting rid of the clutter wouldn’t hurt. Getting rid of the books will. They’re my own personal library. They’re comforting…and they’re getting in the way.

    Time to dig into this stuff. It’s not going to be fun, but it needs to be done…

  17. The last time I moved, I took a taxi. Violin, guitar, laptop, some clothes and sheet music. All my books were on my Sony PRS, all my recorded stuff was on a Western Digital Passport drive. All my DVDs in a wallet, sans covers. All my music on an iPod. A little Muji box for my oil paints and brushes. That’s it; I’m set.

    If it was all stolen tomorrow, I’d be upset. But it wouldn’t be the end of my life. Not even close.

    AS for data hoarding, I see it as the same thing. Holding on to the old stuff just keeps you connected. Maybe you SHOULD become disconnected from that past?

  18. Okay I hoard.
    But I’m moving to a really small apartment this week. Much will be thrown out which worries me a little. I have let that hoard steep in its juices and dust for a bit too long though..
    In defense of hoarders, my Dad often tells us how if he only had the Superman comics his mother threw out when he wasn’t looking, he’d have made a lot of money who was a superior hoarder.

    As for data hoarding, I do my best, but copying across old computers quickly becomes technically daunting. I suddenly needed an old database today and totally failed to find it. I’m sure it is either in the pc before the pc (hmm I hope it wasn’t the Vaio one I spilled a Starbucks latte on), or the backup of the server that got hacked? Most likely it’s on a CD, back when I thought a bunch of CDs was a great backup. I don’t want to dig through a bunch of CDs and then go hunting in boxes for more..

    I will try and turn over a new leaf, buy a scanner and storage, and use search engines, tagging and (I know it doesn’t work really but) folder consolidation.

    The worst is when you collect too many icons and drag them all off the desktop to make a folder called “DESK n”. Where n is a positive growing number. What do you do with that stuff eh?

    But this is the best of all. Make an illusion of removing clutter but just dump all the clutter in some auxiliary storage device you can hide under a towel or something, to be mined when the funk urges you.

    1. Hah! Mine are called “DesktopN” where N only goes up to 4 so far (on THIS machine, at least).

      I’m glad to find I’m not the only one who does this.

  19. Having watched Hoarders and read a little on the subject, I wonder maybe the mental attachment to physical things as a sense of self might be related to the anxiety children suffer when they get a small cut and bleed. The size of the injury doesn’t matter, the idea of losing any little part of their bodily fluid is abhorrent. Some people never lose this fear and the sight of blood overwhelms them. I wonder if these two ideas could be related? Is it instinct for self-preservation or loss of perspective? Or maybe stuff equals existence?

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