I got a shocking view into the head of a hoarder the other day. I took a box of powdered sugar dessert cookies, nearly finished, into the kitchen and emptied it into a plastic storage container, including as much of the loose sugar as I could without creating a mess. A few minutes later, I found my guest eating the remaining sugar from the bakery box THAT I HAD PUT IN THE GARBAGE.
I remonstrated, pointing to the storage container with the ample remains of the dessert and sugar. I also said I had a pound of confectioner’s sugar in my pantry if sugar was desired. Clearly, my guest had acted under the mistaken notion that I had wastefully thrown out the entire box of dessert remnants. Remnants, remember, not half a box of cookies.
My friend is not poor, not hungry, and not particularly hung up on desserts. Although this friend has talked about paying more attention to weight these days, trying to keep it from creeping up, overeating is not a serious issue for this person. Obviously my friend’s hoarding illness impelled this completely outre behavior. Maybe the trash-picking is a testimony to how at home my friend feels in my house, which I should take as a compliment. I don’t think so.
It was painful to see my friend stoop so low while in the throes of an irrational mental state. The desperation behind the action must be intense and overwhelming. We’re talking a few bits of flavored sugar, hardly something worth trash-picking over, but a person with a mental disease evidently does not see it that way.
It also was painful to realize that my friend views me as some kind of decluttering storm trooper who throws out valuable things indiscriminately just to be rid of them. Nobody wants to think that others view them as a bully. If the issue is bullies versus hoarders, though, I’m on the side of the bullies. I know people who are on that side who will toss food, for instance, because they do not eat leftovers. That bothers me, but they are being realistic about their eating habits. I have come to understand that it is better to throw something out than to throw it in. Throwing it in leads to overweight and to homes filled to the brim with stuff, stuff, and more stuff.
Why do I talk against hoarding over and over? Because multiple people in my life have this sickness. The rest of us also own too much stuff, and keep too much stuff, but most of us can get rid of it when necessary. Only the few attempt to wring the very last bit of value out of all the objects with which they come into contact, or hold onto them long past when they have any value. Ironically, many hoarders claim they are saving items in order to make them available to people who need them. In the case of this sugar, no one needed it.
In the grip of an addiction, each of us is capable of behavior that can (or should) cause deep shame, not to mention public embarrassment. The key to ending the addiction is to do something about it. Get help. I don’t want to be a bully, but equally, I don’t want you rooting through my garbage.
Edited to add: I was reminded that there’s a Seinfeld episode in which George eats a discarded, partially eaten eclair from the garbage.
Perhaps I have imputed hoarding impulses to what is much more common, the kind of childish greed that says, “Hey, that looks perfectly good. I’ll eat it.” Our mothers told us not to, but when they weren’t looking, we’ve probably all eaten food from garbage sources, our own or others’.