What I really wanted to say was, “Go to hell, you b****. You don’t know anything.” I didn’t, and I don’t think I ever have directly said that to anyone. Yet that’s my primitive reaction to being chided as if I am the ignorant one: My wrongheaded enemy must die! I find it amazing that I can still feel this way after so many decades of living. And what was my storm of emotion all about? Someone I do not know, with whom I am not a “friend” on Facebook, questioned my credentials for daring to call extreme hoarders “these people” on a Facebook comment thread. That’s it, “these people.” Whereupon I took such extreme offense that I had to write several versions of a pacific response to calm down, because my initial, completely intemperate response was as above: Die!
Ever since the fourth grade, when I had a teacher who told me and my mother that she “did not like my attitude,” I have been aware that other people don’t like me or get me. The teacher, by the way, didn’t like that I was tired of being the only person in a four-person “committee” who didn’t have a title. She constantly broke us into little cells for projects. In each, we would elect a president, and a vice president, and a secretary, and then there would be me, the lone plebeian. This was a tribute to my lack of personal popularity, of course. At age nine. Even then, even if I did not know why the outcome was always the same, I knew I did not like it. Yet the teacher expected me to accept my role in the fourth-grade pecking order without a squawk. No.
So why be upset when someone who clearly is oversensitive about hoarding issues calls me out as insensitive about hoarding issues? (Whew. Sorry.) Because I have spent more than the last decade fighting the good fight in my own family to avoid just exactly the misery and chaos of the infamous Collyer brothers. After my husband’s uncle died in what was described as a “gerbil cage” of a tiny apartment—no one could find the bed—Scott and I became fierce clutter fighters. We are ruthless with our own clutter, and we do our best to help family members and friends who have issues with their own. What we learned after Uncle Jack’s death was that most families have someone with these issues, or most people know a friend or a neighbor with them. But despite the love and tolerance I feel and display for the hoarders I know, I have a right to my visceral response to their way of living. Which is disgust.
Hoarding is disgusting. I don’t have a fear of dirt, but I was raised to believe that cleanliness is a virtue. Hoarding is dirty. Even neatly stacked newspapers are dust and pest magnets. Extreme hoarding, when people live surrounded by half-empty food containers that are months or years old, is filthy. When I see a television show like “Buried Alive,” and the hoarder is walking across layers of filthy possessions to move around the home, I am revolted. Further, I am infuriated at the waste of it. All of those items were once of use to someone and might be again. But this hoarder has turned them into garbage and insists on holding onto them. Hoarders have a ton of excuses and justifications and utter nonsense that they spout to justify how they are trashing up their lives and our nation, but at bottom, they are behaving very badly.
I know, I know. It’s an illness, and we should be kind, and la-di-da. Die!