My best friend, let’s call him Greg, is a hoarder. He wasn’t always that way. Intelligent and educated, Greg has a degree in accounting and another in geology. When he moved to Sacramento in the 1980s he was pretty austere. He lived off packing crates and folding chairs and all his stuff could fit in the trunk of his Geo Metro. He was thrifty back then but not a miser, and he collected few belongings.
But his ability to judge the value of things failed. He supposed old newspapers, broken furniture and toys, mildewed books and all the detritus he found would be valuable, somehow, someday. Gradually his house became every bit as horrible as anything on ‘reality’ TV. The smell of trash, dog food, dog urine, rotten and semi-rotten food, musty old clothes, the entropy smell of everything falling into decay must be smelled to be believed.
His refrigerator, freezer and cupboards are crammed with outdated food and booze bottles are stashed behind trash, some aged nicely, some years past vintage because he forgot them, or is saving them, or is just happy knowing he has enough bottles stashed to support two lifetimes of his light drinking, I guess. It’s hard to say what his reasoning is because his thinking’s not rational.
He owns a house near mine that’s been vacant for years. Neighbors ask about renting it and I have to reply the same, the owner is not renting it, possibly saving it for his mother, possibly for other reasons. So in spite of his extreme thrift and his concern with money-he plays the stock market-he’s passing up $1,000+ USD every month in rent because…because I don’t know why.
He had the city turn off his water to save money; he collects the meager rainfall to drink and for watering his vegetables. The city refused to cut off his garbage service but his trash can is little used. The back yard is also stuffed with refuse. He has a half-dozen broken cars, all decayed and useless, some with trees growing through them.
He has normal clothing but usually wears oversize, stained, torn garments a bum in Sacramento would not wear. Some of the clothing, in truth, he found in various deserted ‘bum’s rest’ camps he raided while hiking Dry Creek in Placer County with his dogs. Literally clothing a bum would not wear.
You would think such a ‘lifestyle’ would kill him, but he is seldom sick and seems to suffer less than many (me) from the chronic ills of aging. The aged food he eats, much of it canned and preserved junk food that stores so easily, has not poisoned him noticeably as he approaches age 60, yet.
Since doctors and dentists are expensive and he has no health insurance, he sees doctors rarely and the dentist never. Naturally his remaining teeth are dingy, mobile and not long for his jaws. I don’t nag him anymore about hoarding but I still urge him to get the teeth pulled for medical reasons. He always agrees that he should but does nothing. Hoarding is now recognized as a mental disorder in the DSM. He does not consider it a disorder, he’s just saving things he might need later, he mis-thinks.
And he is harming only the property value of his neighborhood. Ecologically he’s a model citizen: He has a very low-carbon footprint, recycles, reuses, grows tomatoes and squash and zucchini using rainwater, puts no Rx drugs into the water, wastes no fuel mowing or water spraying his lawn, injects no CO2 into the air by heating and cooling his house.
His filing method of putting bills, invoices, checks and cash into seemingly random envelopes and folded paper grocery bags, and then stashing them in the debris seems not to effect his income.
He lives what seems to be a happy life. He has friends, walks his dogs, works in his garden plots, and shifts the trash from one pile to another. I have long given up asking why he sorts the shit but never orders a dumpster. I know the reason. He’s a hoarder.
He remains my best friend but I’m have trouble visiting him often. A garbage dump’s not the ideal place to hang out, and it’s depressing to see a smart man’s mind unhinging. The things we used to do, canoeing, hiking Folsom and Desolation Wilderness, road trips, I now do alone.
He’s now fairly incapable of following through on plans, of meeting at a certain place at a certain time, of answering his phone, and is a poor landlord, though he is a fine man in ways that matter. I have to think the million broken things he’s trying to keep track of prove a constant distraction to him.
I’ve thought about his childhood and youth to try to figure some reason for his illness. He and his parents escaped communism when he was a boy and maybe he has that immigrant fear of having nothing, of having to leave everything and everybody behind in Eastern Europe. I can’t reach any conclusions. He is who he is and appears unlikely to change. It’s not really his loss, it’s mine.