Step Inside the Real World of Compulsive Hoarders
Recent research has changed the way clinicians treat hoarding as well as refuted popular assumptions about people with excessive clutter
By Ferris Jabr
One anonymous hoarder’s living roomImage: Shadwwulf, via Wikimedia Commons
If you had opened the front door of Lee Shuer’s apartment in the early 2000s, you would have encountered a narrow hallway made even narrower by all kinds of random stuff: unnervingly tall stacks of books and papers, cardboard boxes full of assorted knickknacks, and two hot pink salon hair dryer chairs with glass domes suspended from their arched necks. Sidling down the hallway to the right, you would have reached Shuer’s bedroom. The door would have opened just wide enough for you to squeeze inside, where you would have seen mounds of stuff three to four feet high on the floor, bed and every available surface. A typical heap might have contained clothes, a violin case, a big box of Magic Markers, record albums, a trumpet, a framed picture, a package of socks, three dictionaries, two thesauruses and a pillow.
Traveling a little farther down the hallway would have brought you to the common space that Shuer shared with his two roommates—a space that they had come to call “the museum room.” In addition to Shuer’s extensive collection of vintage Atari video games and related paraphernalia—Pac-Man board games and action figures—the room contained numerous bobble heads and kitsch from 1970s and ’80s; nine milk crates stuffed with hundreds of eight-track tapes; furniture that he planned to refurbish; pile of newspapers, magazines and his artwork; and an assemblage of curious salt and pepper shakers—a mouse and slice of cheese, a dog and fire hydrant.
Like many people, Shuer collected things in his youth—baseball cards, coins, cool rocks—but his childhood collections never became unusually large or disorderly. After college he bounced from place to place with few possessions. But when he settled down in an apartment in Northampton, Mass., in 2000 he began collecting much more avidly than in the past. He spent his weekends and spare time visiting Goodwill, the Salvation Army and tag sales in search of his next acquisition—the more intriguing and unusual, the better. Sometimes he would visit a thrift shop on his lunch break rather than eat. More from Scientific American…