Our cousins across the pond surely delight in the sensational – nothing seems too shocking for them, or so it seems. One area of great interest seems to be the age-old subject of hoarding. It is proving a lurid, fascinating topic as people accumulate what they regard as ‘collectables’.
However, when these collectables start affecting everyday life, matters quickly get out of control. It seems the messier the better, at least according to popular TV programmes like “Hoarders”, now in its sixth season. Stay with us for a fascinating insight into the lives of modern day hoarders after the rules of engagement were set more than 70 years ago.
Hoarding Invites Voyeurism
Appetite for ‘breaking news’ is in vogue for Americans, especially when it comes to people who have accumulated way-over-the-top in terms of possessions. This fuels interest, particularly in reality TV circles. The people back home simply love it and cannot get enough of the action.
Before anyone understood ‘hoarding’ around 70 years ago, a new book, “The Hoarders,” exposed some strange secrets. Scott Herring of Indiana University exposed the first big hoarding story to capture the public’s imagination. It all started with two brothers, whose bizarre lives and deaths in 1947, turned hoarding into a national sensation.
Brothers Homer and Langley Collyer lived in an inherited brownstone at the corner of 128th Street and Fifth Avenue in Harlem. It was 1933 when Homer lost his eyesight. The two lived as recluses amid mountains of stuff left over from their father’s medical practice, and accumulated by Langley on long midnight walks around the city.
Then, in March 1947, an anonymous caller reported to the police that the smell of a decomposing body was emanating from their home. The police had to dig through the brownstone’s contents for five hours before they found Homer. It took another two weeks to find Langley’s body, which lay not far away. Ironically, he predeceased his brother, expiring when a tunnel he had built through the clutter collapsed on him.
The brother’s story later inspired a novel and became a recurring object of fascination. Today, psychiatrists and other scientists regard hoarding as a disease: categorized as an official disorder for the first time in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, released in 2013. It is sometimes attributed to genetic abnormalities on chromosome 14.
Fascinating Fodder for Reality TV
Events like this feed media frenzy, and the public simply cannot get enough of the action. Many call it ‘freak zone’, but if it continues reality dictates it reaches the public domain, and is up for grabs.
Food for Thought
Following research on the history of hoarding inevitably guides many to the conclusion that it is a culturally-rooted problem rather than a medical one.
Viewed from another angle, hoarding is essentially an average leisure activity, that simply becomes an obsession as it gathers momentum and heads due south.
Perhaps we are accidentally worsening the stigma by defining it as a clinical condition. The debate continues!