I don’t watch a lot of television other than the news. When I do take time to watch for enjoyment, I prefer to have my eyes on something that is purely entertaining. Spare me the gruesome murder scenes of crime shows, and the racy drama of sitcoms. When reality shows came on the scene years ago, I thought many showed a marked improvement in what was offered on television and I welcomed shows like “American Idol” and “Biggest Loser” where you can cheer for the talent and hard work of other people. I feel fortunate to also have the option of streaming Netflix. It gives me control beyond what the cable company determines is watch worthy.
What started out for me as curiosity is now a habit. I have developed a personal fascination with the shows “Hoarders” and “Hoarding: Buried Alive”. If you’re not familiar with them, the reality programs showcase people who compulsively accumulate things for the sake of having them, regardless of their use or value. They shop or otherwise gather things from places like dumpsters and/or just never throw anything away.
A recurring theme in the stories of those showcased is loss. Perhaps they lost a loved one through death, divorce, or estrangement. Sometimes, the affected person lost the majority, if not all, of their possessions in an event in their history where they had no control over fire or flood or another person’s actions. These people must craft and develop a way to deal with the loss they’ve experienced. If they do not channel their coping in a healthy way, it might steer them into unhealthy habits. Some cope with their loss by replacing what they lost with an obsession with things, regardless of their level of beauty or practicality. Since all people have an inborn need to love and be loved, some can fabricate a relationship with material things. They cope by seemingly exercising control over things when they cannot control circumstances or people. They trade one thing for another – they replace human relationships with inanimate objects. They successfully avoid an emotional breakdown by exercising control over items. Instead of losing their minds, they lose perspective. They believe they have found a new way to exist by exercising control over things; when, in fact, they are allowing things to control them. There are people who hoard animals too, which apparently is also a way of dealing with loss.
Others might think my attraction to these shows is odd. I, myself, was puzzled as to why I am drawn to them. What about them keeps pulling me in to see the lives of the people on it?
Then one day, it dawned on me. When I wake up in the morning, I am greeted by loss. Every sunrise demands that I come to grips with what I can no longer do. Every moment, not by choice but by necessity, I am reminded about parts of my body that no longer work. I am presented with what I have given up and what ability is reducing. I feel what capability is moving away, separating me from yet more productive actions and tasks. Every day I am confronted by the realization that I’ve had to say goodbye to activities and interaction with people. It is required mourning…a constant repetitive string of goodbyes, giving up things and people. Maybe, if I had started out a quiet and withdrawn person, the transition would have been easier, but what a rough, bumpy road it has been and the journey is not over. The world is closing in on me, narrowing as I watch people and places disappear.
Sometimes it feels like memories are all I have. Memories of walking, and going, and doing and being. And so I mourn the loss of anything that holds or reflects memories. Without the object, I fear the memories might disappear too.
And that is why, I’ve determined, it is difficult for me to get rid of things. I worry that I will later regret parting with the items I’ve had the courage to give away or sell. I reason with myself about what’s practical but I mourn what I cannot control, so I wrestle with choosing to say goodbye to things. Things don’t leave on their own. They aren’t unreasonable and they don’t care if you cry. They don’t criticize. They don’t return words with confused facial expressions. They just sit where you can see them and allow you to enjoy them.
And so, I understand the thought process of hoarders. I realize that every time they knowingly keep an item or choose to gain one, they are demonstrating control in one place while they cannot control life in another. Yes, I understand the people who hoard. And I realize that most people who have not and are not experiencing great loss in their lives and within themselves do not understand the act of holding on to whatever they have the power to keep.
Thankfully, I do not give myself the option of becoming a hoarder. I respect the living conditions of Mr. Legs and our kids who occasionally visit. I need my house to be clear so it can accommodate my mobility equipment. I need room for the people who still choose to come into my house and spend time here. That is reason to keep the clutter away…so there’s room for WHOever will fill the space I have control over.
Instead of exercising control to keep things, I must continue to feel the power of being able to reasonably and practically say goodbye to things and work hard to build relationships by welcoming people to fill my house with laughter and smiles and conversation. I will choose to hoard knowledge and human relationships and memories and love. I will give freely the things I still have…a listening ear, an understanding heart, an encouraging word.
I’ll keep watching the show to remind myself of what’s important and maintain perspective. I cheer when those affected learn strategies and regain their surrounding space. The sound of the show is so familiar now that it provides a routine and comforting noise which lulls me to sleep. If I need a nap, I just click to set the screen to a favorite show that showcases stories of people I understand, but whose patterns I choose not to follow. Within a short time, I am deep in slumber. I rest in the comfort that I am not alone in loss, but will make wise choices about how I cope with it.
Now, what am I going to do with that mattress?