Over a month ago right before I started this project I attended San Diego Comic-Con International–the mecca of pop culture geekdom. One of the most anticipated panels featured two ‘geek gods.’ Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) and JJ Abrams (Alias, Lost, Star Trek) filled Hall H with fans like me as well as aspiring writers and filmmakers.
I thoroughly enjoyed the panel complete with fangirl squee until an audience member asked if they got to keep any props or paraphernalia from their movies or television series, to which JJ Abrams responded:
“…I do love that stuff. I don’t want to hoard it and be a scary person that is on the show Hoarders. Have you seen Hoarders, by the way? Who in the shit? How can that be a show? How many hoarders…? It’s unbelievable!” [source]
I cringed. My boyfriend looked over at me and held my hand a little tighter. I didn’t realize how sensitive I was about this until I heard it straight from JJ’s mouth. Then I wondered how many other people in that hall cringed too.
The more you research hoarding and chronic disorganization, the more you see the horrified reactions people have about it. Some are sympathetic to those who live in such situations but many others are not.”These people are so lazy and disgusting,” they say. “How do they let this happen? They’re crazy and have no self-control.”
Sound familiar? To me (and others like Linda), this reminds of me of how people perceive obesity. There are far more people affected by obesity and more people familiar with it than with hoarding. However, the more I think about it I notice many similarities between the two and the more sympathetic I get to both.
This is just some food for thought… (no pun intended)
First: Barring the Biology
Obesity is generally characterized by excess body fat that often leads to serious health problems. Hoarding is characterized by the accumulation of items that can often lead to various health and environmental problems.
There is ongoing research to show if obesity can be genetic or if hoarding can be considered a subset of obsessive-compulsive disorder. For the sake of this comparison, I’d like to focus instead on behavioral aspects in such a way that a “normal” adult person could become obese or chronically disorganized (or a hoarder).
Signs and Symptoms
A Lot Going In, Not Enough Going Out
The obvious cause of obesity is eating too much. It’s the excessive acquiring and physical consumption of food. Hoarding happens when people acquire an excessive amount of items.
At the most basic level, it is necessary for us to eat and to acquire shelter and clothing in order to survive. We need things to live, and we need things to live better. Getting these things satisfies a need or desire within each of us.
The problem lies when we get too much and we can’t manage the excess. It’s even worse if we don’t acknowledge the excess as a problem.
Excess body fat comes from bad eating habits (poor diet) and not enough regular exercise to get rid of extra weight. Similarly excess clutter comes from bad shopping habits and a lack of organizing skills to get rid of the extra stuff.
For many people who have obesity or hoard, a common thread is depression. For those people, if depression wasn’t what led them to become obese or to hoard, then their obesity or hoarding may have contributed to their depression.
When you’re fully aware that your situation is jeopardizing your health and well-being and yet every diet or exercise program or organizing method you try makes almost no difference, it is so easy to feel overwhelmed and lose any hope of overcoming it.
If the obvious risks weren’t enough, add all of the unnecessarily hurtful perceptions.
In some industries like fashion or dance, being overweight is heavily stigmatized. It’s deemed so disgusting that people are discriminated against when applying for jobs especially if you’re a woman; if you’re overweight don’t try becoming an actress.
What’s the Point?
With perceptions of disgust and laziness, it’s easy to miss the serious underlying causes of such problems. It’s also easy to miss seeing the people who are actively trying with all of their might to overcome the problem the best way they know how. And if you’re not looking for it, you definitely won’t be able to see the people that are desperate and crying out for any kind of help they can get.
By drawing a comparison between a common problem and one that is only now coming to mainstream attention, I simply hope that I can offer a better way to observe and react to the two.
Because without compassion from others, people who want and need help will be less likely to seek out and get it.