Comparing Hoarding and Obesity

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.

Photo by skampy, via CC 2.0

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.

Underlying Causes

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.

Battling Perceptions

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.

9 thoughts on “Comparing Hoarding and Obesity

  1. I found your blog through today on Facebook. I am guilty of watching Hoarders on TV, but I have to admit I have a different (?) perspective. I suffer from OCD and I have found myself wondering how someone could allow themselves to get in a situation as dire as what they show on tv. On the other hand, I have to step back and remind myself that no one “allows” that to happen. It just happens because someone can’t help it. I often wonder if hoarding is a subset of what I have (and that makes me wonder if it will happen to me some day), and if I think about it from that angle, then I have to be sympathetic. I don’t think hoarding is a choice, just like OCD isn’t. No one would cognitively choose to live in a way that is detrimental to their health and well-being. There has to be some reason for it. There has to be a cause that we just haven’t found yet.

    I admire what you’re doing and I admire your bravery to talk about it. I’m still very guarded about myself because opening up to people has caused me a lot of problems in the past. Maybe some day I’ll be more open about what I have (it’s getting easier, very slowly).


  2. Makes me wonder… is it harder for an obese person to lose weight or for a hoarder to clean out their house?

    Before reading your blog I think I would have said it is harder to lose weight, but hearing about all the emotional stuff you go through (as well as physical, which surprised me!) and the time and energy you dedicate… it’s definitely a close call, I honestly can’t decide.


    Dariane Reply:

    I can’t decide either. For both, the problem is just too overwhelming to overcome.

    Also, to maintain an ideal weight or a clean house requires regular care, like exercising every day and taking out the trash every day. It takes a bit of extra effort, effort which most of us who do these things take for granted.


  3. As someone who is obese, and struggling to loose weight, I can say that I’ve actually made this same connection before, thanks in part to your blog, and “Confessions of a Closet Hoarder”.

    It occurred to me a few weeks ago. I was trying to figure out why I’m not as happy as I should be about the fact that I lost 13 lbs in the month of August. I think a large part of it is because I have been big for so long, it has become a part of my identity. In other words, psychologically, I’m hanging on to my ‘body clutter’ in the same way that a hoarder hangs on to their house clutter. I don’t need it, or use it, or really even want it, but it has been part of my identity for so long that I’m finding it very difficult to let it go.

    I keep reminding myself that this is for my health, my husband, and my children. It’s to increase the quality of life for all of us.

    I wish more obese people made this connection, actually. It might help them make the changes that are necessary for their health and life quality. Thank you for posting this.


  4. Just today I put together how hoarding is like being overweight. There is a pleasure in the acquiring items/eating. It’s like an adrenaline rush, which we do again for that effect/feeling. We do it over and over again, and the excess creeps up on you. It can be the “stuff” or the “weight”. Then it is simply overwhelming to deal with once it’s out of hand. The overwhelming feeling then immobilizes you. Your brain can’t go anywhere in regard to changing how the excess came to be. You are then STUCK. The process of eliminating weight or clutter is physically painful. So any movement forward rewards you with pain, thus postponing any further progress. I deal with excess weight and also work with hoarders, I now see their pain, as it is reflective of my own.


  5. Your heading above, “A lot going in, not enough going out,” really struck me. It is exactly the problem in both hoarding and obesity, and at the same time, it is the exact inverse of how I feel emotionally and interpersonally. In relationships, I feel I am always giving, serving, being considerate and empathetic, but I never receive from other people. I am always giving outof an empty well. Eating and shopping are the only ways I am nurtured, and even that is something I must do for myself. I am missing love and true emotional investment and service from other people. Buying things and eating food are the only ways that I can control being nurtured because they don’t require the will of other people. I have no interpersonal power and therefore low self-esteem.


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