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Does Hoarding Come From Misplaced Financial Responsibility?

Last month I wrote about moving past wasteful “frugality” and talked about my own tendencies not to use things so that I wouldn’t use them up and have to spend money for more. As I was decluttering last weekend and reflecting on minimalism, I realized that the reason I keep a lot of stuff is that I might use it again someday. It’s not that I’m putting off using it like I was with the soap or crayons, just that I have no need for it now but might in the future.

I found this unsettling because my grandmother is a hoarder and I do not want to turn into one. I should establish at this point that I’m not talking about the mentally-ill type of hoarding, with pests and dead animals, and stacks of newspaper that could kill you. I’m talking about the kind of hoarding that interferes with our lives to a lesser degree by cluttering all available surfaces, by using up all the space in the house, and perhaps by causing people to buy storage.

For example, my grandmother has a book on cars from the 1970s. Because who knows, she might buy a car from the 1970s and need the info. She wouldn’t let me throw it out during the move. Same with a kids book from the 1930s which was falling apart from age & the pulpy paper it was printed on—some visiting kid might want to read it. Her youngest grandchild is about to start college & the book was just put on an already-cramped bookshelf.

When I was thinking about what we could get rid of and what we should keep, I finally hit on the thought that keeps me from throwing out stuff I’m not using any more. I’ve normally thought “I might need it,” but this weekend my brain asked “So why not buy it again if you discover you need it?” and the answer? “Because I don’t want to spend the money again.”

I’ve never had a ton of money to spend. In highschool and college, I spent very little on clothes, some on books and crafting, and saved most of it for big things like a violin or trip to Europe or just having money when I graduated! In theory, keeping stuff is free but throwing it out might cost you.

My grandmother’s a child of the Depression, and not just of the Depression but of a single (widowed) mother with three kids and very little money. As the oldest child and the only girl, she helped her mother run the household. Throwing stuff out just wasn’t an option. Unfortunately, it stuck.

This leads me to wonder whether people who are financially-responsible in other areas of their lives also have hoarding tendencies. Certainly, there are financially-responsible minimalists, but it takes a special effort for people at all levels of financial responsibility to move toward minimalism.

For my own decisions, I’ve found it helps to ask how long it’s been since I’ve used the item, how much it’d cost to replace (both time & money), how well I could live without it if I developed a need for it, and whether I could borrow it (this was a great way to convince myself to unload some 200 books that are available in libraries and/or very cheap in used bookstores).

What about you? Do you find yourself sometimes saving things you’ll never actually use? Is it to avoid spending the money if you turn out to need it again or for another reason?

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(Belated) Weekend Link Love • Rainy-Day Saver
June 21, 2010 at 12:36 pm


Amy June 16, 2010 at 8:34 am

I have this problem and am actively trying to counter it. It’s hard though, because every once in a while I need something and have exactly what I want…. Of course, the other problem is that often I do have something already, but can’t find it or forget I have it, and buy it again. So that’s a big reason to figure out a different way to live my life.

It got worse when I started selling things on ebay and craigslist. I now pick up things to sell online but then am too busy (kids, work, lazy) to sell them…so they pile up… That’s a bad scenario with my hoarding.

Carrie June 16, 2010 at 11:19 am

my grandfather was the dead animals in the house type hoarder. he was also a child of the depression but he was also quite well to do and the salvation army’s best customer. my mom said they found something like 30 george foreman grills in his stuff when they cleaned it out which means it was not a matter of not wanting to buy something again.

a.b. June 16, 2010 at 12:33 pm

When I was younger, my family went through some severe financial hardships. We kept the roof over our head by the grace of God, and my grandfather. I had clothes because my aunt gave me her hand-me-downs. We ate because our neighbor who volunteered with Senior Gleaners took pity on us.
Later, I would compulsively shop sales and stuff it away. If something was cheap enough I had to buy it because I would use it or one of my cousins would “grow into it eventually.” By the time I got married, we had enough to fill much more than our two-bedroom apartment. After five years, we’re down to a studio apartment with about 10 boxes in storage, hopefully less after I clear out our old tax info. and have a garage sale. It’s taken a lot of trust in our ability to keep our heads above water, but it’s a lot better.

Money Smarts June 16, 2010 at 12:38 pm

We just started clearing out a bunch of stuff from our house a few weeks ago. When things start building up, it can add to the stress in the house – we decided that things just needed to go! We decided that if we hadn’t used an item in the past year, and if it for sure wouldn’t be useful anytime soon, we’d get rid of it. We’ve actually made a decent amount of money on Craigslist selling a lot of the stuff!

Rainy-Day Saver June 16, 2010 at 1:44 pm

I have a little bit of a hoarding tendency, but it stems from not wanting to ‘waste’ things. After a year or three, I eventually will sell/throw out/donate the items that I don’t use. Moving into a new apartment every year or two also forced me to go through my belongings while packing, and I was able to rid of what I didn’t need.

Starving Student Survivor June 16, 2010 at 2:21 pm

About a year and a half ago my family of four was living in a tiny two-bedroom student housing apartment when I attended a class on getting rid of clutter and organizing. It changed my life! For some reason, the one point that really hit home to me was this: it doesn’t matter how big or small your home is. If you can keep it from being taken over by STUFF it IS possible to love where you live.

We could easily live in twice our current square footage and fill the space with junk, but it’s cheaper to pay rent on two bedrooms than three or four. And I’m so happy living in a home that is organized and simple, it doesn’t matter that it’s just a small two-bedroom apartment.

A non Mouse June 16, 2010 at 3:03 pm

A family member of mine is a hoarder for three reasons:
Hoarding food: Didn’t have money for food, now they do and buy “good deals” every chance they have… many food spoils before it gets eaten.
Hoarding “free items”: They see that someone is in need, they get it from craigslist or freecycle, but it rarely ever gets to them.
Hoarding New stuff: This is tied into the first one… they see a good deal at the store and can’t pass it up and hope somone will have a good use for it. But it rarely leaves their house unless the person comes to pick it up.

youngandthrifty June 17, 2010 at 2:51 am

I think I have hoarding tendencies too (you’re not alone!!), I do find that I keep things that I won’t ever use again… especially things with sentimental value, like ticket stubs I have collected on trips (which I should put into a scrap book but never get to doing!)

Maybe I’ll organize a spring-summer clean up.. one of these days!

Jessica Bosari June 18, 2010 at 8:18 pm

I have focus issues and clutter makes it impossible for me to think. I have a system to minimize stuff in my house. Any kind of disposable consumer item stays in my house six months. After that, I chuck it. And there are times when I find myself without something I need. But most of the time, I can find a substitution or some other way around the problem. I mean, if you throw out the crayons, won’t there be some other way to amuse a child? Trust yourself to find a solution.

Mrs. Accountability June 18, 2010 at 9:29 pm

I have been working at decluttering for the past twenty-three years. I am still not as good at it as I would like to be. Two weekends ago I went through my bedroom and tried to be as severe as I could and it was so hard to stay focused on my goal to get rid of stuff! I did manage to get rid of quite a bit of stuff and there is now room enough so I was able to set up my Total Gym.

Funny about Money June 19, 2010 at 11:53 am

Recently I read that hoarding is now thought to be a form of OCD. It has less to do with economics than with compulsiveness.

On the other hand, it has to say the junk seems to breed in dark corners! One has to work at decluttering to keep from being overrun by the stuff and its offspring!!!

Single Mom Rich Mom June 21, 2010 at 6:29 pm

I definitely have food hoarding tendencies. I’ll fill a pantry no matter how big it is. Right now I have two of them! I think sometimes we have to recognize that these habits really can pay off – as long as we aren’t throwing stuff out. Generally, I don’t buy much stuff anymore and it seems that my food hoarding began when I stopped shopping for anything else.

I too had the grandmother that grew up and lived through the depression – 12 kids in a 2 room house kind of depression. She was still saving her mom’s old wool coat thinking that she would make it into a blanket someday. Yup, a 100 year old coat. She had a 17 year old bottle of soda pop in her fridge when she died and we’d only get icecream at her house when it had gone all gummy and tasted like – err – gum I guess.

One thing that I do is to remind myself that if anything happened to me, I do NOT want my kids to have to go through a bunch of crap pitching stuff out like we had to with my grandmother when she died.

Savvy Working Gal June 27, 2010 at 12:13 pm

I also have hoarding tendencies. I grew up the oldest of six in a family with no money for extras including school lunches. To this day I can’t shake the, “I’m one pay check short of living on the street feeling” I’ve had since childhood despite a descent job and savings account. My bathroom cupboards are filled with Walgreen’s free after rebate products (which ended a year ago). My freezer and pantry are full. Our spare bedroom is filled with magazines I received through free subscriptions, but never read. The closet in that room is filled with clothes and shoes from my credit card spending days that no longer fit and are no longer in style.

A couple of months ago I read Randy O. Frost’s, “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things.” The lives of the hoarders in the book were so tragically sad they made a huge impact on my ability to de-clutter. Now when I’m having difficultly getting rid of one of the items above or see a “Free” item at Walgreen’s I think about the people in the book and almost always make the decision to de-clutter.

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