• ‘Hoarders’ follows people who obsessively collect possessions. (SBS)Source: SBS
Trying to understand a disorder at the opposite end of the minimalist spectrum...
Lefa Singleton Norton

15 May 2019 - 12:35 PM  UPDATED 15 May 2019 - 12:35 PM

Earlier this year, all anyone could talk about was Marie Kondo and her trademarked ‘KonMari’ method of decluttering and creating order in our homes. Her best-selling book was adapted for our screens as Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.

As a result, charity shops found themselves swamped with an unprecedented number of donations. Spring cleaning was turbocharged, and the rush to rid ourselves of that which did not bring us joy hit hard.

In stark contrast to Kondo’s calm minimalism, Hoarders is about lives and homes in chaos, overwhelmed with a dangerously unhealthy amount of stuff.

As well as being our safe, warm shelter, our homes are also places of practicality where we keep the tools we need for modern-day living. In Marie Kondo’s world these tools should be sparse, multifunctional and as minimal as possible; anything we feel ambivalent about has no place there.

But our identity can be tied up in our possessions, our homes a reflection of ourselves. To take the Marie Kondo method to its extreme could mean ridding our homes of any item that was not purely functional or sparked joy. It may find us living a spartan existence that offers no comfort during our retreat from the elements.

With winter being a time to huddle under the blankets and cosy up on the couch in a few extra layers, the idea of shedding our belongings and living in a bare, sterile space seems much less appealing. Scarcity in winter is a very different feeling indeed from the light, breezy freedom of summer.

Will our KonMari’d homes bring us joy in the cold months, or will we start to regret letting go of those warm jumpers and hot water bottles that didn’t bring us joy in the height of summer? In the world of a hoarder all things are potentially useful tools or objects of memory and should be kept accordingly. As the winter sets in, the logic of hoarding makes more sense.

Hoarders at first seems like an extreme version of a home improvement show, documenting homes that have sailed way past cluttered and into chaos. Every inch of the subjects’ homes are filled with unsorted detritus. In the worst cases homes are not just filled with ‘stuff’, they are filled with literal garbage.

But it's also a medical and mental health show. Often homeowners are suffering physical ailments due to the mould, dust and unsanitary conditions. Certainly most, if not all, are suffering from mental illnesses. The show offers these people the support of professionals to address the mental blocks that have prevented them from taking action thus far, and also provides the manpower to move the bulk of items that have taken over their home.

There is no doubt that hoarding is self-destructive. As the series shows, it often divides families, providing a mental and physical barrier to healthy relationships. The obsession is often triggered by a combination of personal tragedy, such as the death of a loved one, and a mental illness.

Watching Hoarders, it’s humbling to realise these thought patterns can veer uncomfortably close to our own. Most of us have at least one space in our homes that cannot be tamed, and it’s easy to imagine that chaos creeping out of control. Seeing the eventual result of our addiction to buying just one more thing going unchecked serves as a warning.

Both Marie Kondo and Hoarders ask: how much of the stuff surrounding us do we really need? In an age of consumer culture, fast fashion and single-use plastics, this is a valuable question. We have an attachment to physical items that our planet cannot sustain, whether we obsessively collect them in every inch of our homes for fear of throwing out something potentially useful, or rid ourselves of every item that does not bring us pure joy.

In summer, we need Marie Kondo’s motivation to pare down our homes, but in winter, Hoarders is the reassurance we need. Hoarding is a real disorder, one that results in harm for the people struggling with it. But having a cosy and comfortable home filled with familiar clutter is a long way from being a hoarder and doesn’t require a KonMari-style intervention.

As long as we find ourselves somewhere between the ‘life changing magic of tidying up’ and the very real illness that leads to hoarding, we’re probably doing okay.


Watch Hoarders on Sundays at 7:45pm on SBS VICELAND. All of season 1 is now available to stream at SBS On Demand:

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