Recently, hoarding has gained increasing interest in medical and research circles. It is now classified as a disorder and is due to be included in the next publication of the APA’s ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ in May 2013. This increasing interest may have been what’s inspired Channel 4’s new series ‘The Hoarder Next Door’. Whilst watching the show’s featured hoarder Helen ease herself into tacking her hoard by first picking up paper only, I was reminded of my e-mail account. Earlier that day I decided to sort through and organise my e-mails. Realising it would be a laborious task I started by deleting great wads of e-mails which I could tell from the title were trash. Essentially, I think Helen and I were going through the same thought processes; discarding parts of our hoards which were blatantly worthless accumulations.
I thought little more of this, until last weekend when my friend and I were discussing hoarding and he pointed out that the advent of electronic storage has allowed people to collect items such as films, pictures, notes, music and games without having to physically own 100s of DVDs, CDs, papers, books etc. This made me wonder, is collecting, storing and never deleting electronic material comparable to the hoarding shown on Channel4?
The obvious difference is that hoarding results in physical masses which take up space in a room, whereas ‘electronic hoarding’ is condensed into much smaller (yet infinite) spaces such as microchips, hard drives and even the web. Do items which exist as physical masses rather than transient electronic files mean more to us? Are the attachments we feel towards these things more salient than the processes involved in keeping media files?
As Illich pointed out in the 70s, behaviours which do not fit in with societal values come under the medical gaze and are often classified as disorders and illnesses. For example, gambling money and playing sport may offer the similar buzz of winning, but only gambling is considered as a physical addiction in a society where we’re expected to save our money.
Hoarders manage and organise their stuff in ways which deviates from what’s expected. The erosion of living space is problematic as it inhibits a ‘normal’ life style. But at what point does collecting become a disorder? Does the disorder stem from accumulating things, or not being able to get rid of them? Is it easier to keep and delete electronic files? Are people with bigger houses less likely to be hoarders because they have places to put things? And what about museums, are they pathological? Is the nature of the attachments we make to physical stuff different? Or are electronic files just exempt from medicalization because they don’t get in the way of ‘normal’?
Answers on postcards please (pretty ones which I can keep and add to my collection).