Word hoarding

In the lists of what hoarders commonly keep paper is one of the most frequent.  These are paper things: newspapers, magazines, paper packaging, books.  What do they have in common?  Words.  Words and text are the most common way we have of remembering things.  We write lists.  We keep letters.  We re-read books.

A word clot/clog is a stubborn unpleasant lump.  Most people do not enjoy dealing with word materials.  Filing and paperwork are regarded as boring.  But, central for everyone is that those word things are part of being a responsible adult.  Throwing them away, particularly without reading them completely, feels childish and irresponsible.  So they pile up.  Keeping post but not opening or dealing with it is another common feature of a disordered household.  Both anger and fear can contribute to this. 

We have sat with clients and processed through three years of post.  They are often very surprised at how much of it is junk. Many of these clients have arranged direct debits for their bills.  This is a survival choice.  Studies have shown that compulsive hoarders often end up homeless. Not reading post, means that the person does not know when bills have come due or notices issued.  This will eventually result in eviction.

Hoarders with piles of paper are not hoarding paper in the way that a bottle hoarder is hoarding bottles.  They are hoarding the words.  This is different. Friends and family see a pile of old newspapers.  They and the researchers describe old newspapers as 'paper'.  The word hoarder sees a pile of words.  Is there the funniest article ever written in that pile?  Is there information I need to know about my next holiday?  The list of possibilities is endless.  In order to be sure, the hoarder has to read every single word. Then having read it, they then say 'I need to save this in case I need to read it again'.

It is this that makes it so hard to process.  How can one place a value on all those words.  What wasn’t important yesterday, may be important tomorrow.  It would take a very long time to read all the words.  Many times it would be more years than the person has left.  We have a number of clutter clients who do suffer from word hoarding.  They will keep everything the bank ever sends them, all their old magazines etc.  Clearing their old clothes or bric-a-brac is comparatively easy, they can often tell at a glance whether they want it or not.  To process words they have to be read.  With clutter clients there are a number of strategies:

  • Newspapers stop being 'new' when you keep them
  • Newspapers are kept in libraries.
  • Much of this information is available on line. Ask yourself, when you want the answer to a question do you read all the things you have or do you Google
  • Lots of information is time sensitive: special offers go out of date, the council has new rules, the bank has changed their terms etc.

All these things are true and may help some people, but for a full-fledged word hoarder, they will have little or no effect.  A word hoarder needs to let go of the words. The paper is just the supporting medium.

Given the prevalence of word hoarding among compulsive hoarders, it would be appropriate for researchers to study the efficacy of books and writing things down as part of treatment. We encounter many books and articles on de-cluttering in the homes of our clutter clients.  In one extreme case, there were 40 books. The client referred to them as her 'pornography'.  Clutter clients can see buying the book as solving the problem. Equally, buying storage solutions can be seen as an alternative to doing the filing.

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