We’ve seen the cartoons, laughed at the television programs, sympathized with people dealing with those dotty old newspaper hoarding, cat-loving, catsup-packet-snatching relatives. Yet we praise, admire and try to emulate these same characteristics when we see billionaires with more money than god chasing after more of it. So they can get even more.
Just how much is enough?
From a medical viewpoint, hoarding’s primary symptom is excessively accumulating stuff. This excessive attachment is usually accompanied by distress at the idea of letting anything go to the point where it interferes with daily living, endangering health and welfare. [Yes, it even has its own billing code in DSM-5.] To me this sounds like a bureaucratic definition of greed.
OK, we can’t clinically call every billionaire a hoarder. They may merely be collectors. There is a difference: “Unlike a collector, a hoarder imposes no limit on him or herself.” Collecting usually has goals and an organizational scheme, in other words, a business plan. There’s nothing wrong with collecting, as long as it remains an avocation that doesn’t interfere with a productive life. But I’ll admit that whenever I see a magazine cover touting the business success du jour, I think of the Little Prince, who encountered a businessman so focused on counting and collecting that he neglected all that was beautiful, graceful and truly important in the world around him.
It’s not just these people at the extremes of the social spectrum who are afflicted. Rather than dispose of things we haven’t used in years, many of us rent storage lockers and pay to keep our stuff out-of-sight, out-of-mind. That’s good money that could be used to create wonderful experiences for ourselves and others, maybe even people who have nothing to store, nothing to eat, nowhere to live. But the contagion is spreading: the storage locker business is booming. In 1996, one of every 17 American households rented space. Today it’s one in ten. While the rest of the world appears to lag behind, the EU and Australia both have rapidly growing self-storage industries. At what point does an American epidemic become a global pandemic? Or are we just on the cutting edge of humanity’s natural progression – from hunter/gatherer to farmer to machine operator to sedentary texter and hoarder?
I don’t expect everyone to agree with my view of life and stuff. To make your life easier, here’s what some others have said about the situation. You can go to the references for the full context.
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” [Matthew 19:21]
“Suffering arises from attachment to desires.” [Four Noble Truths of Buddhism]
“Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body.” [George Carlin, a 5-minute video on “Stuff”