Character Development–Hoarding


Got sick this weekend.  It was a mild case of food poisoning (so the butler has to try another method of doing away with me, heh, heh), but I spent a few days in bed.  Amazing what you can still do in bed, what you can learn.  For instance, while engaging with an old pot, and sitting on another, I have decided that this is as close to Ebola as I could ever want to get. Final stop.

On the other hand, I also noticed that my pets, who both normally would bug me for getting outside or come-feed-me’s on a regular basis, simply took a sniff at me, and then stoically settled in for the duration. Prophet circled and went to sleep on the floor in my bedroom.  Nalla took up a spot next to me on my bed. They didn’t move unless I did, and skipped meals until I was well enough to go take care of that. They seemed to understand and were patient, even for them. Amazing.

That patience, that understanding of another creature showed as well in a television series I watched on my tablet–Hoarders.  Oh my goodness!

Hoarding is described as a mental illness affecting as many as three million people in the United States.  It has five levels according to a group of professionals who developed a hoarding scale in the 1990’s, and the show tends to focus on the level fives (eew, eew, double-eew!). I was gripped by that same “rubbernecking” phenomena found in traffic accident watchers–too gruesome to believe, too compelling to look away.

At the level five, a hoarder is likely to have an abundance of “pets.”  These poor creatures  become feral, live in walls, under bathtubs, inside cushions and mattresses, and without proper sanitation, many of the inevitable babies and young die right there, and their carcasses are found as we watch. Yet, the animals do not leave or run away. They stay in an environment obviously unhealthy for them. They are the defendants of the hoarders. I am in awe of these animals. How did us unworthy humans earn such loyalty?

Yet, let’s not be too outraged by the hoarders themselves. Many of these people, apparently, start out with the best of intentions.  Several of the shows were about people who considered themselves creative, or artistic. They sew, or cook, or “make stuff, fix stuff, buy the best deals.”  But, just like in Criminal Minds, hoarders seem to have a “trigger event”–death of a loved one, a divorce, a debilitating accident–that pushes an annoying habit out of control.

In the midst of the gore, I came to the realization, that I am possibly one emotional trauma away from becoming a hoarder myself. Yikes!  As a kid, my bedroom was a “pigsty.” I didn’t have the organizational skills to keep it clean, and I had an emotional attachment to things that had siblings calling me one of my mom’s favorite condemnations–“packrat.”

I’ve outgrown a lot of that need to keep, but as I look around my desktop there are things that could or even should be thrown away, put away, given away. Hmm. This makes me wonder if we all have a certain level of psychological disfunction in all of us.  Perhaps this “oddity of personality” is what makes us interesting both as people and as characters in a book.

As a person who enjoys writing, this magnetism of the dysfunctional creates a wonderful opportunity for developing characters.  I can watch a television show, like Hoarding, and wonder what that house would be like if the person within hoarded, say, human skulls?  What trigger event might have started that collection? Ooh! Shades of  Alfred Hitchcock and Rod Serling.

Think I’ll go check out the collections in my house and see what stories lie within. Heh, heh, heh!

After note: Okay, friends.  What collections do you have?  What would happen if those collections went to the extreme? What if they were socially unacceptable? What kind of personality would you develop?  Can you see yourself as an art collector or as a John Wayne Gacy Jr?  Why not take these thoughts a little further and develop a character sketch about a person like you, only out of control?  Happy writing!

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2 thoughts on “Character Development–Hoarding

  1. Sadly, the person like me is already out of control. I’m not a hoarder, my wife insists: I’m not intelligent enough to collect things in any sense. I am a nester. I build up a comfortable heap of things I have received but never succeeded in losing; a heap which grows and grows until I can scarcely find the door. Curiously, though, I am imbued with the power to rediscover almost anything in that heap without difficulty. A strange gift, mystifying to my wife. But then I am – mystifying to my wife. I hope you are well again now, and your pets are replete.

    • Hi Frederick, Thanks for commenting! I am getting much better–bug lasted longer than I could believe possible. But as to your piles of stuff–I visited Mt. Vernon once, where George Washington’s office had been left precisely as he liked it–cluttered and messy. The guide said something like, “if you can find what you want within 10 minutes, then your place isn’t a mess.” Hope you and your wife enjoy your own special style of housekeeping. Have a great day.

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