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Desire to Acquire

The question I get asked most when I tell people I’m a professional organizer is, “Have you worked with hoarders?” quickly followed by, “What’s the worst you’ve ever seen?”

Hoarding fascinates people—just look at the success of the several hoarding reality TV shows. I think we are intrigued in part because it’s possible to see just how easily one could slide into such behavior. Although true hoarding disorder is a mental illness, the desire to acquire is built into humans (and squirrels). I no longer work with true hoarders because although some progress can be made, without continuous maintenance and regular therapy it is a losing battle. I have the best results with clients who know they are getting close to a hoarding situation and have an “A ha!” moment, opening them to the possibility of living with less and getting organized.

For some clients, a health crisis prompts a clean-up. For others, remodeling a home prompts a fresh look at potential hoarding. I recently worked with a client who had to move out of her house while the hardwood floors were refinished; since she didn’t want to pay movers to move things she no longer wanted or needed, it was a perfect time to let them go. Another client bought a vacation home, and so wanted to get rid of a monthly storage unit bill and put that money toward the new house.

What kind of emotions and situations cause us to over-acquire in the first place? Fear is a big one. Even a little fear, such as the fear that J. Crew will stop making its “Perfect T-shirt,” can spur us to order another six of them—more than we really need. It’s why some women own 10 pair of seemingly identical black pants. Other fears include, “I might need it someday,” “What if I go broke,” and “What if the IRS audits me?”

Sentimentality over objects tends to be less about love, such as love for the grandmother who knit the afghan, and more about fear. People I’ve talked to are afraid they will lose memories if the item is not there as a reminder. Some are afraid they dishonor the person by letting go something that had special significance to that person.

Boredom is a factor in acquisitions too. Lots of us shop out of boredom; I certainly have, especially online. The main method I’ve found for winning the over-shopping battle is to go ahead and shop, just don’t buy. I have found I have just as much fun without the financial issues and buyer’s remorse that can occur with actual purchasing. I put things into my online cart, then close the computer for at least 24 hours. For brick and mortar shopping, I put things on hold in stores and then give myself at least eight hours to think about it.

Recently I’ve been car shopping. In the past, I have purchased the first car I test drove, just because I hate the process so much. Once I even purchased the loaner car a body shop had put me in just to avoid car shopping. This time I am test driving and walking away. I am giving myself all summer to try new cars before making a decision. Since I’m shopping on my own terms, I feel in control and it’s actually enjoyable.

Desiring, hoping and wishing to acquire material objects is natural and can be really fun. Just do it on your own terms and watch out for emotions such as fear that might cause you to overdo it.