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Hazards of Hoarding

Living naturally, at one with your environment, does not mean hoarding material items until you are drowning under piles of stuff. Sadly, people of the world have gathered and disposed of so many material items that there are literal islands of trash in the oceans of our world. Gathering and keeping objects in your home is different than the act of hoarding, yet both have the same ultimate negative impacts on the environment, and on family members.

Hoarding is a severe problem, potentially a result of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, with presenting symptoms of isolation in piles of unsanitary items, animals, and trash. Hoarding behaviors can begin with the avoidance of throwing out items that are emotionally soothing or comforting and can build to extremes of hiding within mounds of objects. Sadly, this problem has become prevalent enough to warrant a television show about it and organizations devoted to interventions for people struggling with hoarding.

Treatment for hoarding includes therapy to assist the person in becoming aware of their behaviors, and then to identify alternative ways to function and find comfort. A social support system is important for people who hoard to ensure that they wonít return to isolation and their hoarding activities. For people who struggle with hoarding due to obsessive compulsive tendencies, therapy can help them with behavioral intervention and change.

At the other end of the spectrum is simply people who have a lot of stuff. You can call your stuff clutter, annoying, or beautiful, depending on how you see it all. Some people have so much stuff that storage is rented and paid for yearly just so that stuff can sit there. One thing to recognize in the purchasing and eventual disposal of these items is the impact on the environment. It is estimated that each American creates approximately four pounds of trash per day. If the rest of the world produced that much waste, which they donít, then that would equal four trillion tons of trash per year. Since people in other countries donít produce as much waste per person as America does, the estimate of current trash production is five billion tons per year. Current estimates are that fifty to sixty percent of this waste ends up in landfills or the ocean. The remaining percentage is recycled or reused. With the world population growth expected at about ten billion by 2050, it is even more important that we double and triple our efforts at reducing, reusing and recycling.

If you know of someone who fits the description of hoarding, get them professional help. If you know of someone, maybe even yourself, who just has too much stuff, take some steps to recycle that stuff and then be preventative by not piling up that stuff again.

First, take a look around, one room at a time. Have three boxes ready, one labeled donations, one labeled recycle, and one labeled trash. Then, seriously look at the items in that room. Perhaps that second desk which only holds piles of bills can be used by the teenager on your block who needs a place to read and study. Perhaps the stuffed animals you kept in mint condition all these years can be placed in your donation box to be cleaned and dropped off at a nearby homeless shelter where children can actually enjoy them instead of them sitting there gathering dust. Once you are finished, you will find that there is very little in the trash box, and that the boxes for donations and recycling are overflowing. You will also find that your room becomes much more livable and comfortable for you and your family.

After that process is done for each room, look at your purchasing behaviors. Do you buy items when you are engaging in retail therapy - soothing emotions with shopping? If so, next time you feel the urge to shop for that reason, find an alternative soothing activity instead. Make a list of all other activities that bring you joy - reading, writing, singing, running, playing with your children, whatever that may be. Keep that list somewhere noticeable - perhaps wrapped around your credit card - so that you can act on those simple joys instead of shopping.

Another tip is to ask yourself whether or not you really need the item you are looking to buy. Will you use it daily or weekly? Will it sit there on a shelf with no purpose? Will it eventually end up in storage or a closet? And, if you do need a certain item for everyday use, form a neighborhood recycling and reusing network so that people can swap items they need rather than purchasing new ones. This process is now termed freecycling and is made easier when you know your neighbors and your community well. In this way, these items are bringing you closer to your community rather than those objects creating social isolation.

Lastly, please think about how your stuff impacts your family today, and in years to come. Not only is there the environmental impact, but there is also, sadly, the ultimate storage and clean up of your items upon your passing. This is a topic that is not easy to discuss nor think about, but is one that can be made easier for your children if you do the simple task of leading a simpler life.

Living at one with our environment, living naturally, is not a new concept. In the life of the planet, it was not that long ago that Native Americans lived at one with nature, and several tribes as well as people of other countries continue to live with the land today. Getting closer to our roots, living a more natural life, and living with respect to our environment and each other can only result in a richer quality of experience this day and in days to come.

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