Saturday, January 21, 2012

Behind Closed Doors

At our apartment complex, we have safety inspections two or three times a year.  I always dread that 48-hour notice stuck to the front door.  Today happens to be inspection day.  This time they are picking apartments at random, so not everyone will get that knock on the door.  Still, you have to get prepared and just hope that you have good enough karma to avoid the dreaded visit.  These kinds of things trigger a lot of anxiety for me. That knot in my stomach gets pulled tighter.  I don’t like the idea of strangers walking through my home and judging me by the way I keep house. Let’s say I’m not exactly a neat freak and there is always a mad scramble to clean up behind the scenes before an inspection.
So, while I’m on the topic, I’m coming out of my TV closet and admitting that watching reality shows about hoarding is a guilty pleasure of mine.  I’m also coming out of my cleaning closet and admitting that I have a lot of clutter. I’m not proud of it. It’s one of my dirty little secrets and I’m trying to change that. My name is Sofia Smith and I’m a stuffaholic, a clutterbug, a keeper of an “organized” mess.  I guess that gathering pretty things is one of my not-so-healthy coping mechanisms.  Just so we’re clear, I don’t have bugs crawling around the house. I don’t hold on to trash and I am able to get rid of things I don’t need.  We do not have to walk over piles of stuff to get through the apartment.  I do, however, have a little fear monster inside my head who whispers to me that I could turn into a hoarder at some point in my life.  Perhaps it is irrational, but maybe this fear isn't so far fetched after all.
The general theme on the hoarding shows seems to be that the person profiled wasn’t always a hoarder.  The out of control hoarding is usually triggered by a tragic event, such as the loss of a loved one.  You never know what is around the bend in life and how you will react to it, hence my anxiety about becoming a hoarder.  Then they bring in a cleaning crew and try to do a drastic cleanup within a couple of days as we watch the hoarder squirm and face one of their demons. 
Even though they offer the help of a mental health counselor on most hoarding shows, and do try to help the person or family, it almost always turns into a freak show.  I believe that is probably why there is one or more hoarding show on multiple cable channels.  Viewers watch with their jaws on the floor, in disbelief at the idea of someone living in such miserable state.  Perhaps part of the reason why people like me watch these shows is due to the fact that it seems to satisfy a voyeuristic curiosity.  We want to peep inside the lives of other people.   Seeing how other people live is interesting.  Even the most disgusting and disturbing episodes are intriguing.  It is that train wreck you can’t look away from.
Another reason why I am drawn to hoarding programs is that it actually makes me feel a little more “normal”.  It gives me a tool to measure where I am on the crazy scale.  I have a lot of stuff, but I’m not in an extreme situation.  I still feel like I’m in control of my clutter.  My mess is “organized”, meaning that although it looks like a mess to the untrained eye, I generally know where things are.  In addition, watching these programs actually makes me feel more motivated to get up and clean.  I’ve spent the last couple of hours sorting through my craft supplies, weeding out things I know I won’t use.  I’ve started this process with various objects many times, but at some point, I end up giving up.  If I were to psychoanalyze myself, I’d say that my mess is a symptom of the perfectionist aspect of my personality.  When the reality hits me that  I can’t make my home look “perfect”, I tend to give up.  I’m hoping that this time will be different.  I’ll just do a little bit at a time and it won’t all feel so overwhelming.  I’ll also keep watching hoarding shows to keep me motivated. 
Lastly, even if the format of a hoarding show seems to be a freak show, I do believe that there is something positive to be said about such programs.  It raises awareness.  Hoarding is a real mental disorder that has gone untreated and unstudied for far too long.  Now we know more about it, and perhaps it will make us feel more compassionate and less judgmental.  I know I’ve learned a lot and I feel like I have a better understanding of the condition and an a greater feeling of empathy.
So, there are a few of my shameful secrets.  I do feel as if I’m hanging my dirty laundry out to dry, but writing about this has been therapeutic.  Judge me how you choose, but I have shared was is true to me.
P.S. We did not get chosen for the inspection this time, so I'm breathing a little easier.

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