Could you be an accidental hoarder?

Could This Be You?

Edna fully woke up to her situation when she received a phone call from her grandson, Billy, a seventh-grader, asking if he and a couple of his friends could shoot some footage of her home for a documentary on hoarding as part of a school project. Edna knew she wasn’t a hoarder, but the topic is so much in fashion these days and, apparently to Billy, her home fit the criteria.

She knew that over the past four years since her husband, Arthur, died she had felt less and less inclined to deal with things. Her energy fluctuated and some days she felt too old and stiff to expend any energy on things that really did need her attention. She was aware that the number of items in her home had been increasing without any attempt on her part to determine whether they deserved the space they took up. Some of the items were things that she had purchased, even sometimes things she knew she already had but had no idea where they were. There were a lot of items that had been in her own or her husband’s family that were added when those parents died and their homes were closed out. There were even things belonging to her grown children that they had left behind when they moved on with their own lives. And then there were the gifts from every birthday, Christmas, and Mother’s Day that had been bestowed on her from family and friends. When had it become such an overwhelming burden?!

Being a care giver for Arthur during the last years of his life had taken a lot of vitality out of her. As she tried to deal with his clothing and other possessions she had felt such a combination of grief, depression, and guilt that she backed away from the project. The grief and depression were from her sense of loss, but the guilt was from the relief she felt that the burden of care giving was lifted from her. But, when thinking of Billy’s request, she decided that four years of inertia had to end.

Tips For Becoming The Curator Of Your Home

Definition # 1. Accidental Hoarder

This is a person of late middle age or older whose home has become so full of possessions that it is an overwhelming task to deal with, but doesn’t fall within the description of hoarding in the clinical sense.

Definition #2. Curator

This is a person who is willing to gain clarity by focusing her attention on the contents of her home in the guise of a museum curator. This gives a sense of detachment and of being the one in control.

How is a home like a museum?

Everything in your home is information in a sense, whether it be in the form of written material or just “stuff”. A curator seeks to make sense out of all this information/stuff and make it available for consumption. In a museum that would mean preparing an exhibit around a theme and making it understandable and relevant. In your home ‘the public’ would be your family members or someone who will handle your estate. The more confused they are by what they see, the more likely they are to toss out items of value or not find vital information at the time it is needed.

  • Just as in a home, a museum has too many items.

  • Not all items are worth keeping. A museum may decide not to keep or to receive items that are duplicates of what they already have; items that are not in keeping with the theme or purpose of the museum; items that are in poor condition. In your home you may need to do the same kind of culling.

  • Sometimes a museum has to say No to further offerings. Your home also needs to have a limit on how many things can be added to it.

  • People who visit a museum need to understand what they are looking at. Your family members need to understand why some things are treasures to you.

  • Sometimes museums need to de-accession possessions. They get the permission from the source of the donation to sell, share, or toss items. In your home you may need to consult with family members about whether they want items from your home either now or in the future.

  • A curator in a museum annotates the facts about items in the collection so that the history and the source might be made known. As the curator of your home you might select specific items that you know have a history or significance and write a description of the item and tell the story of how you happen to have it. This might be of great interest to your grandchildren. If not, it might be of interest to an historical association.


Harriet Vaughan

About Harriet Vaughan

I am a Senior Move Manager, working with Senior Citizens and their families when it is time to downsize or just make the home safer and more comfortable for aging in place. I help these people make decisions about what to keep, throw out, donate, or sell. I also offer workshops on "Getting Things Done When You Are Over 60". I write about how to overcome memory lapses and how to use your physical energy well. I have a degree in Home Economics from the University of Maine. I live in Coopers Mills, about 14 miles east of Augusta. I have been married for almost 50 years to my husband, Chuck Vaughan. Our business is called Legacy Years Transition Services.