My Choice, Your Choice – Watching “Hoarders”

Last night I watched a few minutes of “Hoarders” on The Learning Channel. I’ve seen the show before, and I generally avoid it; not being a terribly organized person, and a bit of a pack-rat (not a hoarder, but a pack-rat), it makes me feel just a little bit too anxious.

How Would YOU React?

 But coming off the heels of a recent discussion with a psychologist friend, I was  fascinated by the “hoarders” on last night’s show. Amanda has done work in a  number of areas on psychology (including work with people with intellectual  disabilities, which is the area in which I’d do my concentration in if I was a  psychologist). She doesn’t like “Hoarders” and the methodologies used in the  show at all. She said to the group of us that were talking the other night that  if we realized just how meaningful this “stuff” that looked like garbage to us  was to the people that hoarded it, and how traumatic it was to them to even  think about giving it up, let alone have people march in and forcibly take it from them, we’d look at the show much differently.

Last night, as I watched an elderly man yell at his daughters, “Well, God bless America! Thank God you two are able to think so clearly on behalf of your father!” as the rusted-out cars in his yard were towed away, I finally got it: Yes they didn’t function anymore. Yes, they were an eyesore. But they were his cars. Nobody understood why he was so attached to them…but he was.

And if someone tried to haul away something really important to me without my consent, I’d probably raise bloody hell too.

“Why Are You Acting That Way?”

It made me think about times when I’ve supported people with intellectual disabilities. Sometimes, no matter how well I think I know a person, he or she will put up a block to meeting a goal that absolutely baffles me. The person could be making great progress, moving really quickly – and we hit a wall. It might be a behaviour. It might be a sudden fear of doing something. It might be a total change of heart, deciding that he or she doesn’t want to work toward that goal anymore, or an insistence that he or she does, but just never being ready to do the work.

I’ve learned from experience that if I decide that the goal still needs to be pursued and I keep pushing, I’m more than likely to get a meltdown like that old man’s. He needed his cars; no one understood why, but he did. Sometimes people just need to stop and regroup; I may not have a clue why, but they do. You take the choice away, you take away something larger and much more important.

Not So Easy in Practice…But Worth Trying When Possible

Of course, it’s not always this easy. People who hoard are generally living in houses that are physically unsafe for anyone to be in for even short periods, and some goals are a matter of “have to attain”; when the people involved don’t understand this, these situations are nothing short of absolutely heartbreaking, and may require intervention of a social or legal body to see that everything’s done that needs to be done to ensure that everyone involved is safe. In those cases, arranging to have someone else make decisions about the person’s health for a period may be necessary.

When it’s possible, however…when it’s feasible…we all need to remember that every single one of us is a jumble of things that move us forward…and things that sometimes hold us back, and other people may not always feel like making those “holding back” things obvious to us (or may not even be able to). And that there’s a reason why it’s very, very difficult to get someone declared unable to make their own choices. We need to realize how vital it is to let people choose, even when it’s difficult and even when people are making bad choices.