I don’t know why I have become so utterly fascinated by the television shows, HOARDERS and DOOMSDAY PREPPERS. I can say only that as someone who is mildly OCD in terms of caring for my own home, I see the hoarders and “preppers” almost as creatures from another world altogether. There is something so obsessive and unworldly about their fears, that I look at them the way folks used to look at exhibits of freaks in old traveling carnival shows of the 19th Century.
I ask myself how it is possible for anyone to allow his or her home to become a nest of contagion through sheer piles of trash, often covered in vermin, not wanting to discard any of it. That seeming lack of awareness of one’s environment builds over time, not just in a week or two and reminds me of an eight-hundred-pound man looking into a mirror suddenly one morning to say, “Gee, I’ve really let myself go!” The cause, as far as I can determine from the experts, who so sensitively and judiciously deal with the hoarders, is a tragic loss, so often the trigger for the hoarding behavior, a behavior that the hoarders themselves often refer to with unintended humor as “collecting” or “accumulating.” They become so terrified of losing anyone or anything again, that they hold on to every bottle cap, rubber band, and empty toilet paper roll with the false hope that the item will serve some purpose later on for a “craft project.” In the end, it’s all about control. In losing a loved one, there is a sense that the world is falling apart, and there can be a terrible need to hold on to something that is left in some wildly irrational grip on whatever is in one’s environment, even if it’s an old band-aid or a dead cat.
I love the episodes in which the hoarders begin to see why they have been accumulating irrationally and actually change in ways that get them back their dignity and joy in living. The before-and-after shots of those homes are gratifying to watch and leave the viewer with a sense of hope for hoarders, whose lives seemed so hopeless earlier in each program.
The other sense of gratification I get from each episode I watch is that after turning off the television set, I can look around my own house to feel content that, even if there is a coffee cup on an end table, or a cereal bowl in the sink, I have no feeling of being overpowered in any way by something and can easily remedy any feeling of being untidy. My house always looks especially good after watching one of those TV episodes.
There are three million hoarders in the United States, according to the statistics given on the show, and there are also three million “doomsday preppers.” Unlike the show HOARDERS, the DOOMSDAY PREPPERS program doesn’t attempt to change the behavior of the preppers, perhaps because their fears and obsessive behaviors don’t affect other people in the same ways, and there is no sense that the result of their cause will be the spread of dangerous disease through nests of rats or unsanitary conditions. No, the obsessions of the preppers have some other level of dignity and safety. In fact, safety is the main idea, a need to feel safe in a world in which these people feel horribly threatened by a coming, even if only imagined, holocaust, doomsday, or Armageddon of some kind.
The irony of their behavior for me is that they spend every waking moment in preparation for something unspeakably horrendous in order to achieve a sense of safety and inner peace. In fact, it seems that they live in constant fear, just like the hoarders, of losing what they have, often passing this sense of terror on to their children. It strikes me as a dilemma based upon sacrificing the joy of this life in preparation for the next one. It seems almost like preparing to live in a hell they feel is inevitable. I wonder too, what kind of life a destroyed world would offer, that would make one spend all his time preparing to live in it. Finally, both programs show us people, who have an almost pathological need to be in control in a world which they feel is taking from them or is going to take from them something precious. Perhaps what is precious for them has already been lost, that sense of joy, peace, and gratitude for who and what are here right now, but whatever the reason, I suppose people have to find their own level of inner tranquility, as long as it doesn’t infringe upon that of others. I am at once sympathetic with the hoarders and preppers, while being awed by their somewhat twisted devotion. JB