I Am An (Environmental) Hoarder

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

We finally had some snow on the ground
(although it’s almost all melted away again) and so I can take a break
from garden work. I’m not in “firewood” mode yet, so I have been taking
it easy and getting caught up on some reading.

Then we decided to
re-claim some of our Aztext Press books that we have been storing at our
printer’s warehouse. They charge us for warehousing them and since
there were a few half-empty pallets we thought we’d have them shipped
here. That meant that I needed to build a few more shelves downstairs in
the guesthouse for storage. Which meant that I had to clean out a big
area. The area was full of empty boxes that we use to ship books out.
Any time that we see good boxes at the grocery store, we grab them to
use for shipping. Our collection of boxes started out small and grew
exponentially. And of course, anytime anyone shipped anything to us, I’d
save the box. Needless to say, the pile of boxes was enormous.

I finally said, “enough” and did a major purging. I recycled a lot of
them and knocked down some of the best candidates to be reused when I
need them. There were so many boxes that had been there for years and
that I’d never used. I started questioning my decision to have kept them
for so long.

This was reinforced when I shifted my focus to the
garage, which hadn’t had a good cleaning since we moved in here 14 years
ago. I had tidied it up just enough to be able to fit the car in again
this fall, but it was a tight squeeze and the side of the car scraped
the garbage cans as I pulled it in. The biggest mess was the recycling
area. I have plastic bins for all the regular stuff, but I also have a
big plastic bag of aluminum cans that we take to a local animal shelter
as a fundraiser, and a box full of the wine and beer bottles that I
collect from the side of the road, some old motor oil I needed to
recycle, boxes of old catalogs, magazines…. The boxes and bags of
materials seemed endless.

Glass jars, of course, should be in the
recycling bin. But I love glass jars. I save a lot of seeds so I don’t
like to recycle jars just in case I need them for seeds. It doesn’t
matter that I have boxes of glass jars stored in the horse barn. Nope,
I’ll just save this great pasta sauce jar, “cause I might need it” in
the future.

I have a genetic predisposition to this hoarding
behaviour. My Grandpa Micklethwaite saved everything. I can remember
helping to clean out his basement after he was gone and my Grandma was
moving out of the house. It was a dream job for a kid like me. He had
amazing stuff, including Playboy magazines from the 1940s and 50s that
were so old the revealing images of ladies in one-piece bathing suits
were actually illustrations and not photos. I’ll bet they’d be worth a
mint now.

So I know I have this predisposition to “save” (the
classic denial term of a hoarder) which I must fight. Of course being a
“mild” peak oil/economic collapse “doomer” everything has some potential
value. This cheap broken badminton set, it may come in handy sometime.
That old piece of carpet that has been chewed by mice, who knows how
valuable that could be in the future. That busted printer, I’ll bet
there are some screws or something I can MacGyver eventually. Let it be
known though that I hoard for all the right reasons! My hope is always
that I won’t have to buy something new in the future if I can find
something used in the horse barn (which has no room for horses right

I am now going through a major purging of many areas of the
house and barn. But I realize I am not alone. Since I’m done in the
garden for a few months and we’re watching more TV, I got 3 more
packages on our satellite TV dish and I’ve watched a few of those
“Hoarder” shows. Holy crap! It’s an epidemic. I’m not alone. The whole
damn continent is struggling with this. And not only are there shows
about hoarders who have “professionals” that come in to help them with
their addictions, there are shows about the people who clean up the
messes they leave behind, like “Storage Wars” where a group of people
are shown bidding on multiple storage units that have fallen into
arrears and the contents are sold to the highest bidder.

My eyes
have been opened! This television thing is pretty great. As an
anthropological study I find it amazing to have missed a lot of this
stuff and then order some new cable channels and discover what I’ve been

And it shouldn’t surprise me of all people. I constantly
think about how the North American economy is based on “consumption.”
We buy stuff. We don’t make much any more, but we buy it. Wal-Mart goes
into a town, destroys the main street, then buys all their stuff from
China so American manufacturers throw their employees out of work, but
somehow the former employees still have enough income to shop at the
store that destroyed their livelihood. Seventy percent, that’s 70% of
the U.S. economy, is now based on consumption – buying stuff. It’s

When I’m not engrossed in cable TV shows about hoarding, I’ve been reading a book called “The Value of Nothing”
by Raj Patel. It’s about how the price of all of this cheap stuff
doesn’t really incorporate all the externalities that go into its
production. The mining, the cutting of trees, the creation of the energy
for the factories (much of it coal in China), the resource extraction,
the pollution, the carbon emissions, etc., etc. It is a truly mind
blowing experience to stand in a dollar store. How can we make so much
stuff, so cheaply? And to be preemptive of criticism, I will admit to
shopping at dollar stores. I try and limit my consumption, and I do buy
stuff used from secondhand stores, but sometimes I buy new stuff and I
marvel at being able to purchase so many different items for just $1 or

As I was reading the newspaper recently I saw an ad for a new
2-day course called “Extreme Hoarding Decontamination” offered by a
private company. The topics covered in this seminar include “Blood borne
Pathogens (yuck), Airborne Pathogens (yuck, any pathogens are gross),
Wildlife feces remediation (does this assume raccoons are living in the
house?), thermal bed bug treatment (gross) and more!

Yup, it
trains you on how to be a professional hoarder-cleaner-upper. So I’m
puzzled. Does this course exist because there are so many hoarders out
there that there is an actual market for hoarder cleaner uppers? Or has
some clever business owner realized, that with so many TV shows about
hoarders, that there would be the perception by the general public that
there would be such a market, and hence they could profit by training
people on how to do it, even if they never get work?

I’m going to
look into this. Heck I’m already qualified. If you saw before and after
photos of my garage, you’d know I have a flair for this. Bring on that
abandoned multiple storage unit! Unlock and load! I’m here to clean up.
I’m a “Hoarder Buster!”

* * * * * * *

For more information about Cam or his books please visit www.aztext.com or www.cammather.com