….Looking at the Hoard Mentality
Every so often, when I’m doing Spring cleaning, or having guests over I want to impress, I look around and think: Hark! I might be mental. I think I’m a hoarder. I’m reorganizing and cleaning, and everywhere I have things that need a place to go, and then I ask myself, why do I have so many things? I know it is my lack mentality. I did without, and was always broke my whole life, and so now it’s a habit to hang onto things just in case. Every time I had let go of something, I needed it later, and then I had to buy it, which cost more money that I needed for other things, which meant I would not have enough money to go around. . . So it’s more a Lack Mentality than a Hoard Mentality. Maybe I need to light a match and set it all on fire in the back yard. Then I’d get a ticket because of the burn ban, and that would cost MORE MONEY. Grr.
I’m not at all suggesting that my clutter is indicative of any real mental illness. I regularly go through things and take it to thrift stores, sell on eBay, or simply throw it away. And in the recent past, I did get on a kick of collecting odd, funny or unique cigarette lighters. Got rid of those after a while. I only need ONE after all. And then I accidentally started collecting sunglasses. It was easy because I only bought them at the dollar store, so they aren’t in any way interfering with my finances. And I like being able to choose among a collection of them depending on my needs and my mood. I still have about 20 pairs. If I break them, or scratch the lenses, I simply throw them away. Innocuous enough.
But there are many people who seriously have a problem with hoarding things. It could be papers, movies, trinkets, clothes, shoes…or even animals. I knew two women who lived together for many years, and their house was a labyrinth of “stuff”–hundreds of video tapes stored in shelves that lined the walls ceiling to floor, stacks of papers with an inch of dust on them, dirt, grime, and 5 large dogs that ran the house. They always had a roach and flea issue that was out of control.
I think there is some inherent security in this Stuff-Mongering. And I can see how animals would be one of the hardest things to let go of, even when you have way too many of them. They are living and breathing and you have some kind of benefit from them in company, love, and affection and even entertainment. I am frequently entertained by my two cats. But I’m really clear that I don’t need 20 of them. Even though I am fond of making jokes about myself in that regard–that I will probably end up that crazy old lady in the big house with all the cats. But I don’t really believe it will come to that. Not really. I’m way too stable in my psychology.
Contrarily, I know of someone in Texas who has 7 dogs, 2 parrots, 9 cats, 2 pot belly pigs, 17 tropical fish, and 13 Pygmy goats. While she does not yet have a partridge in a pear tree, she does speak of wanting a Fennec Fox, and is also in the market for a monkey. She does not live on a farm. And they don’t all live in her house. The goats are outside.
Now if this was a farm, I’d understand. But it’s not. She doesn’t milk the goats and they will not let her get near them. The parrots don’t talk, but they do screech a lot, and she has to keep them separated so one won’t snap off the toes of the other. (That happened twice already and the vet bill was staggering–as most of her vet bills are). The cats are not declawed because she believes that removing their claws is psychologically damaging to them–and thus, they destroy her furniture. She also doesn’t have them spayed because that’s also some kind of crime against nature. So her cat family continues to grow exponentially as one or two of them have kittens. She hasn’t been able to eat at her kitchen table in years, because the cats like to lounge there and it’s full of fur. The pot belly pigs have rooted holes in the carpeting under her bedroom door because they want to come in and sleep in the bed with her. But the cats get mad. So she makes the pigs stay outside the bedroom. Where they pee, because THEY are mad.
Her tropical fish require specialized water, tank and maintenance. The dogs sleep on the bed when they want, on the furniture, where they summarily dig holes, and often take a wizz on the furniture too, if they are “afraid” of guests, or “just marking their territory.” She doesn’t breed any of these animals to sell. They don’t produce anything in return for her trouble. Yet, she insists she could not live without them, and that she understands them as they do her, and she has this symbiotic and spiritual relationship with all of them. An erstwhile Dr. Doolittle sans medication.
All these animals occupy a grand majority of her time, interfere with her life, her plans, her autonomy, and her relationships. They cost her shocking amounts of money, and not only does she shell it out, but talks of buying more land for the goats, building huge playhouses for the dogs and cats. She has to get up at 3 every morning to get all the care and feeding taken care of before she drives to the Post Office to deliver mail for the day. Once when she had to go out of town for a funeral, it cost her $5000 to pay someone to take care of it all. Her neighbors call her home “The Ark.” And I’m sure they’re hoping for a heavy rain so she’ll float away with her self-imposed zoo.
Forgive my bluntness, but this woman is mentally ill. Not even on the precipice of mental illness. She has leaped with no parachute into the crazy void. And she wasn’t always that bad. It started small and then just continued over a period of years until it reached a point of complete and utter obsession and delusion. I believe it is the manifestation of a severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Healthy people who feel such an affinity with animals usually just become veterinarians, or animal breeders, or they have animals that in some way pay for themselves as in chickens who lay eggs, Parrots that sell for $500 to $1000 each, Llamas who can be shorn and their coat sold for various other products to be made. Sometimes people who have lots of animals live on farms and the animals are part of that process, but aren’t viewed as pets, except for the occasional dog or cat. This in no way describes those who collect animals for no apparent sensible reason. These collections are just money pits. Fer godssake, get rid of all those animals and get a job at the zoo! I understand feeling a connection to a certain animal, but do you need to have 17 fish and 33 non-water-bound animals to remain connected?
Now, I feel a connection with dolphins somehow, but I’m not gonna build a big aqua park in my back yard and buy some dolphins to put in it. I’ll just watch them on TV and say “Aren’t they pretty?” And maybe one day I’ll get to swim with one. But I won’t try to collect the dolphins. I did that once, years ago–not with REAL dolphins, but dolphin trinkets. It started with one or two and then word got around that I “liked dolphins” and then every birthday, Christmas or freakin’ Ground Hog day, I got another dolphin trinket. Then one day I was dusting that huge shelf of dolphin trinkets and I thought–why am I doing this? Why do I need all these? And it ended there. I sold some at a garage sale, and the rest I gave to thrift.
One of the pertinent questions to ask yourself, I believe, is Does this collection get in the way of actually living my life? Another question is, Do I USE this, or gain anything tangible from it, or just look at it? and another is, Do I have to spend extra money for space to store or keep these things?
In the case of those who tend to collect animals–notwithstanding those like Charles Darwin who are scientists, studying them–I think it must be some kind of coping mechanism gone awry–a live creature who loves you unconditionally, is sometimes easy to get addicted to, if you’re needy that way. And pets don’t demand that you look good, don’t care if you’re smart or a good conversationalist. Pets don’t care what you drive, what you wear, or if you’re naked. Or crazy. They are happy to have food and water and a little affection. It’s the simplest relationship to maintain. And also one that often leads to a degeneration in social skills and isolation.
I knew a woman who had several dogs, and several cats, and her house stank all the time of urine and feces, and there was always some present on the floor in the kitchen, and hair on the counters, and she could never go anywhere for any amount of time because she couldn’t stay away that long. The piddle pads would be full, you see. And inevitably, they missed the piddle pad. Then her carpet was ruined. She’d burn incense when guests (rarely) would come by. She never had a second date with anyone after they came to her home, because they never wanted to come to her house again.
Having too many pets is a way, quite often, for people to avoid having any real human relationships. If this is the case, then there is the obvious question, Why are you afraid to have real human relationships? And maybe another question is, What gaping void in your psyche are you trying to fill? I believe that most if not all of these types of people have a history of abuse, or abandonment. So their solution is to stock their existence with many beings who will do neither.
There is paltry research on those who hoard herds, flocks, clutches, gaggles, and schools of animals. But it’s an obvious problem when there are companies who can make a living cleaning up the chaos that is left behind when one of these people finally dies and is found amid the menagerie. Often, having been used as food by their beloved “pets.”