By Lybi Ma, published on October 26, 2004 - last reviewed on September 19, 2011
Thor Spangler, of Albuquerque, paid a visit to his aging mom, but found it hard to get through the front door. At well over six feet he scrapes the top of many doorways, but that wasn't the problem. It's just that his mother holds onto old newspaper clippings, Snapple bottle caps, junk mail and just about anything else you could name. There they sit, in stacks throughout the house. Each pile taller than Thor himself.
His mom is not unusual, just turn on the TV. Shows like Clean Sweep and How Clean Is Your House? reveal exactly what's inside America's closets. The answer: Lots and lots of junk. We are becoming a nation of hoarders.
What drives a person to hoard perfectly useless objects like bottle caps? The urge to collect may derive from the need to store supplies such as food—a drive so basic it originates in the subcortical and limbic portions of the brain. But it doesn't end there. We use the prefrontal cortex, a brain region involved in decision-making, information processing and behavioral organization, to determine just what "supplies" are worth hoarding. In a small percentage of cases, hoarding may be the result of damage, such as a stroke, to the prefrontal cortex.
For most, however, hoarding is the reflection of anxiety, sometimes raised to the Nth degree of obsession and compulsion. In such instances, it vastly, pathologically, overcapitalizes on the virtue of saving.
True hoarders may have habits of the extreme, but we all know someone who holds onto items of little to no utility. In fact, we all do it to some degree. You never know when you'll need that ab crunch, though you never used it before and you never learned how. And what about that box of old magazines? There might be a story you'll want to read—someday.
How can we clean up the mess and live reasonably orderly lives without drowning in stuff? Here are a few tips to keep your home, office and head organized: