This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…
I have a pocket watch that was my great grandfather’s. It’s not particularly valuable, but it means a lot to me. I never use it, it just sits on a shelf. But, like a small number of things I own, its value is sentimental. It’s an heirloom: an inanimate object that has been imbued with an emotional value.
I have a connection to it that is more like a relationship.
Most people have one or two items like this, on a shelf, or in a box somewhere. Of course some people have many, many more.
Hoarding is one of those psychiatric conditions that people find fascinating. It has even spawned a number of television shows detailing the struggles of very severe “hoarders”.
Perhaps because it’s something we can all understand. Whether it’s heirlooms, collections, or that pile of boxes in the garage, many of us hold onto things.
And it is fascinating, this human ability to make a “thing” so meaningful, to hold onto something because of what it represents.
So many of the people struggling on the hoarding shows (I’m afraid it’s a guilty pleasure of mine) have sustained a loss of someone close to them. In that context holding onto what you can, becoming overwhelmingly terrified of letting go of things that hold meaning, and ultimately unable to let go of anything, also makes sense to me.
Of course not everyone reacts like this to grief, but ultimately holding on and letting go is a very human thing to grapple with.
The Buddhist’s talk about “attachment” as being one of the causes of suffering. The process of holding on, to people, things, ways of life, jobs etc. leads to loss, and from this point of view being aware, and ultimately being less attached, leads to less distress.
Maybe it’s the hoarder in me, but I’ve always struggled with this. I think attachment is a normal part of existence and should be embraced, albeit in balance.
But of course hoarding tips this holding on too far in one direction, and when our inability to let go causes very real problems in the physical realm then people need help.
Equally though, we all need to hold on to what ever we can.
I think this is ultimately the appeal of the hoarding stories, we see the very human drama of loving, holding on and letting go writ so large and obvious, it’s a story we all know. On some level we can all identify.
Ultimately the sadness of those stories for me, is that the things have become more important than the people. Because when it comes to holding on, things can crystallise memories, but even though we all have to let go eventually, I believe we should all hold onto each other more.
Hold on as tight as you can, because you can’t hoard good people and you can never have too much love.
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