The Urge to Purge: Is the Thrill of Getting Rid of Stuff as Much of a Disorder as Hoarding?

It's an incredible, possibly irrational, thrill.

Hoarding seems to be all the rage these days. I wonder what it is about this moment in history that has brought out this particular brand of crazy in the human race. I suppose some will try to make the case, as they frequently do with autism, that this disorder has always been around and has just now been given a fancy label.

To which I say what I always say: I sure don’t remember being around tons of people like this when I was growing up, to the point where I said to myself, “There really oughta be a name for that.” But these days, you can’t hardly swing a dead cat without hitting someone who has a house full of dead cats.

I was going to say that I am whatever the opposite of a hoarder is. But I think that would imply that I live in an empty house. Which I don’t. Not by a long shot. But I do get an incredible, possibly irrational, thrill from purging things from my house. Especially when I get money for them. On any given day, I almost always have multiple listings on Craigslist and/or eBay.

There’s nothing like the thrill of reeling in a buyer and scoring that initial eBay bid, or getting an email inquiry about a Craigslist posting. (Although so many Craigslist responses are spam. Seriously, do these scammers really think I’m going to answer “Is the item still available?” with “Why, yes it is! Here’s my address. I’m going to be out for the day, but I’ll leave the door open and you can just help yourself and leave the money on the table.”)

Unbelievably, not everything in my house is worth selling. I do a lot of donating to charity, recycling and handing down. I do everything I can to avoid throwing things in the trash, not because I’m particularly “green,” but it does feel good to find the right home for things rather than just adding to the landfill pile.

Even so, I'm still left with a certain breed of flotsam that seems to be one of the side effects of having children. Not unlike that massive, swirling garbage patch in the North Pacific, kids are junk magnets. We have one of those multi-bin toy organizer shelf thingies that is overflowing with tchotchkes. This is where things like that hot pink yo-yo with the Adventist Health logo that has been sitting on your coffee table since the 4th of July parade go to die.

Eventually, I just can’t take it anymore/can’t fit anymore and have to perform my annual sifting of the bins. Like an anthropologist studying some mysterious past civilization, I sort through the rubble trying to discern the origin of the contents.

There are miscellaneous figurines, party-sized Play-Dohs, toy trains and cars, decorative pencils, little windup toys, funny straws, whistles, sensory balls with the bumps and strands, three of those hand-clappy noisemakers, and approximately 62 super balls.

As best I can tell, the biggest offending sources seem to be as follows:

  • Happy Meals
  • Holiday gift bags
  • Birthday parties
  • Easter baskets
  • Carnivals
  • Parades
  • Doctor/dentist/hair salon “treasure chests”
  • Grandmothers, aunts, friends, neighbors, and miscellaneous others who try to pretend that they are gifting my daughter when they are really just try to relocate junk off of their coffee table and onto mine.

Maybe other kids are different, but I have literally never seen my daughter bounce a super ball or play with any of it EVER. So what to do with it?

I thought about a children’s hospital, and then remembered that my daughter’s favorite therapist makes holiday shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child that are filled with just this type of thing–little toys, school supplies, toiletry items, etc. The shoeboxes are sent to needy children around the world, who unbelievably do not have a houseful of this kind of stuff and might actually be thrilled to have it.

Now if some of the shoeboxes containing my donations make it to say, China, we will really have come full circle.


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