Materialism is a disease that afflicts almost everyone in our modern society. My father hoarded rare coins, calling it his “coin collection”. My mother hoarded old family photos, and owned enough to fill several binders. I will show you how to recognize the sickness, and how to cure it (hint: fire).
Television has taught us that hoarders are shut ins who live in houses filled floor to ceiling with trash. Accumulation on this scale is rare, and happens only in the most extreme cases. Most people who worship their possessions have much smaller hoards, and often don’t even know they suffer from an insidious disease.
I cured my parents by treating them to a day at a luxury spa, which turned into weeks and months, because it was actually a nursing home. Unfortunately, this strategy will not work for all hoarders.
The best way to treat cases of rampant materialism is through a process I call a “stealth intervention”. This is easier than a typical intervention because you don’t necessarily have to confront them, just sneak into their house and destroy their hoard.
Someone you Know and Love
The hoarder in your life might surprise you. It is probably somebody who seems like an upstanding citizen, someone with a happy family who volunteers on the weekends. Then you discover their hoard: a shelf full of DVD’s, and you realize the depths of their depravity.
Your cousin, the volunteer firefighter who saved a baby last weekend, might seem like a community hero. That is, until you visit his house and discover his “collection” of holiday themed snow globes. A true monster. If you find yourself in this situation, calmly find your kids and exit the house as quickly as possible before alerting the authorities.
Tip: Some people hoard plants. Often these sick individuals will claim to be “gardening” or “farming”, but we know what it really is: materialism gone berserk.
Even I have had to deal with hoarders in my life. One weekend when I was helping my parents clean the house I discovered that my father, a role model in many respects, had been hoarding coins. He insisted that this “coin collection” was a “hobby” that he had continued since childhood, and that the “collection” was full of rare and valuable coins. It was so sad.
My mother was not immune to the disease. One day while simultaneously house sitting and getting rid of their junk, I discovered that my mother had been hoarding old family photos. She had almost seven binders full of photographs, many of which were of me. They took up almost two full boxes in the closet. I did the humane thing – burned them – and left a post it note instructing her to use a digital camera next time.
Holding An Intervention
The key to helping the sick person in your life is to hold an intervention. You might be imagining a room full of their closest friends and family, with flickering candles and soft music playing in the background. This traditional approach works with less insidious diseases, like drug addiction, but not with materialism. Hoarding is a problem of excess, so it is usually best to take the more Minimalist approach.
Instead of spending tedious hours scheduling friends and family for a traditional intervention, the true Minimalist takes the more direct route: destruction. By secretly getting rid of their hoard, or alternatively burning it front of their eyes, you teach the afflicted that they are no longer bound to the chains of materialism. This opens a new door in life for them.
For the methods of destruction, dig into the Minimalist tool chest. Fire is usually the most effective means, but it depends on the problem. One former friend of mine hoarded flat screen televisions. Even though there were only three it would have been a lot of work to haul them outside and burn them, so I used an axe instead. For someone who hoards cars, a sledgehammer might be a more appropriate tool.
The best time to hold the intervention is when the hoarder is gone. It might seem more healthy to confront the person directly, but this can often backfire. They have an unnatural attachment to their objects, and will often refuse to get rid of them. I made the mistake of asking my father about his “coin collection” instead of whisking it outside into the dumpster. He hid it under the bed, and it took me several days to find and dispose of it.
Tip: If you patient hordes guns you might reconsider a “stealth” intervention.
One of the most successful interventions I had was for my wife. One day while snooping through her backpack I noticed that she was hoarding medical textbooks and academic journals. When I surreptitiously asked later on she claimed they were for “medical school”, but I saw right through her excuse. It was clear that she had a problem. I waited for her to go to “class” before gathering all the materials I could find and burning them out back.
The reaction of the hoarder is usually shock, as they are unaware they have a problem. In the case of my wife, she was confused, but I was open and honest with her. I explained that we had been robbed by a desperate med student, and that since the culprit took all of her books, he was probably in her class.
It can be hard to follow the One True Path of Minimalism. Advertising and corporate greed have become so pervasive that even our friends and family have been brainwashed. You may think that your loved ones are monstrous for owning more than one of anything, and they are, but deep down they are good people who don’t know better.
Your family might be so committed to the materialism delusion that they unfairly label you as a “zealot” or “fanatic”. Instead of being angry, show them how calm and rational you are by manifesting your rage on their junk, while they are gone, with an axe.
A wise man once said “if you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours.” It’s a touching sentiment, but I think we can tweak it to fit the Minimalist mindset. The more pragmatic version elegantly reads as follows:
“If you love somebody and they are a hoarder, sneak into their house while they are gone and burn their junk. In time they will be grateful and bake you gluten free cookies. Namaste.”