Are there any Amish Hoarders?

I was recently asked this question by a friend, who has observed hoarding behavior in others. I have too. David and I had to help deal with the aftermath of it when his father died, leaving a house full of stuff from attic to basement. Old pieces of sheetrock from when the house was built forty years before, useless pieces of old carpeting, clothing from that era, a boatload of IBM notebooks marked "confidential," a model train setup, old draperies and curtains that had seen their better days, and on and on and on. We ended up making numerous trips to the dump, having a salvage company come in and take out two truckloads of stuff, and then we still had four dumpsters of stuff taken out of the house. This was all in addition to the useful things his five sons and daughters inherited, including the woodworking machinery he liked to collect.

Perhaps it's the memory of how hard it was for everyone to deal with that motivated my recent commitment to do a house cleanout. But I think there is more to it than that. I've organized and culled every bin in our attic (leaving many empty bins). David has cleaned out from under the porches where we had been storing unwanted building materials, and we are sorting out the garage and the basement. Our dumpster is almost full. 

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David and I are both determined to not leave our sons with a mess when we leave this earth. Now we just have to refrain from collecting things again, and then we'll have reached our goal. 

We had a garage sale last weekend, but we made very little money. From now on, I am going to do what my friend, Candelin, said they did before they moved. When they cleaned out, they kept taking things out to the road and letting people have it for free. It disappeared really quickly, and they didn't have to deal with it any longer. From now on, that's what I'm going to do. Garage sales are not worth the time we put into them.

So my friend asked me the question of whether there are any Amish hoarders. She also asked me if I am a hoarder, just at the time I was so frenetically cleaning out my attic, closets, and organizing my photos from all over the house. Once I took a moment to take a breath, I answered her this way:

"I didn't know any Amish hoarders, but that doesn't mean there weren't any. They were pretty few and far between, if they did exist, I think. I really don't understand the psychology of hoarders, and so I actually went to one of those lectures at Smith College myself. It was very, very interesting. In my way of thinking, hoarders are very private people. You don't have the luxury of that kind of privacy in an Amish community, and so that could be why the psychology of a tightly-knit community and hoarding don't go together. But I would never have made this connection, had you not asked the question."
 
I've been pondering this question ever since it was posed. To understand the psychology of hoarders, I've examined my own psychology around its opposite – my drive to organize. I feel like it takes a great deal of clarity to determine what to keep, what to toss, what to give away. It takes even more clarity to find a home or place for everything I decide to keep. As I am sorting through the physical "baggage" of my life, I find myself also sorting through my emotional baggage. Especially of my most original relationship. I've always had a complicated relationship with my mother, and that persists, even though she died eight years ago. I am sorting through my memories of her, as I find reminders of the legacy she left me. Interesting that I remain undecided about the bins full of wool strips for braiding rugs that I inherited from her, while I've been so clear on so many other things.
 
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Our attic today
 
So could it be that hoarding has to do with ambiguity? And that organizing has to do with clarity? I think it does for me. 
 
Do you consider yourself a collector of things? What do you think motivates your relationship with material things?
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20 thoughts on “Are there any Amish Hoarders?”

  1. Michele Larson

    Hi Saloma,

    This was an interesting question for me since I have been struggling with the issue for awhile now. A month ago my mom died in Vermont so we had 5 days to clean her 3 room apartment, have a wake and a funeral and meal after and 2 days to travel. It made it easier that she did not have much making me think of all we have that if we do not get rid of most of it our children will need a lot more than 3 days! My weakness in collecting is books and they occupy a lot of room in my home. When we moved from Vermont I got rid of a lot of them but have since replaced them with all of the used book sales here. My biggest problem is hating to throw away anything — seems so wasteful to me. Having to work outside the home gives me less time to deal with the sorting. I am still adjusting to not having complete control over my time as I did when I was home full time. I know I need to start with getting rid of my books that I desire to read(almost all non-fiction)but I also know I do not have enough years to read them all. I also do not have much time to read now.
    Thank you for your blogs. I enjoy them so much and your newest book I could not put down. Just loved it. I have always been attracted to the Amish community life style.
    Michele Larson

    1. Michele, that is very interesting what you say about cleaning out your mother’s house. That is amazing that you were able to clean out the house in that time frame. Sounds like your mother left a good example.

      I understand about books. I’m on the Friends of the Library committee in my town, and I know they “need” books for their book sale. So I cull twice a year. That way I have room on my bookshelf for the new books I want to get from the library sale. When I cull, I ask myself how apt I am to read the book again. I certainly have my favorites I will keep always. 

      David’s father had SO MANY magazines. From his point of view, he’d paid good money for them, so why waste them? When David’s mom was still around, she would ask us to sneak out a bunch of them at a time when the bookshelf behind the bedroom door was overflowing and she couldn’t get by in her wheelchair. I often think about how helpless she must have felt… feeling hemmed in because of living with a pack rat, and not being able to do what most of us do… sneak out the door what they’ve snuck in.

      Thank you, Michele, for your kind words about Bonnet Strings. It is always gratifying to hear someone’s enjoyment. 

      I hope you come by and comment again sometime.

       

  2. In my case, it has a lot to do with “sentimental value”. I’ve kept as much as I could of my grandmother’s things. I know my kids, grandkids and greatgrandkids will never want this stuff. Also,I owned a flea market for 14 yrs. and you tend to “accumulate” things to sell. One day, you wind up closing the business and are stuck with all this junk. I can “see” (in my mind’s eye) everything in the basement neatly categorized – but if it will get to that point before I pass on, I honestly cannot say.
    I know I need to find a Goodwill store or as you say leave a container on the sidewalk – which I have done before.

    1. I know, sentimental value is the hardest thing… when material objects represent our memories. And I used that gauge you mentioned, of what might be meaningful to our descendants. I want Paul and Tim to be able to go through their memorbelia and say, “Oh, remember when…” And we also kept a collection of letters to and from their grandfather when he was a sailor during WWII. Those will have historic value at some point. 

      I hope you manage to neatly categorize everything to fit your vision in your basement. Perhaps you could pay an organized, healthy, young person to help you get it there.

      All the best to you, Kris.

    1. Katie, this is interesting. Do you think there is a correlation there… between feeling poor and hoarding? I would have thought so, but the lecture I went to at Smith College, the professor, who had studied many hoarders, claimed that this phenomenon runs along the spectrum — from rich to poor. So now I’m confused. David’s father lived through the Great Depression. He once made the remark to me, “Yeah, well you never went through the Depression.” I replied that no I didn’t, but my parents did. And they could throw away food if it was spoiled. He said, “But they lived on a farm and could grow their own food. We lived in the city.” He had a point. He also told the story of how when he was a young lad, his dad came home one day and sat down at the kitchen table and cried… the bank where he had deposited his life savings had just closed. So I always thought it was his reaction to that experience that made him a hoarder — he wanted to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. 

      A Vermont storyteller once told a story about an older couple, in which the man was sneaking things into the house, and his wife was sneaking things out of the house. It sounds like your parents fit the bill. Or did your dad have somewhere else where he kept his “hoard?”

        1. Katie, that is pretty funny. It sounds like someone who wants to get use out of everything. So have you found a happy medium between the two opposite ways of your parents?

  3. Very interesting post , I only know of one amish lady from years gone by that would have had hoarder tendencies and she also had lived through the Depression era.

    This is just my opinion , but I think Amish and Mennonites struggle more with OCD tendencies, depression along with mental illness from trying to live at perfectionist levels , my husband and I were just discussing this last night, how the majority of people in our culture are organized to the T. Is it because of the way we have been taught from little on up or is it in our genes? We didn’t come to a conclusion on the matter, there are exceptions , not every person with anabaptist heritage is a neat freak , but most are . So my guess is an Amish hoarder would have their items that they are hoarding , labeled and organized in storage somewhere.

    1. Linda, you make a really good point. A Mennonite friend and I have discussed that very thing… the perfectionist tendencies in those of us who grew up Amish or Mennonite. And you’re absolutely right… my Mennonite cousin who is a hoarder, has many of her things neatly stashed in her garage, in matching white bins. When she travels, she carries a lot of heavy luggage around with her. 

      I never thought of my own behavior of wanting things organized to be OCD behavior, but you could be right. I’ve never had an urge to spring clean in my whole life the way that I do this spring. I thought it had to do with the winter we came through, but there may be more to it than that. It may be that I’m living out my perfectionist tendencies.

      Thank you, Linda, for stopping by and lending your insights.

  4. Hello Saloma ,

    i come from France (french riviera) and i am very interested by Amish culture. According to my knowledges, Amish people come from Alsacizn (east country in France).

    Like a lot ao people, i like the main movie about amish, “Witness”.

    It would be very pleasant to live among amishes because they seem very interesting and honest.

    Excuse my bad English.

    Thank you .

    Stéphane

    1. Hello Stephane,

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. Yes, many Amish lived in the Alcase-Lorraine area of France before they moved to the states. Some also lived in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and in other parts of Germany. 

      Interesting that there hasn’t been another large-screen movie since “Witness” in 1985. The reality shows of today are not “true” to the Amish culture.

      The Amish teach honesty, but just like any other culture in the world, there are Amish people who commit wrongs and then refuse to see the error of their ways. One cannot put them all in one category.

      Thank you again for stopping by.

  5. Looks like hoarding is a hot topic! There are some interesting things to ponder here.
    My grandmother, who is now deceased, was a very organized hoarder. She labeled everything from freezer contents to basement contents. She was a frugal farm girl who lived through the Depression. When I was little I overheard some guests in her home comment about the amount of stuff she had when she was out of earshot. To me it was all normal.
    My mother and son are both hoarders. It drives me nuts! There have been arguments between my sister and mom and my son and I over it. They both see potential in garbage- “I could sell it. I’ll use it for… I need it!” Of course, what they say is true. They could sell it and they may use it. But…they don’t.
    I think it’s a neurological issue like an addiction or OCD. Something about being surrounded by stuff kicks off the endorphins, but like any addiction it takes over.
    It’s not difficult for me to get rid of stuff. There’s nothing I collect really. Because we live in a small space there is no room for abundance. When things get cluttery I get crazy. I have my vices, but hoarding is not one of them.
    You’re attic looks like a soothing space.

    1. Fran, I know what you mean… clutter drives me nuts, too. That is very interesting about the hoarding having skipped a generation in your family. And it’s also interesting that you bring up the question of being organized and still being a hoarder. I always equate clutter (or too much stuff) with chaos or being disorganized. It sounds like your grandmother was able to make order out of her chaos. 

      According to the professor at Smith College, who is studying this phenomenon, hoarding is a “shield” from emotional stuff someone cannot handle. I asked the question of what would happen if someone was separated from their stuff. He said it is very traumatic for these people. One group thought they were helping these people out when they did a house cleanout while the the hoarders were away. They did it in five different cases, and four out of those five did not survive very long after they arrived home and their stuff was gone.

      I’ve often wondered if someone can go from being a pack rat to not being one. I am watching that happen in my own home. It used to be that David wanted to keep things. And now he is as into organizing and letting go of things as I am. So I know it can happen. But he had to arrive there himself. It has nothing to do with what I did or didn’t do.

      Thank you, Fran, as always for lending your perspective. 

       

  6. I have found that moving forces “decluttering.” But I am beginning to feel the urge to “Spring Clean” also four years after our last move.

    In the process of becoming an author, I’ve bought and have been given a lot of books. So it’s time to take many of them down the hill to Gift and Thrift.

    I wonder if taking that wool from your mother and turning it into a rug might be a therapeutic practice for you, Saloma? It would have the additional benefit of making something useful out of clutter! Here’s a blog post I did about rugs. http://notquiteamishliving.com/2014/04/from-rags-to-riches-stories-from-a-mennonite-childhood-2/

    1. Shirley, I know moving makes you cull… why move stuff you don’t need, right? But we don’t know if we’ll ever move, and we just did not want to put the burden on our sons. And after this winter, I really got into the mood of cleaning out. 

      Here is a post about my braided rugs: https://salomafurlong.com/aboutamish/2012/04/snapshots-8-amish-rugs/. To get the colors I wanted, I had to buy new wool. I don’t want to mix the old with the new, and the colors that were left would not have made a very nice rug. I checked with my sister, Sarah, to see if she wants the wool strips. She didn’t. We both are saying, “Sorry, Mem.” I feel that if I am going to sink that much work into a rug, then I want it to last as long as possible. 

      Mem used to make rugs out of plastic bags… she’d cut them into strips and crochet them. She was always good at making something out of nothing, but I thought that was going a bit too far. They were not very pretty… and they were well… plastic. 

      And so, sadly, those strips are now in the dumpster. I have lots of new wool to make another rug for the front hallway.

  7. Teresa Stebbins

    Such interesting reading both in the blog and the comments. I think it’s a possibility that hoarding might be genetic! Of course, I’m kidding. When we had to clean out our parent’s apartment to move them to assisted living our eyes were opened! My dad kept everything! When we found a glass jar with brownish liquid in it and old dentures we questioned him about it. He said he was keeping them as a spare! He was angry when we threw them away. There were jars of home canned food that were over 12 years old!
    After that experience I vowed to not do the same thing and began to declutter. I miss some things I got rid of and from time to time look longingly at a home we are visiting that is full of collections and clutter. It seems to be in my blood and I have to fight to like a simpler environment free from all kinds of clutter, do dads, or collections. I’m sure one day our children will be grateful.

    1. Teresa, some people feel more comfortable surrounded by things. My cousin, who I mentioned before, came to visit us in a different house once. She said, “Saloma, your house is so free of clutter, it’s austere. But I would not be comfortable without my collection of things. It feels homey and warm to me.” So I think we are all different. I hope you find the right balance (for you) between austere and collections. 

  8. Oh, so many of your blog subjects strike a chord for me! Belatedly I’m going to respond to this one.

    My mother classed herself as a pack rat (raised in the Depression). She joked that she came from a long line of pack rats (her mother being one). She was also a school teacher and I can relate to gathering things that can be used in the classroom. Cleaning out her house after she died was quite a chore. My father watched us kids struggle with it and then began to ‘divest’ his collections.

    What I think I’ve inherited from my mother is a desire to make use of what I have. She washed and reused plastic bags and so do I. I also dislike throwing things away because it makes for trash, so I’m always looking for a way something might be reused. (If you don’t know about Freecycle, a way to keep stuff out of the trash, check out https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/FreecycleNoho/files.) It gets ridiculous after a while and I have to give in and take something to the dumpster. But I have another pack rat handicap. I’m a librarian. I was a elementary library teacher and have a treasured collection of children’s books. I’m also a music librarian, having created a social justice song library and having my second bedroom filled with the books, magazines, LPs, tapes and CDs. So when I struggle with the amount of stuff I have, I have to deal with the librarian. A couple of years ago I decided to weed my personal books and now I am a heavy public library user. There are books I take out over and over rather than own them.

    There is an element of ‘preparing for an emergency’ in some of my pack rat tendencies. I have to work through those issues before I can stop stock-piling things ‘just in case’. I’m trying to let go, but it isn’t easy. Having space to store stuff doesn’t help. My stuff seems to expand to fit the space.

    Thanks so much for this blog, Saloma!

    1. Johanna, so glad you enjoyed this post. We have a Freecycle type place in the area, and we did in Vermont as well. Any which way that I can get down to the essentials and not have to contend with things I don’t need is fine with me. Some people are happier with more stuff, and that’s fine too. We are all different. Thank goodness for that!

      Have a wonderful weekend.

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