Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Hoarding and the Material Accumulation of Time

Hoarding and the Material Accumulation of Time

Erika Carrillo

Hoarding disorder has been presented as a serious mental and public health concern. Drawing from previous work in socio-cultural constructions of time, I aim to explore how people who hoard envision their future selves through their accumulated material. Previous life course studies have revealed that normative constructions of social time encourage individuals to move forward along a linear trajectory. Along this trajectory are temporal phases that are defined by cultural norms, interpersonal interactions, and individual experience. Often material objects that people collect and discard are reflective of these various life stages. But people who engage in extreme hoarding behavior, the over accumulation of material demarcates an upset in this trajectory. Those who hoard retain items for a number of reasons. Some individuals envision utilizing objects in an ideal, undefined future. However, the rationale for utilizing the objects later sometimes conflicts with non-hoarding individuals how perceive more immediate threats caused by the accumulated items. By analyzing fifteen episodes in of the reality television show, Hoarders, I examine the ways that people who hoard conceptualize their material collections in relation to time and how that concept differs from those helping with decluttering process. Upon analyzing the discourse surrounding time in these interpersonal interactions, it reveals how people who hoard project an ideal future self in the accumulated material. But by indulging the possibility of this future self, people who hoard are perceived by others as “stuck” in a temporal phase. Thus, those aiding in the de-cluttering process try to reorient the afflicted individuals’ concept of time to move them along the normal trajectory. I conclude with further questions into the relationship to material culture and selfhood and how that relationship can provide insight into attitudes regarding normative aging and the life course.

April 6, 2015 - Posted by | abstract


  1. I suspect there may be more than one mental state found among hoarders. Besides the “ideal future self” (“someday, I’ll have time to catch up on [whatever]”), there may be a darker view of the future (“better save this, I may not always have the means to replace it”). Also, remember that the episode’s producers have an agenda, a formula and that the finished product is edited accordingly.
    Will you be coding the discourse? That should make for a valuable technical exercise.

    Comment by Dan Harrison | April 6, 2015 | Reply

  2. Interesting. I wonder if there is a general definition of hoarding, and if levels of hoarding can be defined according the amount of materials stored. If there is no definition, then what really constitutes a hoarder. I know some people to self identify as a hoarder while others ignore that the label applies to them because they believe there is a negative stigma attached. Perhaps the dedication of time spent with the hoarded materials can also contribute to developing particular levels of hoarding.

    Comment by Adam Bender | April 12, 2015 | Reply

  3. I have been watching a few episodes of the TV series and I can not feel other than sad for the hoarders. Everything in their lives is put on hold while they collect stuff. It appears to me that the hoarders sees every object as a possibility, something they will be able to use. Many of them have seemed to be crafty people.I’m feeling that there is a difference between hoarders and those who own a huge among of “clutter”. The later being tidy but still overfilling their homes with material possessions. To me it seems like the disorganization that distinguishes hoarders is what is causing the stigma attached to hoarding. Would be interesting to know if the thought process between clutter people and hoarders are similar or different.

    Comment by Inger Sundell-Ranby | April 15, 2015 | Reply

  4. “Some individuals envision utilizing objects in an ideal, undefined future.” There is something beautiful about this, but I agree with Dan on the idea that it’s one possible mindset. How do cultural narratives of the lifecourse potentially impact hoarding behaviors? You also emphasize the temporal element of hoarding, how might geographies of place and space also impact your analysis, I wonder… A museum with 371,350 sq. feet of space like the Tate Modern leads us to a different narrative about object accumulation than having 30 square feet.

    Comment by Kathryn Nowinski | April 21, 2015 | Reply

  5. So important for the aging population of today. I wonder, though, if this can be applied in other cultures which do not have the same ‘forward’ trajectory of time conception?

    Comment by Kimberly Oliver | April 21, 2015 | Reply

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