Cut the Crap!


Every now and then, a spate of television programmes feature the issue of hoarding. The trailers sensationalise the extreme end of the condition, with excerpts of reclusive individuals hemmed into a corner of a room, surrounded by ceiling-high piles of yellowing newspapers, broken electrical appliances and dusty jars of excreta collected over the years, like samples of some extended scientific experiment.

The narrative is always the same, featuring neighbours seeking local council interventions to clear untended front gardens piled with decaying junk. In response to the outside hubbub, the hoarder holds doggedly to a defiant sense of denial, even in the face of failing health, diminished social contact and severely restricted freedom of movement within their own home.

I caught myself being drawn into one of these programmes, at the point where the hoarder was being challenged by an expert on the disorder of obsessive hoarding. The expert sought to understand the underlying psychological reasons for holding onto things which did nothing but compromise the hoarder’s quality of life and alienate them from their friends and families. Then began a tortured negotiation, with the hoarder offering excuses as to why they needed to keep hold of a pile of newspapers from 1982.

As this psychological tug of war continued, over broken umbrellas, toenail clippings and rotting planks of wood, the expert began to show signs of frustration. From my vantage point on the sofa I empathised and lost patience, ‘It’s useless crap! Just throw it away!’ I ranted at the TV. Fortunately the hoarder was spared of my ‘soft touch’ approach of dealing with chronic psychological disorders and the expert continued to guide the hoarder towards the realisation of the improved quality of life they could have, as a result of discarding all of that old rubbish.

The same thoughts beget the same expectations, the same expectations beget the same outcomes, and the same outcomes dominate our reality.

As the story unfolded, an interesting parallel occurred to me. When confronted by a person hoarding physical things, it is easy to rant and point out that a good clearout is in order. Yet when it comes to ourselves, we have a far higher threshold of tolerating psychological hoarding, where we hold on to limiting patterns of thought, outmoded habits, kneejerk reactions and stagnant beliefs, which harm our wellbeing and impede psychological growth.

Languishing in the rotting accumulation of psychological clutter represents the concept of entropy discussed by Scott M. Peck in his book ‘The Road Less Travelled’. In this book he describes entropy as a force which drags a person down towards stagnation, decay and breakdown. When relating this force to psychological development, Scott M. Peck identifies entropy as the antithesis of personal growth, where we wallow in the same habits, thoughts and beliefs for fear of the effort involved in embracing the new.

This state of psychological entropy imprisons us in the same patterns and life experiences. The same thoughts beget the same expectations, the same expectations beget the same outcomes, and the same outcomes dominate our reality. Breaking away from this cycle can be difficult as it often consists of re-evaluating habits and ways of being, rooted in early life experiences. The very idea of allowing the oxygen of self-reflection and openness to fresh perspectives can be a daunting prospect, threatening the construction of what you believe to be your identity. And in that tension, you may choose to seek comfort in familiar ways of being, with the justification that it is better to remain in an uncomfortable ‘comfort’ zone, than to let go of a version of you which no longer serves your true interests or desires.

“The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases”

Carl Jung

The above quote represents the central fear of finding your own way in life by consciously questioning all of the things you think you are, with the aim of intuitively connecting to the person you really are. When confronting your insecurities, repressed desires, coping mechanisms and dysfunctional beliefs, stacked precariously like that pile of yellowing newspapers from 1982, the temptation to take refuge in these familiar constrictions is understandable, given the self-analysis required to release them.

Surrendering these parts of yourself are akin to a form of death; a breakdown of persona in which you fear exposure, vulnerability and even neurosis experienced in sustaining continuity between who you were and who you have become. In this transition, your greatest fears lie in losing connection to yourself and having to deal with the fallout of re-negotiating the hackneyed agreements with all of the people connected to you.

Breaking the cycle comes from caring enough about yourself in order to do so. In The Road Less Travelled, Scott M. Peck goes on to define love as the opposing force to entropy. Love for self provides the necessary vitality, desire for self-awareness and striving towards personal fulfilment required to challenge the indifference of entropy. Love for self requires an acknowledgement of the need for personal transition as a calling from within, moving you toward the fullness of who you have become.

Life consists of cycles of death and rebirth which enable progression and expansion and the key lies in how you choose to look at it. Joseph Campbell describes it as a Heroic Journey towards psychological maturity, where you actively define your own path by passing through the darkness of uncertainty in the knowledge of a renewed and fulfilled self on the other side. This is the only journey worth taking – in allowing the love for yourself to become more real than the fear which holds you apart from it.

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  1. by Sara On April 16, 2015 at 10:07

    Fascinating reflections. I recently read ‘the life changing magic of tidying’ by Marie Kondo, which pretty much advocates massive decluttering of one’s possessions. She doesn’t probe into the psychological – this is very much about literal decluttering – but I always find when embarking on one of these clear outs that it sparks a bit of a head-declutter too.
    Perhaps it is something about revisiting your past via forgotten objects, and then conciously choosing to let go? I just know that whenever I’ve driven a car-load of clutter to the charity shop, in the weeks that follow my life seems to open up and take new directions.

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