Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

I Am An (Environmental) Hoarder

By Cam Mather

We finally had some snow on the ground (although it’s almost all melted away again) and so I can take a break from garden work. I’m not in “firewood” mode yet, so I have been taking it easy and getting caught up on some reading.

Then we decided to re-claim some of our Aztext Press books that we have been storing at our printer’s warehouse. They charge us for warehousing them and since there were a few half-empty pallets we thought we’d have them shipped here. That meant that I needed to build a few more shelves downstairs in the guesthouse for storage. Which meant that I had to clean out a big area. The area was full of empty boxes that we use to ship books out. Any time that we see good boxes at the grocery store, we grab them to use for shipping. Our collection of boxes started out small and grew exponentially. And of course, anytime anyone shipped anything to us, I’d save the box. Needless to say, the pile of boxes was enormous.

So I finally said, “enough” and did a major purging. I recycled a lot of them and knocked down some of the best candidates to be reused when I need them. There were so many boxes that had been there for years and that I’d never used. I started questioning my decision to have kept them for so long.

This was reinforced when I shifted my focus to the garage, which hadn’t had a good cleaning since we moved in here 14 years ago. I had tidied it up just enough to be able to fit the car in again this fall, but it was a tight squeeze and the side of the car scraped the garbage cans as I pulled it in. The biggest mess was the recycling area. I have plastic bins for all the regular stuff, but I also have a big plastic bag of aluminum cans that we take to a local animal shelter as a fundraiser, and a box full of the wine and beer bottles that I collect from the side of the road, some old motor oil I needed to recycle, boxes of old catalogs, magazines…. The boxes and bags of materials seemed endless.

Glass jars, of course, should be in the recycling bin. But I love glass jars. I save a lot of seeds so I don’t like to recycle jars just in case I need them for seeds. It doesn’t matter that I have boxes of glass jars stored in the horse barn. Nope, I’ll just save this great pasta sauce jar, “cause I might need it” in the future.

I have a genetic predisposition to this hoarding behaviour. My Grandpa Micklethwaite saved everything. I can remember helping to clean out his basement after he was gone and my Grandma was moving out of the house. It was a dream job for a kid like me. He had amazing stuff, including Playboy magazines from the 1940s and 50s that were so old the revealing images of ladies in one-piece bathing suits were actually illustrations and not photos. I’ll bet they’d be worth a mint now.

So I know I have this predisposition to “save” (the classic denial term of a hoarder) which I must fight. Of course being a “mild” peak oil/economic collapse “doomer” everything has some potential value. This cheap broken badminton set, it may come in handy sometime. That old piece of carpet that has been chewed by mice, who knows how valuable that could be in the future. That busted printer, I’ll bet there are some screws or something I can MacGyver eventually. Let it be known though that I hoard for all the right reasons! My hope is always that I won’t have to buy something new in the future if I can find something used in the horse barn (which has no room for horses right now).

I am now going through a major purging of many areas of the house and barn. But I realize I am not alone. Since I’m done in the garden for a few months and we’re watching more TV, I got 3 more packages on our satellite TV dish and I’ve watched a few of those “Hoarder” shows. Holy crap! It’s an epidemic. I’m not alone. The whole damn continent is struggling with this. And not only are there shows about hoarders who have “professionals” that come in to help them with their addictions, there are shows about the people who clean up the messes they leave behind, like “Storage Wars” where a group of people are shown bidding on multiple storage units that have fallen into arrears and the contents are sold to the highest bidder.

My eyes have been opened! This television thing is pretty great. As an anthropological study I find it amazing to have missed a lot of this stuff and then order some new cable channels and discover what I’ve been missing.

And it shouldn’t surprise me of all people. I constantly think about how the North American economy is based on “consumption.” We buy stuff. We don’t make much any more, but we buy it. Wal-Mart goes into a town, destroys the main street, then buys all their stuff from China so American manufacturers throw their employees out of work, but somehow the former employees still have enough income to shop at the store that destroyed their livelihood. Seventy percent, that’s 70% of the U.S. economy, is now based on consumption – buying stuff. It’s crazy.

When I’m not engrossed in cable TV shows about hoarding, I’ve been reading a book called “The Value of Nothing” by Raj Patel. It’s about how the price of all of this cheap stuff doesn’t really incorporate all the externalities that go into its production. The mining, the cutting of trees, the creation of the energy for the factories (much of it coal in China), the resource extraction, the pollution, the carbon emissions, etc., etc. It is a truly mind blowing experience to stand in a dollar store. How can we make so much stuff, so cheaply? And to be preemptive of criticism, I will admit to shopping at dollar stores. I try and limit my consumption, and I do buy stuff used from secondhand stores, but sometimes I buy new stuff and I marvel at being able to purchase so many different items for just $1 or $2.

As I was reading the newspaper recently I saw an ad for a new 2-day course called “Extreme Hoarding Decontamination” offered by a private company. The topics covered in this seminar include “Blood borne Pathogens (yuck), Airborne Pathogens (yuck, any pathogens are gross), Wildlife feces remediation (does this assume raccoons are living in the house?), thermal bed bug treatment (gross) and more!

Yup, it trains you on how to be a professional hoarder-cleaner-upper. So I’m puzzled. Does this course exist because there are so many hoarders out there that there is an actual market for hoarder cleaner uppers? Or has some clever business owner realized, that with so many TV shows about hoarders, that there would be the perception by the general public that there would be such a market, and hence they could profit by training people on how to do it, even if they never get work?

I’m going to look into this. Heck I’m already qualified. If you saw before and after photos of my garage, you’d know I have a flair for this. Bring on that abandoned multiple storage unit! Unlock and load! I’m here to clean up. I’m a “Hoarder Buster!”

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It’s not too late to give our books and DVDs as gifts. Head over to to take a look!


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