5 October 2015

Material world

I'm often surprised at which of my posts generate the most interest and comment: frequently it's those that are about something I'd thought to be a 'niche' area of mental health.

A prime example is 'Less is more', a post about obsessive-compulsive spartanism (OCS) that appeared in February 2014, and which is by far the most frequently viewed on my blog.

Spartanism is the opposite of hoarding, in that sufferers can't bear any clutter and continually seek to dispose of their possessions, often including items they actually need. This can be detrimental both to them and their families.

Having stumbled across an article on the condition, and recognised mild spartanistic tendencies in myself, I decided to investigate further. This was all new to me and so I didn't expected the flood of feedback that followed publication of my own piece on the subject.

Some readers described vividly how they felt when they had too many things around them:

'I get a physical sensation as though I'm being crushed.' 

'It literally feels like gears grinding in my head.'

Others talked about the losses they'd suffered: 'I've even left stuff behind when I've moved - on purpose. I've lost some good things that way.'

Image courtesy of  Matt Banks/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
One spoke of the battle between her minimalism and her husband's hoarding, and another of the devastating impact of her husband's spartanism: 'He recently gave away the last few sentimental items I had left. I don't know how to move forward since they're not replaceable. I understand his mind and empathise with him, however, it feels like basic trust is gone.'

Yet another expressed a sentiment common to many with mental health disorders: 'It's comforting to know that others do similar things.' In fact, from this anecdotal evidence - from an international readership - it seems that a lot of people are affected by this condition.

This set me wondering whether this kind of behaviour is on the increase as a natural, and inevitable, reaction to the rampant consumerism and materialism of most first-world countries. Perhaps 'stuff is the new stress' for many of us? As one reader commented: 'I find that it's just too much for me to keep up with and take care of.'

A Canadian journalist recently asked me to contribute to a feature on OCS. It seems that, across the pond, decluttering has become a massive phenomenon. The gist of her piece was that, as a result, those with spartanism often find it difficult to make others understand that this is a real problem. 

The UK frequently adopts US trends, so I'm sure it's only a matter of time before we follow suit with decluttering. I for one would welcome that societal shift, as I feel much the same as one of my blog readers, who wrote: 'Clearing the physical space has created some much needed mental space and clarity...I didn't feel that I needed the possessions to be happy and the idea of a simpler life was so attractive and liberating.'

We'll have to find a balance between materialism and spartanism, though, or we'll only end up exchanging one problem for another!

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Anonymous said...

This is such an interesting topic, Helen. Yes, decluttering is big here in the US and there are people who make a living decluttering the homes of others. I've always found clutter stressful and try to declutter every now and then, but I certainly have material items that mean a lot to me that I would never dispose of. I think these tendencies in moderation can be a good thing. But as is often the case, when you cross over from "tendencies" to not being able to control yourself, then it becomes a real problem. Thanks for the information and insight!

Helen Barbour said...

ocdtalk, thanks for your comments. I reckon I should set myself as a declutterer and all-round life organiser - you should see the admin systems I have set up for my personal domestic affairs! If I get in now, I'll be ready for when the trend hits the UK...