physical and emotional parallels of hoarding

In the newly-released indie film “Hello, My Name Is Doris,” sweet and eccentric Doris (played by Sally Field) is an older woman who lives in her deceased mother’s immensely cluttered house. Needless to say, Doris grapples with hoarding issues, tightly clinging to all kinds of items from her past. Her home’s disarray is a barrier of sorts, physically creating entrapment to what was – and not what could be.

Doris blossoms through a new relationship with a younger man (played by Max Greenfield). Though the outcome of their relationship may not be the one she unequivocally pines for, their time together symbolizes hope for what is very well possible in her next life chapter. She’s merely grateful for the friendship they share — for its impact.

It’s not long after this realization that Doris finally summons the courage to embark on another venture: thoroughly cleaning out her house and letting go of everything that’s no longer needed.

I found this particular storyline to be rather pertinent. Can emotional progress — the conscious act of emotionally moving forward — eradicate compulsive hoarding habits?

A 2014 Psychology Today article discusses the origin of hoarding. Its roots can be found in anxiety. By choosing to deliberately and relentlessly hold on to possessions in a way that interferes with daily life, there’s some semblance of control and security. After all, doesn’t anxiety usually stem from the desire to acquire control and feel safe?

However, while hoarding attempts to thwart anxiety, it also encourages further unease. The more people accumulate, the more they may feel isolated from the outside world, family and friends.

“Throwing something away makes them feel unsafe,” Dr. Randy O. Frost, a professor of psychology, said in a 2003 New York Times article.

“For some, it has to do with identity. I’ve had people tell me, ‘If I throw too much away, there’ll be nothing left of me.’”

Perhaps these individuals place such emphasis on old belongings because they’re afraid to move on in their own life story. There may be a fear of detachment from how they’ve grown accustomed to identifying themselves.

In an Entertainment Weekly interview with Sally Field, the actress pinpoints her character’s internal struggle: “She’s emotionally sort of stunted in a way … So her emotions just lingered and stayed dormant somewhere inside her,” she said. “And when she decides to move on, you see her just take this burst, and move forth in all the awkward, painful newness that adolescence is.”

Field notes how Doris’s love interest represents a life transition, too. It propels her out of her fierce ties to the past, and (I think) inadvertently helps the anxiety that manifested physically in her overly-cluttered home.

Doris concludes “that’s what she wants in her life — this young man,” Field notes. “But it really is about this bait, this something that pulls you out of where you are, and invites you to move on in your life. That’s the challenge for all of us human beings. How do you incorporate this new place into your being, and own it, move into it, and now see what’s left of you? That’s where Doris is when we meet her.”

“Hello, My Name is Doris” a uniquely insightful film, sparked curiosities regarding the physical and emotional parallels of hoarding, of holding onto the past. If one is able to emotionally let go and forge ahead, as Doris does, he or she would be able to physically let go as well.

Hoarding image available from Shutterstock