Possessed by possessions

PossessedThe documentary Possessed is a fascinating look into four different individuals and their struggles with hoarding. If you have 20 minutes to spare, take the time to watch this short documentary. Hoarding is a terrible psychological affliction that can render someone trapped in a extremely cluttered home. Martin Hampton does a great job in documenting the extremes of these four individuals.

To see these people talking about their problem puts a personal perspective on this condition. The subjects of this documentary obviously know they have a problem, but find themselves powerless to overcome their addiction to accumulation.

For more information about hoarding and advice to help a hoarder you may know, here are some great books:


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

18 Comments for “Possessed by possessions”

  1. posted by lesliet on

    Excellent movie. First guy didn’t seem like a hoarder – just a guy with a lot of books. I know a lot of people like that. But they did get progressively worse, and the last one was pretty sad.

  2. posted by allen on

    This documentary (along with your website. :P) have been the driving force lately to NOT become those people… I could so easily become that first guy..

    I thought it was really powerful how they saved the worst for last. the last guy was more then just cluttered… it was a health hazard!

  3. posted by Elena on

    On the news I saw a recent story about an older couple in Arizona that had over 800(!) dogs in a triple-wide trailer. Apparently they were breeding them for sale, but never felt like any potential owner was good enough, so they’d keep the dogs. Now THIS is hoarding at its worst. Poor little guys!

  4. posted by Michele on

    I am glad hoarding is getting attention as a mental health issue and not one of mere eccentricity.

  5. posted by Avlor on

    Those of us who grew up with grandparents (who lived through the depression) telling us not to throw away and save things just in case you’ll need it. I find myself talking back to her in my head sometimes – “I haven’t needed it in years” or “Someone ELSE can use it.” “Less STUFF is easier to clean.” (Note I refuse to keep cutesy knickknacks any more – I hate dusting.) Slowly I’ve been teaching my young children too (and trying to model it) – that stuff is just stuff – you don’t need that much.

    (I was disturbed by the last example in the video and had to stop watching.)

  6. posted by Hayden Tompkins on

    What is so absolutely AGGRAVATING about hoarders is the fact that they are often extremely intelligent. You think “Hey, so-and-so is smart. I’ll just explain it to her.”

    Intelligent hoarders will do anything, absolutely anything, to justify – rationally, logically – their hoarding. They are like the guy in a beautiful mind except, at some point, he realized he actually had a problem.

    With intelligent hoarders, their own logic is an enemy.

  7. posted by Avani on

    Back in India, we have this kind of ritual to clean our house every Diwali. All rooms, cupboards, furniture, storage everything. We reconsider what we want to keep and what we dont need to keep. Seeing the documentary made me see this ritual with a new light. This cleaning ritual forces us to decide each year whether we wish to keep the stuff or not.

  8. posted by Deborah on

    So much angst. It’s heartbreaking really.

  9. posted by Josephine on

    Avani, I enjoyed reading your comment. Growing up, we had a ritual, but it wasn’t culturally or spiritually based. Sure we had spring cleaning, but every New Year’s Eve (or thereabouts, but definitely shortly before January 1) my mom, my sister, and I would clean everything in the house. This would involve emptying all closets, straightening out, discarding if necessary, and literally dusting all those nooks and crannies that you overlook the rest of the year. It actually was not as dreadful (for me) as it may sound (perhaps because I’m naturally neat and organized) and is now so ingrained in my system that I feel the urge whenever the end of the year approaches.

  10. posted by RB on

    When my granddad died a few years ago, it took at least 3 if not 5 enormous dumpsters to get rid of the clutter piled many feet high literally all throughout his house. He and my uncle who also lived there would perpetually go to weekly auctions or estate auctions and acquire tons of crap for the sake of acquiring it. It was really sad to see that he was living in that state. I think the death of my grandmother a couple years prior may have had some influence, but in my memory had more or less always been a “clutter yard” there.

    My parents aren’t as bad, but they are pretty bad…they are basically in denial and never do anything about it. They have a two story rancher home that also has a full basement, and a two car garage.

    The garage has always been only a one car garage due to junk piled on either side, but for several years was a no-car garage due to junk overtaking it.

    The basement has always had piles of junk (old clutter, baby toys), either theirs, or things that my mother inherited from the death of her mother over 25 years ago.

    My parents had a pretty large two story shed built in the back yard, and you guessed it, it’s filled with junk. The upstairs is full of stuff that I had as a baby or young kid, that my mother can’t part with, but does nothing with except let sit in the hot sticky shed to rot.

    Their living room has piles of newspapers, magazines, DVDs, books, VHS tapes all in heaps here and there, no organizations whatsover.

    For years, the “guest room” was literally a mountain of junk sitting on an old bed, which overflowed onto the floor.

    I could go on but I’ll leave it there.

    I am a minimalist…very few possessions, and I live in a condo that could fit in my parent’s junk-yard basement with room to spare. This site and this documentary are helping to convey that this problem is out there…now I just need to know what to do to get my parents to confront their problem and part with their junk before it results in the mess of my grandparent’s house!

  11. posted by Josephine on

    Can anyone shed some light on why I cannot view this? I’m on a Mac OS X 10.4.11.

  12. posted by Shannon on

    My grandfather lived through the Depression too, and he literally would not/could not throw away anything. He didn’t even have trash service at his house. That’s how extreme his “saving” (hoarding) was. Food scraps got composted in his garden. Everything else was saved (wrappers, packaging, twist ties, magazines, envelopes, you name it). He stockpiled supplies (cupboards full of toilet paper and Hershey bars), but rarely used anything (drank out of only one mug and cooked in the same pan every day). What a nightmare for the rest of the family.

    It’s interesting how generations can go from one extreme to another. To other Depression children, his behavior would be admirable. Our minimalist behavior would horrify them.

  13. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Josephine — If you’re at work, your employer may have video streaming blocked? Also, you may check to see if you’re on the most recent version of your internet browser or if you have the required Flashplayer plugin?? The movie is in Adobe Flashplayer 9.

  14. posted by Melissa on

    First, love this blog. I have always had this somewhat obsession with organizing, but at the same time I tend to collect or hang on to things. Upon finding this blog a few weeks ago, I realized that I must start getting rid of things, like my paper shopping bags I save, many notepads, and old jewelry or make-up I don’t need. I’ve been doing a massive cleaning/dumping this past week. Just because I keep things neat, organized, or tucked away, does not mean I don’t have too many things. After seeing this documentary, I felt bad for these people and at the same time judged them, yet I see some characteristics in myself, (but basically, and sadly, these people are far worse.) I am happy that I have the ability to detach from things easily and live a clutter-free life. Thanks Unclutterer for adding a little help to my crusade!

  15. posted by Sharon on

    What was that pile of dirty white things at the beginning of the video? I can’t figure it out. Coffee filters?

  16. posted by Wendi Kelly on

    The white pile was a pile of dirty used cotton pads. The kind you would use to remove eye make up or nail polish. Very gross.
    The documentory was very shocking and made me want run to every corner of the house and disinfect it after the last one. I resisted, but how sad….

    I can see how I could become a book hoarder though, I LOVE books and hate to part with them, there is a book shelf in almost every room of the house! Every time I send a book off to Good Will or the Library, it always seems like that is the one I want for a reference or to re-read soon after! Grrr…

  17. posted by Name on

    clutter is bad and unhealthy, but..

    in light of the dollar’s rapid decline, those of you in the states with a lot of junk, I mean treasured trash, I mean stuff, should:

    (1) Save it for when/if the dollar plunges further
    (2) Sell it on [auction site of your choice] to people in other countries still willing to pay a good price before the dollar tanks

    You may dismiss clutter as unhealthy now, but there may come a time where you may regret not making a tidy profit from selling the junk to some fool willing to buy it.

  18. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Name — The devaluation of the U.S. dollar is not a reason to hold onto clutter. Regardless of the economy, it’s still clutter. In fact, I would argue that less stuff means that you need less space to store your stuff and you can live more simply. Living simply means that your relationship with the economy is much lighter. If you walk to work, gas price fluctuation isn’t much of an issue. If you already grow your own vegetables or participate in a co-op, those vegetables don’t stop growing just because the dollar has less buying power. If your home is smaller, you don’t have to put out as much money toward heating and cooling.

    Now, let me also attack your logic of holding onto your stuff to sell it … if the dollar isn’t worth anything, then why do you want to sell your stuff for what you’re projecting will be worthless dollars? If anything, bartering would be the better way to go — or selling for commodities like gold or platinum. Selling it for money doesn’t make sense in your “sky is falling” premise. Clutter is always unhealthy, regardless of the economy. Additionally, I think you may need an economics lesson.

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