'I realised I was addicted to hoarding aged 37'

·5-min read
Photo credit: Flavia Fraser-Cannon
Photo credit: Flavia Fraser-Cannon

Laura Horton is a writer and Plymouth Laureate of Words, the first woman and playwright in the role. Her first full-length play Labyrinth Diet was presented at The Space in 2021 and she's on commission from Theatre Royal Plymouth for her next play.

Here, Laura writes candidly about her hoarding addiction and how being diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) helped her on the road to recovery...

'Most of the clothes I’ve bought over the years don’t fit me. The clothes I buy in my size are the cheapest charity shop purchases, comfortable baggy things I won’t feel bad discarding when I need to. If I buy something nice, it should be for when I’m thin enough to wear it.'

I wrote these words for a character in my new play, but in truth, like her, they’re also words deeply ingrained in me since my teenage years. It’s also how, at 37, I’ve ended up with thousands of clothes, a therapist, and the realisation that I’m a hoarder.

Clothes for me are a way of escape; a chance to imagine other versions of my life, scenarios where I might be more successful. Achievement for me has often equated itself with also being slender and beautiful; something pedalled in media narratives since I can remember. This notion has stopped me from trying to achieve my dreams and also doing countless things that would’ve bought me joy.

It's why I resisted getting headshots taken for work, why I only imagined myself at the first night of my play in a dress with a waistband that wouldn't fit my thigh. Why I didn’t go swimming because I imagined people would judge me in my costume, why I turned down dates because I couldn’t bear the idea of someone being disappointed by me. I was buying for a thinner me, for a time when I could flourish, professionally and personally.

I know objectively this is dysfunctional and the bigger problem is my head and not my waistline, but it always felt like the more clothes I bought the more options I was buying for myself. It wasn’t until I had to move house that I realised the extent of my problem.

What is hoarding?

Mental health charity Mind define hoarding as 'acquiring or saving lots of things regardless of their value'.

'Hoarding is when your need to keep things causes you distress or interferes with your day to day life,' Mind explains. You might feel you can't cope if you throw things away or use hoarding as a way to 'control' what happens in the future.

Find out more about hoarding on the Mind website.

I had thousands of things all packed up in suction bags. As I opened up bag after bag they took breath as if they were living entities, and they sort of were — all outfits for multiple lives. I slumped down, surrounded by a mountain of things and I had to face this was more than just collecting.

I had an early interest in clothes, but I felt the shift in my early twenties. Before I found sample sales in London, I would trawl charity shops and sample sales for designer or unusual items. I think I was desperate to be a part of a world I felt I didn't fit in.

I didn’t think of myself as a hoarder because media portrayals were so extreme, mostly older people living in severe scenarios. I knew I was on a knife-edge though, that I could teeter either way.

Photo credit: Flavia Fraser-Cannon
Photo credit: Flavia Fraser-Cannon

I began to question why are we only seeing the extremity of mental health disorders and addictions? So I decided to just start talking about it online; I made time to write, not to shop. I started slowly but surely sifting things out of my life. People contacted me to say what I was saying resonated. It would seem many people, if not hoarders, had more things than they needed.

Since I've realised I have OCD that's helped me make sense of my hoarding habits and my brain. My therapist has encouraged me to be less hard on myself and more accepting, as it's often those mindsets that prompt shopping sprees, or being unable to let things go.

I'm trying to break things down and when I have an unhelpful urge, I'm much better at thinking around it and trying to understand where it's coming from. I'm planning a clothes sale soon to let go of more things, I'll never be a minimalist but I want to have less.

It’s been a long road and I’m still not totally there, but I haven’t been to a sample sale in 15 months, I’m selling things slowly but surely. I wrote a play and it opened recently. I turned up to opening night in a comfortably fitting hot pink dress. I had headshots taken. I went swimming in the sea in front of people and I recently risked the horror of a first date – and they didn’t seem disgusted by me.

I realise now that the only way to de-stigmatise mental health and addiction is opening up, the more I speak about my hoarding, the more I highlight the sliding scale of the problem. It all starts somewhere.

The last thing I bought was a pair of practical walking boots which I've actually worn a lot. That's a win for me. I came back to London recently, I noticed there was a Christopher Kane sample sale (one of my favourites) and I was torn about going, I totally forgot about it and that for me is a wonderful sign.

For help, advice and support around hoarding, visit the Mind website. Follow Laura on Twitter.

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