There seems to have been a lot about hoarders online recently. People who have lost control of the stuff that surrounds them, that can’t throw anything away. They seem to be viewed with a kind of morbid fascination and a feeling of relief that it’s them and not you. It made me think about our neighbour and about our own efforts at simplification.

About a month ago an elderly neighbour died. She had been a bit of a fixture in the street, always sitting in her front garden. She grew plants in those little disposable milk pots and always pulled a wicker trolley around with her full of old newspapers. Her house is in a state of disrepair and it was known that she was a bit of a hoarder. Her death was greeted with sadness and some discussion about the future of her home. It didn’t take long for a white lorry marked “Bio-Hazard Clearance” to pull up outside and a team of people in white boiler suits and masks to begin the job of clearing out all her stuff. So far about 20 lorry loads have been taken away and they are only half way through.

We once lived, accidentally and only for a few days, with a similar hoarder. Someone who couldn’t throw away anything. He piled his stuff up in his room, filled it full to bursting, and had a small space to sleep in, like a nest, just under the ceiling. His door would only just open enough for him to squeeze in and climb the wall of newspapers and blankets and bags and clothes and bits and pieces, up on to the top to sleep, or occasionally to hammer something….

We don’t know what became of him as we moved out rather quickly, but in the case of our neighbour, her hoarding ended with her death and her family bringing in the professionals. I wonder what all the stuff meant to her? I wonder if she valued it or if it overwhelmed her? Did her house, full of stuff, make her feel safe? Maybe it was just a gradual thing and we could all become hoarders.

I guess the key is to keep addressing your stuff and be realistic. It’s a question of balance – keep the things that have meaning, that make your home feel like home, are genuinely useful, but be honest with yourself about the rest. Are you really going to watch all those DVD’s again? Read those novels again? Or in our house, actually use all those hifi components, bags, mobile phones, bits of old technology. What has stopped us getting rid of it all before? Even now, as we car boot and ebay and bag stuff up for charity shops I feel nervous I am going to miss this stuff I never use and regret parting with it. Once it is gone though, I can’t even remember what it all was and life seems so much better without it.