The NSA and the Parable of the Hoarder

Thomas L. Knapp

In recent years, “hoarders” – people who collect lots and lots of stuff, until it overpowers them – have become a hot topic in the news and on “reality television.” The mainstream consensus seems to be that “hoarders” are mentally ill, or at least socially abnormal, and need to be “helped,” or at least stopped from amassing huge piles of stuff. I personally disagree with the idea of using force to combat “hoarding,” but I think there’s something useful as allegory in the phenomenon.

I knew a guy once who answered to the general description of “hoarder.” He collected … well, everything. Over the years I knew him, his house filled up with “antiques” (read: Any piece of furniture more than a few years old), “classic computers” (read: Obsolete electronics) and stacks and stacks of old newspapers and magazines.

My friend didn’t suffer from any lack of will to organize his life. He also collected organizing stuff – storage totes, shelves with little cubby holes for categorizing small objects, books on “taking control” of disorganized households. Unfortunately, all he did with that stuff was … well, collect it. It stacked up on top of those old newspapers, which stacked up on top of those obsolete electronics, which stacked up on top of that old furniture. Oh, and he collected cats, too. Lots and lots of cats. Which meant that all those stacks of stuff were covered with cat hair, cat hairballs, and other cat leavings. He had a lot of stuff. Most of it was probably worthless, ruined by his collecting habit if it had ever been worth anything at all.

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