October 13, 2013

Why humans shouldn't behave like obsessed tree squirrels

According to Wikipedia, "Hoarding" is a general term for a behavior that leads people or animals to accumulate food or other items during periods of scarcity. For example, the tree squirrel hides nuts and other items in the ground when the food is available during the autumn. When winter arrives, the tree squirrel emerges from its winter nest and begin to search for the hidden stores of food.

The keyword here is scarcity. We humans are similar to the squirrels and our animal genes emerge when we hear the word scarcity. According to the book Influence by Robert Cialdini, scarcity is one of the six universal principles of social influence. Scarcity means that the less available the resource, the more we want it. In an experiment, a cookie in short supply was rated as more desirable to eat in the future, more attractive as consumer item, and more costly. Advertisers are well aware of this principle and you can often see that there's only a limited amount of a discounted product available in the store.

The problem is that some people can handle scarcity, while others can't. When hoarding becomes an illness among humans, it's called Compulsive Hoarding, and can be defined as:
"A pattern of behavior that is characterized by the excessive acquisition of and inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects that cover the living areas of the home and cause significant distress or impairment."

Me myself is far away from a compulsive hoarder since I'm a believes in minimalism. But I can sometimes recognize myself in the behavior of compulsive hoarding. I'm currently hoarding browser bookmarks and I'm doing my best to clean them out. But before I press the delete button, I tend to ask myself: "What if I need this later and can't find it again?" - when I probably can find the same bookmark with the help of Google! Asking yourself "What if I need this later" is common among those who hoard other products, such as cats or stuff in general. The difference is that hoarding browser bookmarks is far less dangerous.

Some compulsive hoarders tend to bring home products to their home and stack the products from the floor to the roof. Now what happens if there's a fire somewhere along the clutter. It has happened several times, one example is this article from The Telegraph. According to the article,
"Fire fighters struggled to get access to the Marrickville house at 9.20 PM on Sunday as it reportedly had a 2 meter high wall of rubbish in the front yard. ...The fire, which was ignited by a candle, was fueled by the junk in the home. ...The people's belongings were stacked up to the roof, they even had belongings stacked inside the roof."

The problem with people who are compulsive hoarders has grown so much that firefighters have begun to create websites to enlighten people. The website Chamber of Hoarders educate first responders on the dangers of hoarding environments. So if you feel that you are hoarder or have a hoarder in your social network, you have to find a way to solve the problem. One first step might be to visit the "subreddit" /hoarding and talk to other people with the same problem.

The contrary to a hoarder is someone who believes in minimalism. Those who believe in minimalism tend to live in small homes and minimize the amount of possessions they have. This guy has taken a photo of all the 51 things he own. There's a subreddit for that to called /minimalism, where you can find inspiration, such as this transformation of a bedroom:

Before. Source: Imgur
After. Source: Imgur