Saving versus Hoarding: Where is the Line?

This article is going to seem a little odd amongst my usual tech-flavored blather, but based on some recent internet flame-baiting from otherwise-respectable sources I feel compelled to clear the air.

As anyone with a television these days is probably aware, “reality” shows continue to be a popular form of entertainment for the couch-bound.    I put reality in quotes because the bulk of these shows take some extreme behavior or situation and present it as some sort of norm.  The example I’m taking aim at today is Extreme Couponing, a show on The Learning Channel (TLC) that highlights people working to shave costs off of their household purchasing budgets.

Now, saving money is a Good Thing.  I doubt few would argue against that on matter of principle.  The arguments arise over the means and methods.  

Poorly-constructed articles like this one on focus on the extreme of extremes, that is, those obsessive-compulsive sorts who have lost sight of the original goal (reducing expenses)  and turn saving money into an adventure unto itself.  The show highlights people who spend hours per day hunting down deals, gathering up coupons, and applying their cost-cutting skills to the elimination of free space.  Media pundits like Brad Tuttle, in turn, bolster their page hits by sensationalizing the subject.

There’s no doubt that hoarders exist.  My own father was one, and the example he provided encourages me to periodically purge my life of nonessentials.  But while hoarding can result from a mental disorder, there’s a pragmatic aspect underneath that gets lost in topical noise: a strong desire to avoid wastefulness.

Ironically, that urge actually leads to waste.  Hoarded items benefit no one.  Yes they do provide a comfort to the collector but a real benefit would be treatment of the underlying disorder.

People like me who clip coupons and shop aggressively often end up with stock on their home shelves.  That’s not bad in and of itself as long as the items don’t expire (or have lengthy expiration periods) and don’t infringe on space needed for other purposes.  In the Time article a reader asks “why would anyone need four bottles of shampoo?”.  Such a question misses the point; shampoo doesn’t expire and, in a family, vanishes rapidly.  Stocking four bottles isn’t hoarding– if it came about via actual savings, then it’s simply taking advantage of a good opportunity.

But what about six bottles?  12?  24?  At some point the purchaser has to employ common sense to the storage situation.  That point will vary according to several variables, but unless it’s obviously excessive then there’s no harm.  And keep in mind that excess goods can be donated to local charities or shared with friends and family.

Hoarders can be easily distinguished from extreme savers.  The latter don’t fill rooms from floor to ceiling with their gains.  You won’t find rodents building homes in piles of accumulated items.  In fact many apply the same diligence to cleaning that they do to cost-cutting.

Articles like the one cited do a great disservice to the public by blurring the lines between a mental health issue and the desire or even need to reduce expenses.  In tough economic times, many families need to get extreme in their savings strategy.  What they don’t need are internet snobs lumping them in with those acting out of greed or in need of therapy… and the latter definitely don’t need anyone’s derision.


4 responses to “Saving versus Hoarding: Where is the Line?

  1. Extreme Couponing pisses me off for a number of reasons, but here’s the really big two for me:

    1) All that money that’s being saved? The cost to air the television series easily outpaces any saving at the register. Saying it’s paid for by ads is irrelevant.

    2) If the buyer has to enlist the help of family/friends to get around any coupon restrictions, they’re scamming the system.

    I love seeing people save money, but I bet there’s a place they could save a whole lot more and it wasn’t even a thought for them: They could simply cut down on their diet to a “necessity to simply live healthy” level and not eat “in excess” like a HUGE (pun 100-fracking-% intended) majority of the American population.

    Obviously those not “fitting” into that group are fine, but we really do eat in abundant excess here in the States and I really don’t want to think about how much food is wasted feeding us past the point of “enough to live healthy” on top of uneaten/spoiled food!!

    • I’m not sure what connection you’re making with point #1, but I agree with point #2. If anything, those friends and family members should be helping themselves (and perhaps the less fortunate as well) instead of dog-piling onto a single shopping experience. Sad that a few attention-getting extremists can change the game for everyone, too.

  2. I am an aggressive saver. For 17 years, I worked for an employer who paid my ‘salary’ every 3 months. Yes, that’s 4 pay cheques a year. As a result, I tend to “buy it when it’s cheap” if at all possible. I keep at least 6 months supply of face cream, for example, but never pay more than half price (stock up when it’s on offer). The same goes for shampoo, deoderant, many of my personal items and most household cleaners. Of course, I have a house big enough to store it.

    I’m a bit more restrained with food stuffs because they do go off. I get highly irritated by 2 for 1 deals that involve perishables and are quite useless to the single person.

    The bonus to all this is that I can afford decent holidays, occasional geek toys (which is why I read your blog :p) and intermittent treats.

    The TV shows that annoy me are the ones that insist that you should throw out everything in your home every 6 months. “Decluttering” they call it. I call it “Throwing out things you kept for a reason usually a fortnight before you discover why you kept them”. Does that make me a hoarder?

  3. cough, Diogenes Syndrome, cough.

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