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 time.com 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.