ac·quire [uh-kwahyuh r] verb (used with object): to come into possession or ownership of; get as one’s own: to acquire property.

In a cluttered situation, it is common to ask, “Where did all this stuff come from?”  Well, it probably came from lots of different places and built up over a long period of time.  I have yet to meet someone who went to sleep one night in a pristine and immaculate home to awaken in a completely cluttered one.   The process of acquisition can happen in many different ways, though it is most often associated with shopping or some form of purchasing.  This compulsive buying includes purchasing items that were not planned for.  Someone once entered a Wal-Mart with the intention of purchasing a single 3-pack of underwear, priced at $7.00, and $100 later left with the underwear, a book, a DVD, lip balm, holiday decorations, and a handful of other things she had no intention of purchasing when she walked into the store.  A “spur of the moment” impulse results in bringing home more stuff.  Individuals who hoard are more likely to buy multiples of an item, just to keep on hand.  The grocery store may run a special “10 Cans of Soup for $10” so the individual buys ten cans of soup figuring that they will all get eaten sooner or later.  In the bookstore, you may pick up three copies of the same book – one for yourself to read, one as a gift for a friend’s birthday, and one to have “just in case” someone else may be interested in reading it or you may misplace your copy.

The process of acquisition is not limited to shopping.  Free items are readily available and just waiting to be collected.  Free samples can be hard to turn down, especially when someone is placing it directly in your hand.  Shampoo?  A new cereal?  There are even websites that do nothing but send out free samples (after you register with them and sign up for a slew of different offers, of course).  Handouts, flyers, and business cards are easy to pick up along the way.  There may be a lecture later in the month and that flyer is a great reminder.  The dinner at a local restaurant was delicious so the business card gets pocketed with the intention of calling the manager to praise the server, telling someone else about the great menu, or even just remembering the place so it can be revisited in the future.

Another form of acquisition is the collecting of items that others have thrown away.  This often has a negative or dirty connotation, being referred to as “dumpster diving” by some.  Rather, the motivation is more one of optimism and opportunity.  When it feels as though the world has become disposable, there can be a sense of accomplishment with giving a discarded item the opportunity of a new life.  The stained and torn recliner chair can be recovered.  Perhaps the dishwasher can be repaired.  The wedding album can be repurposed for a family keepsake.  Individuals describe “rescuing” things from the landfill that others have blindly tossed aside.

When assuming ownership of these items, it is frequently with the intention of using them in some way or another.  Some of these plans are straightforward, while others can be quite elaborate.  William had three metal bars tucked away behind his bedroom door.  His plan was to attach small wheels to them and then mount them to the bottom of his plastic under-the-bed storage bin.  Before he could do this, William needed to get access to and clear out his storage bin, find wheels that were the right size, and get the appropriate tools for attaching the wheels to the metal bars and the bars to the bin.  Then, William had every intention of completing this project of using the bars to mount wheels on his storage bin.  At the time he was explaining this plan, the bars had been sitting behind his bedroom door for several years.  Regardless of the intended purpose for each thing, it is far more likely that these belongings will go unused, as they get lost in the sea of clutter.  Someone may go out and repurchase an item because it can’t be found at home.  There may not be sufficient workspace for the project.  The dining room table is too cluttered for doing any crafting projects but still more crafting supplies are brought into the space in anticipation of when there may be the opportunity to craft again.  As Aldous Huxley said, “Hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions; it’s walled and roofed with them.  Yes, and furnished too.”  Sounds like good intentions can really clutter up a space, unless something is done to translate them into action.

Part of the lure of acquisition is that it feels good, almost addictive.  Finding “the” item can be accompanied by an intense emotional surge.  This rush is only temporary, however, and can leave a sense of emptiness behind.  Acquiring can almost feel like “chasing a high” in the effort to find and keep that positive emotion.  For some, this becomes an all-consuming mindset.  There are urges to go out and acquire, particularly with the knowledge that this activity can provide some relief from uncomfortable sensations.

One specific sub-category of Hoarding Disorder is “With Excessive Acquisition” – “excessive collecting or buying or stealing of items that are not needed or for which there is no available space.”  This “specifier” recognizes that not all acquisition is problematic.  In the majority of hoarding cases, there is an on-going pattern of acquiring here and there that, over time, has resulted in a cluttered environment.  In some cases, however, there are significant quantities of stuff brought into the space on a regular basis.

Acquisition Exercise – Stick to your list!

I once had a gentleman tell me it was impossible to go to the store and only buy the items on the shopping list.  It isn’t impossible, but it can be very difficult.  Are you up to the challenge?

  1. Make a list.  Before going to the store, make a list of the items you intend to purchase.  Be as specific and detailed as possible when listing these things.  The goal is to create a focus on what you want to acquire, as the narrowing of options helps reduce the chance of getting overwhelmed by all the possibilities you may encounter in the store.
  2. Go to the store, and bring your list! Often people think that they’ll be able to remember what they’ve written down.  But why make the trip to the store more challenging?
  3. Stick to the list. Is it possible to only purchase what you’ve identified on your shopping list?  Yes, but it can be very difficult to do.  If you see yourself gravitating toward items that were not pre-planned purchases, ask yourself why you want to purchase it.  Do you need it or does it catch your fancy?  Is it a new release or a good deal?  If you decide that you do want to purchase this item, take a picture of it.  Often things are bought in the moment because there’s a worry it will be forgotten.  Once that picture is taken, put the item back and refocus on your list.
  4. Review your basket. When your items have been selected and you’re ready to checkout, review everything that you’ve placed in your basket.  Once you’ve confirmed that the items in there are the ones you intended to purchase (and you’ve put back any unintended items that snuck in there), move ahead to the checkout and complete your purchases
  5. Prepare the next list. Once you arrive home, go back over the things you wanted to purchase but didn’t.  Look at the photos you took and ask yourself if, now that you’re away from the store, you’re still interested in these items.  If you are, add them to the list for buying next time.  If you’re not, delete the photos and move on.