Hoarding Through Amazon: How Cluttered Can We Make Our Lives?

If you're like many people, you buy lots of stuff from Amazon. Does that make you a hoarder?

As though we needed more proof that Amazon dominates the online retail market, in a newly released survey by tech company BloomReach, 44 percent of consumers go straight to Amazon when shopping for products, up 14 percentage points from three years ago. The study, which surveyed 2,000 online shoppers, discovered that almost half of shoppers used their phones to research a product or price, and half of that number used it in the store to compare prices in real time. While many of us will use our phones to research the things we want to buy, only 20 percent of us eventually decide to purchase using our mobile devices. Most of us (80 percent) will buy those things we want from our desktop.

And boy do we like to shop online.

CMO.com by Adobe reports that:

  • Online shopping retail sales are predicted to grow steadily to $370 billion in 2017, up from $231 billion in 2012.
  • The average adult spends $449 online.
  • Two-thirds of Americans 50-plus buy from online retailers.
  • Twenty-two percent of consumers spend more as a result of using digital tools; just over half of these shoppers report spending at least 25 percent more than they had intended.
  • Digital interactions influence 36 cents of every dollar spent in the retail store, or approximately $1.1 trillion
  • I’ve been a customer of Amazon for 18 years. I don’t know how many things I’ve ordered from the company in total, but in the last six months alone, I’ve placed 91 orders. That’s a lot of stuff. I order everything from it. Books, gifts, household items, and things I’m embarrassed to buy in brick-and-mortar retailers. My first purchase from Amazon was a book on hacker Kevin Mitnick, followed quickly by the CD box set of Garage Inc by Metallica.

    Yet I didn’t really hit my stride ordering from Amazon until 2000. At the beginning of that year, I bought a Palm V PalmPilot for $299.38. Looking back, I can’t believe I spent that much money on that thing. I mean it was a great device and I made my friends jealous with my newfound ability to filter their contact information in unique and nerdy ways, but 300 bucks? Wow. Then, only a few months later, I bought a Kodak PalmPix add-on that gave me the ability to take photos with my Palm V. But, more importantly, why did I need a Deluxe Backlit Lithium Tire Gauge? A 10oz tin of Bag Balm?!? Bag Balm? What the heck is that?

    I might have a teensy addiction. Which got me wondering. Does the easy, simple way Amazon allows customers to purchase things contribute to the mental disorder known as hoarding?

    As defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, hoarding is:

    "... characterized by the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions. The behavior usually has harmful effects — emotional, physical, social, financial, and even legal — for the person suffering from the disorder and family members. For individuals who hoard, the quantity of their collected items sets them apart from people with normal collecting behaviors. They accumulate a large number of possessions that often fill up or clutter active living areas of the home or workplace to the extent that their intended use is no longer possible."

    Gail Steketee, dean and professor at Boston University’s School of Social Work and renowned hoarding researcher, told NPR in 2010 that many times hoarders don’t recognize the extent of their problem. "There's a phenomenon we refer to as 'clutter blindness,'" Steketee says. "And when we take pictures and show [hoarders] the pictures later, they often have the impression of shock. It's like somebody else's home that they're looking at in the photograph, because to them that's not what it looks like when they walk in the house."

    Psychologist Randy Frost, co-author (along with Steketee) of Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, tells NPR in the same interview, “One of the questions we get all the time from people is, 'What's the difference between someone who has a hoarding problem and someone who is a collector?' What we've noticed is a couple of major differences between the two. First of all, when people collect things, they typically organize them in a pretty systematic fashion — and that doesn't happen in hoarding. The other thing is, when people collect things, they typically want to display them to other people. ... Hoarders want to keep things hidden because of the shame they have."

    Earlier this year, I asked Steketee about the connection between hoarding and online shopping. “The short answer is we don’t really know how being easily able to order things online is affecting hoarding,” she told me. “A good topic for us to examine in [the] future as marketplace behavior changes.”

    To be sure, the connection between the ease of online shopping and the potential to “over-buy” seems real. And if it's not contributing to hoarding behavior directly, online shopping certainly makes it simpler to buy things we never need. Indeed, I have a Deluxe Backlit Lithium Tire Gauge if you're in the market for one. I'll sell it cheap.

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