Home » When cleaning the “Mess” is no longer an ordinary struggle

When cleaning the “Mess” is no longer an ordinary struggle

Posted on: September 29th, 2015 in Behavioral Health, Mental Health, Recovery No Comments


Hoarding is now defined as a legitimate disorder. As many as 15 million people in the U.S., men and women equally, struggle with diagnosable hoarding. The hoarded objects can range from plastic bags to old cars and almost everything in between.

Mess: One Man’s Struggle to Clean Up His House and His Act is an entertaining and poignant read, written by Barry Yourgrau, a chronic hoarder himself. His kitchen counters were buried underneath a rubble of empty cardboard boxes, papers and plastic bags whereas his dining table displayed an array of old books, assorted stationery and more plastic bags. The bedroom and other areas in the apartment were cluttered with souvenirs from his globe-trotting. The fridge was packed with old bottles and jars.

The situation had gotten so bad for the author that he spent most nights at his girlfriend’s, who alongside everybody else was not allowed to enter his apartment. Yourgrau’s turning point came when one hot afternoon he refused his grocery bags-laden girlfriend to enter his apartment. She then presented him an ultimatum: it was her or the mess.

“I’m sick of taking care of you!” she blew up. “You’re old enough to be a grandfather- and you live like a teenager. That’s it! You have to clean up. And I don’t mean just your house. I mean your act.”

The confrontation with his girlfriend led Yourgrau to research hoarding and his condition finally started making some sense to him. It was after he had to kill a mouse one day in his apartment that an idea began to form in his mind. Being a writer by profession, he felt the significance to indulge all aspects of his hoarding in order to clean up for good. This initiated the writing of Mess, a research-based memoir providing insight into his apartment, therapy sessions, personal struggles and innermost conflicting emotions.

In an interview with NPR, Yurgrau delved deeper into the development of his cluttering disorder, “When I was a kid, as I write about in the book, I really became very attached to objects. There seems to be some kind of a developmental stall in people who have hoarding problems, particularly, but clutter problems, too, and they get some connection to objects that other people don’t. And I realized that I establish objects as kind of avatars of myself, and they start to have sort of magical qualities, too.”

Roz Chast, author of Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? stated, “A funny, smart, and moving memoir about the accumulation of STUFF: what it means to us, why we keep it, and how we deal with our personal  ‘collections.’ (Great book, btw.)”

“Mess is Barry Yourgrau’s autobiography by way of neurosis, a twenty-first century version of the Confessions of Zeno. Sometimes shocking and frequently self-mocking, it charts the tough negotiation between shame and fixation, between clinging to the past and moving forward, between being devoured by one’s demons and facing them down,” reviewed Andrew Solomon, author of Far From The Tree.

About the author

Barry Yourgrau, writer and performer, is the author of several renowned books including Wearing Dad’s Head, Haunted Traveller, A Man Jumps Out of An Airplane and The Sadness of Sex. He starred in the film version of the latter publication.

He is the winner of the Drama-Logue Award for “Wearing Dad’s Head: The Live Version.”

Yourgrau’s work has appeared in The Paris Review, Vice, Story, Bomb, Monkey Business International, Poetry, Film Comment, and various others. He has written for the NY Times, Spin, Huffington Post, Paris Review Daily, Salon, Independent (U.K.) and Artforum, including many others.

Currently, Yourgrau lives in New York and Istanbul, spending most of his time travelling.

Written by Sana Ahmed, Sovereign Health Group writer

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