Scarcity Mindset and Hoarding: Two Trauma Responses That Can Derail Your Prepping

Scarcity Mindset and Hoarding: Two Trauma Responses That Can Derail Your Prepping

Do you know someone who has many things in their house that they don’t need but may need ‘someday’. They purchase items they will never eat or use, but they would rather have them than be without them. They believe having rooms stuffed with things would help them get through the next Great Depression.

These actions come from having a scarcity mindset. Having a scarcity mindset develops from being obsessed with a lack of time, items, or money in your life. This obsession becomes all-consuming and you lose focus on everything else. Usually, people with a scarcity mindset have experienced something traumatizing, and that experience affects everything they do and purchase. They are worried about not having or being enough.

We saw this with older relatives who lived through the Great Depression and World War II. Many people who lived through that time carried those habits with them for the rest of their lives. Nothing got thrown away that could be reused or saved for a new purpose.

We saw this at the beginning of the pandemic when people could not find supplies like toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Food shortages drove people to clear the shelves at grocery stores. People started panic shopping and bought everything they could even if they could not use those items. They quickly developed a scarcity mindset about food and essential things. They let fear and anxiety make their decisions. 

In this day and age, we see this as hoarding. However, many survivors during the 1930s and 1940s kept a neat home and were careful about accruing possessions. Money wasn’t spent frivolously. They would grow their own food, put food up for the winter, and not waste food during any time of the year. They would wear and patch clothing until it became rags.

They experienced something that many of us could not imagine and were traumatized by that experience. You still see it today with people who have lived in poverty growing up. People who moved frequently, lost possessions in a fire or flood, grew up in foster care, were abandoned by parents, abused, and worse, carry this mentality with them.

We see it now with people who have become preppers. There is a line between preparing and hoarding that seems to get blurred. People who are preparing usually have a plan on what they need to purchase to survive the events that may happen to them. They are organized and know where everything is so they can find it faster.

Hoarders will purchase anything and everything because they may need it someday. They buy the food they don’t like, but they would rather have it than go hungry. They have items stuffed everywhere with no real organization. They are afraid that something may happen and don’t have what they need to survive. They refuse to throw away anything because they may need it. They have a fear of losing everything again, even if it makes no sense to them either. They cannot let go of what is theirs.

Just like having a scarcity mindset, hoarding is also a trauma response. Both are based on the fear that they could lose everything or not have enough when something happens. Both feel they have a sense of control even if their actions and habits are detrimental to their lives. Both impact their daily lives and their habits. When people with these trauma responses become preppers, the results can be devastating to everyone involved.

To be clear, no one is perfect. Most people who are reading this have experienced trauma in some way. The perfect prepper doesn’t exist. Everyone who prepares has been shaped by their life experiences and prepares according to what they have experienced. We all deal with trauma in different ways.

Preppers with this kind of trauma though can be more harmful to themselves. Too much stuff leads to lost items that could be essential in an emergency. They could get injured tripping over things in their way. They may have to purchase something they already have because they couldn’t find the original item. Food and toiletries could go to waste because they will not be used, are lost, or have been buried under other things. The house itself could become a hazard and a magnet for unwanted animals like mice and rats.

Hoarding and having a scarcity mindset both need to be approached with therapy and understanding. To throw out their possessions in an attempt to help them will only make the problem worse. Many preppers have a touch of these responses and some have full-blown cases that need professional help.

Personally, I have a touch of both, with the scarcity mindset being the worst of the two responses for me. I have not sought therapy but seek to keep myself in check with practice and guidelines. I use the following strategies to keep myself in check, keep my home from overwhelming me, and keep my prepping organized.

First, I do not purchase items on a whim anymore. I carefully consider what I am buying and if I truly need that item in daily life and for emergencies. I will let things sit in my online carts for several days. The only things I purchase right away are food, personal items, and items I need to fix or replace broken or used parts. Everything else goes through a waiting period to ensure I genuinely need that thing.

This applies to every kind of shopping. If I see it at the store, I will come back later. Sometimes when I come back to get it, it is gone. However, usually, it’s not worth getting mad over because it’s gone. The same goes for online sale sites like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, eBay, etc. I will save the item in my favorites or on a watch list and decide in a few days if I need it or not.

Second, I always have a giveaway box in my front entryway or office. If I find that I have something I don’t use anymore or don’t want to keep, I will put it in that box. When it gets full, I take it to my local thrift store. By doing this, I stay on top of my possessions better. 

Third, I regularly participate in decluttering challenges. I am not a minimalist, but I have to keep myself in check with my possessions. (However, you will always see piles of books at my house. I can’t control everything!) I find that decluttering challenges are good for me. I can look over what I have and usually find things to put in the giveaway box. Two challenges that I find particularly easy to use and help me a lot are 120 Things To Remove From Your Life and Decluttering Burst: Let Go of One Hundred Items in Less Than An Hour by Courtney Carver.

Fourth, I try to slow down. I find that if I take my time to react and keep my speech and actions moderate, I do not lapse into those trauma responses. For a long time, if someone offered me something for me, I would immediately take it even if I had no use for it. It was free, and I couldn’t turn down free, right? When I realized that I had to deal with things I had no use for, I needed to slow down, evaluate, and learn to say no to things I couldn’t use. I won’t lie and say that I find it easy to slow down, but I found out that my decisions were better when I did slow down.

Lastly, I do not purchase food or items for prepping that I do not personally eat or use. Yes, I do have things for emergencies and specific situations. I struggle with the concept of having just any food on the shelves so I don’t starve. I tend to keep a lot of foods I will eat and enjoy. The same goes for possessions. I do not have closets full of clothes just in case the clothing supply runs low. I buy most of my clothes from thrift stores, and I doubt they will run low for quite a while. 

I understand the thinking behind having things on hand just in case, but usually, the mentality behind the action is misguided. I have no desire to be a store for anyone if the S hits the fan. The purpose of prepping is to prepare for any situation that can happen to you personally and take care of yourself and your family. Fear can drive your prepping, but your prepping should not be based on your anxiety. Hoarding takes away from preparing because you simply gather possessions out of fear and have no clear direction for your actions.

I am not a doctor or a therapist, so I will not say what I do works for everyone. Some people need therapy to help them process their trauma and move on in a healthy direction. I chose to take a different route because I knew what drove my fears and I could deal with them. You have to make the best decision for you. 

Thanks for reading,

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