Definition of Squalor

When most people see the word “squalor”, they think of images from Hoarders; piles of stuff up to the ceiling, cockroaches & rodents everywhere, the floor covered in dirty laundry, animal and/or human feces everywhere, etc. But squalor is much more than that.

Squalor is the outward presentation of chaos in the brain and it’s measured by degrees. There are four degrees of squalor. Most of houses featured on episodes of Hoarders at 4th degree squalor. I personally think there are two additional degrees; 0 and 3.5. In the last several years, my own degree of squalor fluctuates between 0 (no squalor) and 1. What is 1st degree Squalor?

First degree squalor

You are getting behind in tasks that you would normally manage, like laundry and dishes. You are not the tidy person you once were. Little piles are starting to emerge and your disorganization is starting to affect your life and inconvenience you. Things are just starting to get out of hand and become unmanageable. A sign of first degree squalor could be that you might be embarrassed for other people to see your mess…but you would still let them in the house.

I think MOST people have been at this first level at some point in their lives. Some chronically, some more rarely.

In addition, I don’t think this is exclusive to the state of the space you’re living in. This terminology can be applied to the state of your lawn, your property, your mental health, your place of work, your finances, your body, your clothes, and so on.

Around the year 2008 I discovered this definition and it made complete sense to me. This was around the time I fell into a deep depression that almost killed me. Along with this depression came the 2nd degree squalor of my home due to neglect. I eventually dug myself out of that depression with the help of anti-depressants and therapy. Today I basically operate at my “normal” level 0 / level 1 of messiness.

So why would I continue to use the word “squalor” to describe mine today? Why not just say “messy house”? Because I believe that it’s not just a messy house, it’s not just some extra weight, it’s not just poor hygeine. I may not be suffering from chronic or clinical depression today, but I still walk on the edge of a slope that will slide me down depressive hole if I’m not careful. If I had zero bouts of depression anymore and I was in a good place where ALL the mess in my house was attributed to being too busy with other things or simple differences in priorities in life, then I would probably abandon this terminology. But that’s just not the case for me right now and I suspect that it will never be the case for me until the end of my days.

I’ve got plans with my kids for spring break this year that involve my backyard but it’s in really bad shape due to neglect. I would put it at 2nd degree level of squalor right now; overgrown, overrun with weeds, hiding piles of poop from my dog, grass dying underneath, etc. It’s a wreck. So I took the day off work today to deal with it.

My lawn is the way it is for the same reason my laundry is the way it is; neglect caused by various things including bad habits, tiredness, fatigue, and the recent bouts of depression I’ve had since the ice storm. I’m no longer feeling depressed, but it’s a figurative mountain that intimidates and so avoidance kicks in. I’ve avoided dealing with my lawn as well up until last week when I sprayed it for weeds. But it’s all the same, isn’t it? The interior of my house, the exterior of my house, my physical fitness, personal hygiene, and many other things I have the obligation to maintain are subject to the same neglect due to depression.

If we want to do some root cause analysis here, we’d need to look at the common denominator, my brain. There is squalor there as well which is trickling down into other parts of my life. Sounds like common sense to me.

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