Hoarding is a common practice in Ethiopia, where people accumulate and stockpile items they don’t necessarily need. From government organizations to privately owned businesses and homes, hoarding behavior is apparent in many spaces.
Some like to accumulate and keep stuff for business purposes, hoping to get a higher price for their products after creating scarcity in the markets. Some accumulate stuff due to personal scarcity or lack—fearing they might not find those items later if they do not keep a large quantity today. Some hoard and accumulate stuff in large quantity because it is simply a habit or an addiction they cannot live without.
There are likely other reasons for hoarding. But one thing I do know from my observations: most Ethiopians love to accumulate and stockpile items they do not necessarily need.
Many government organizations commonly hoard goods in their compounds, often in hidden spaces of the compounds or buildings—stacks and stacks of office and construction materials piled up. Although these offices try to “hide” those piles, they are often quite visible and accessible to the public that visits the offices.
Often, these piles contain items that do not seem usable in the future as they are damaged or broken. Yet they remain piled up in a corner. It makes you wonder why many government offices do not dispose of them. Is it due to a bureaucratic process involved in getting rid of nonessential items? Is it laziness? Or is it carelessness?
You might say in public institutions, with no single owner, there’s a “tragedy of the commons” where no one takes responsibility for cleaning up a place they don’t personally own. However, the addictive hoarding also exists in privately owned places, including businesses and homes. I’ve seen private schools and real estate compounds with piles of unnecessary items stacked up, often in “hidden” corners. Though privately owned, the owners should have an interest in cleaning their spaces. Yet somehow, by putting those piles in seemingly “hidden” corners, they try to present neat, clean spaces to the public. But people notice anyway.
The hoarding behavior of many Ethiopians is particularly apparent in apartments and condominiums. Have you observed the balconies and windows? Condominiums are especially notable —with stacks of old items like mattresses, overturned chairs, tables, and more items. Balconies with flowerpots are rarer. We like to hold onto things, thinking we may need them someday, though not today. It’s a scarcity mentality stemming from our poverty, which has led to a mentality of scarcity.
By hoarding piles of old, non-functional items and keeping them out of sight, we try to present a clean front. While outsiders may not notice immediately, those who live or work in these spaces see them daily. The piles are part of our environment. It makes me wonder how they don’t impact our morale. For me, these piles say a lot about the institutions and businesses that keep them.
Above all, they indicate these places cannot be trusted. Since they don’t care for their own spaces, they’re unlikely to care for outsiders who visit. Keeping piles shows a lack of stewardship that would undermine trust in their competence to run a functional organization.