Most folks have a weakness for accumulating something. Shoes…kitchen gadgets…automotive tools…you name it! These items reflect our interests and our dreams. We enjoy strutting about in the latest kicks. We prepare and savor gourmet meals. Or we yearn to slide behind the wheel of the coolest ride ever. But when does a hobby or interest cross the line? At what point does pleasurable collecting become a hoarding disorder?
Sometimes, we toss around the term “hoarding” in jest. There are entire TV series based on this phenomenon. But we need to realize: it is a real psychological disorder. Today we’re exploring what compulsive hoarding is all about. It’s critical when a dear family member struggles with this serious issue. So let’s start with understanding how it differs from casual collecting.
Hoarding is considered to be an offshoot of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It can develop along with other mental illnesses, such as dementia and schizophrenia. It’s not clear what causes this disorder. But it can be caused by a combination of:
- brain functioning going awry
- stressful life events which trigger the behavior
Regardless of the reason, people with a hoarding disorder may not see it as a problem. The bottom line: treatment becomes challenging.
Hoarding involves acquiring and saving an excessive number of things. The items are generally not needed. They may not even have any significant value. A steady buildup of clutter occurs in the home. The hoarder experiences high distress at the suggestion to get rid of anything. There is a feeling of shame, secrecy or embarrassment as things pile up. Ultimately, there is limited social interaction to avoid revealing the situation.
In contrast, a collector takes pleasure in procuring specific items. Things may be displayed for others to appreciate. There is often a theme with what is saved. Pride is evident with what is collected. Overall, the general state of the home does not deteriorate with the accumulation of items.
Signs and Symptoms
One obvious sign of hoarding is that the home is filled beyond capacity. Only narrow pathways wind through stacks of stuff. Virtually all countertops are covered and piled high. When space runs out inside, the clutter can spread outside. The garage, the yard or even a storage unit gets filled up, too. Rooms become unusable as they become inaccessible. In other words, the living conditions deteriorate as the quantities of stuff increase.
Another hoarding indicator is an unstable demeanor. There may be a tendency towards indecisiveness, perfectionism, or isolation. Difficulties with organization is evident. Conflict occurs when others address the home’s condition. Even though movement through the house is challenging, the hoarder feels safer when surrounded by the excessive clutter. Possessions take on high emotional significance. Ultimately, nothing is to be discarded.
Hoarding leads to a number of problems, including:
- Unsanitary living conditions
- Neglected personal hygiene and health
- Increased risk of falls
- Family conflicts
- Loneliness and social isolation
- Fire hazards
- Legal issues, i.e., eviction or foreclosure
As mentioned, hoarders seldom seek treatment for their disorder. Instead, they may be open to help with another issue, such as depression or anxiety. Sometimes, a close relative may need to coax the individual to have a general physical. Pictures or videos of the home can be shared during that appointment. The doctor can also ask questions which lead to a discussion about hoarding. Therefore, diagnosis is often started with the help of a family member or close friend.
The actual treatment can be challenging because many will not recognize the negative impact of too much stuff in their lives. They may react with frustration, anger and denial. The main treatment for this disorder is “cognitive behavioral therapy”. This is a talk therapy used in combination at times with anxiety or depression medication. Otherwise, there are currently no medications approved by the FDA to specifically treat hoarding disorder.
This was just an overview about hoarding. It’s clearly more than having too much stuff or never throwing anything away. It is a serious clinical disorder.
For an in-depth article about hoarders portrayed in the media, read here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/12/15/let-go
For a short quiz about your own behavior (or someone dear), check this out https://psychcentral.com/quizzes/hoarding-quiz.htm
Lastly, learn here how to help a friend or relative: http://www.hoardersanonymous.org/hoarding-how-to-help-a-friend.htm