Hoarding: Beyond Clutter

Hoarding Beyond ClutterStuff is piled everywhere – on the counters and every possible horizontal space, and then that stuff begins to be piled on the floor, spilling into every room making navigating through a room or between one room and another a true obstacle course. When the house is full, the “stuff” begins to pile up outdoors. This circumstance goes beyond clutter and is a symptom of hoarding.

Hoarding isn’t simply a matter of being messy or disorganized. It is a recognized disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, “hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them.”

Hoarding Symptoms

Accumulation of stuff only scratches the surface of symptoms. It’s more than simply being messy or disorganized when the person exhibits an excessive attachment to possessions and objects to the point of being uncomfortable with anyone else borrowing or even touching items, regardless of their value. Hoarders also tend to acquire seemingly unneeded items, including giveaway disposables (like napkins from a restaurant) or even trash.

Hoarding is not collecting. Collecting is a very targeted acquisition of an item with value, be it stamps, models, or sports memorabilia. However, a hoarder may not see it that way. They believe the items they’re accumulating either have current value or will have value or be needed in the future.

When hoarding spills over into accumulating animals, both the health of the hoarder and the animals may be jeopardized. Often, the number of animals far exceeds the individual’s ability to care for them, including cleaning up after them.

Hoarding Causes

Drawing the line between messy and hoarding occurs when the individual’s ability to function becomes impaired. When the home becomes dangerous in which to live, that’s hoarding. Its cause is not entirely clear.

Psychologist Michael Tompkins, PhD, is quoted on WebMD (“Hoarding: More Than Just a Mess”) saying, “In the past, experts saw hoarding as an outgrowth of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). But as we have more studies coming in, we’re increasingly seeing that it’s not. It seems like there is not a particular special or strong relationship with OCD. Much more common are problems like major depression disorder, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder.”

Getting Help with Hoarding

Denial typically accompanies hoarding, and the hoarder won’t admit the problem. It is family members and loved ones who see it. The solution is never to go in and literally clean house, discarding the “stuff.” That will have the opposite effect on a hoarder and will only make the problem worse. First and foremost, understand that the problem is a disorder that needs to be treated, and treatment is a long road that requires a great deal of patience from the family and loved ones of a hoarder.

If you have a hoarder in your family, the first place to start is to educate yourself about the disorder. A recommended book is Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Clutter, Hoarding, and Compulsive Acquiring by Michael A. Tompkins (quoted in this article) and Tamara L. Hartl.

Also, please feel free to contact me for additional resources to help your loved one come to terms with and ultimately work to overcome a hoarding disorder. Only after there’s initial treatment can we work on the process to eliminate and reduce the “stuff.”

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