Recent television shows such as “Hoarders” on A&E and “Hoarding: Buried Alive” on TLC have put the focus on a serious disorder that has for the most part been hidden behind closed doors.
When Does Collecting Become Hoarding?
We all know someone who is a pack rat, but when the amount of accumulated clutter in a home begins to affect a person’s health and happiness, the cause may be depression, addiction or anxiety disorder.
Those who are suffering from the hoarding disorder have issues with both acquiring and discarding possessions. Many of their possessions have little value and may be classified as junk by friends and family. People who own a large number of pets may also be diagnosed as hoarders, especially when the pet owner is unable to properly care for and clean up after the animals.
Signs and Symptoms of Hoarding
These are some of the signs that household clutter is a symptom of a hoarding disorder:
• Entire rooms become so filled with piles of clutter that they are unusable. The only way to move through these rooms is by climbing over objects or using a pathway that has been cleared. Every surface, including countertops, stoves and beds, is stacked with clutter.
• There is no organization to the clutter. Items are stacked haphazardly and the owner does not have a clear idea where things are.
• A large proportion of the clutter consists of useless items like junk mail, old newspapers and clothing that is no longer worn.
• More items are brought into the home, including useless items and trash, despite the fact there is no room for storage. Some hoarders are also compulsive shoppers who buy new items that they don’t need and never use.
• When confronted about household clutter, a hoarder may become defensive or combative. The hoarder will express a feeling of being overwhelmed by the situation, but at the same time will resist the efforts of others who try to help clean up the clutter.
Many people who are compulsive hoarders don’t think they have a problem. They may realize that their clutter is out of control but are unwilling to address it by clearing it out. People who hoard often have very limited social interaction because they are embarrassed by the condition of their home. In many cases, neighbors are unaware of the extent of the problem because they are never invited into the hoarder’s home.
Complex personal issues are beneath the surface of hoarding behavior. Hoarders can’t discard possessions because they worry that they will need them in the future. Some hoarders confuse possessions with memories. They may hold on to objects to remind themselves of happy times in their lives. They may also believe that if they discard objects that have been left behind by a loved one, they will lose their memories of the person.
When to Seek Help for Hoarding
The hoarding mind-set can form in early adolescence. By the time a person who hoards reaches middle age, the condition may impact almost every aspect of daily life. When hoarding interferes with work, relationships, personal hygiene and food preparation, the advice of a doctor or mental health provider should be sought.
Hoarding is also a health and safety concern. Hoarders have been trapped by fire or smothered by piles of books or newspapers. Mold, decayed food and improper storage of dangerous chemicals are additional health and safety concerns. In addition to seeking the help of a doctor or therapist, friends, family members or neighbors should consider notifying the police or fire department about the condition of a home where hoarding is taking place.