Are You or Someone You Love a “Hoarder?”
Given our society’s focus on material possessions and mass consumptions, it’s little surprise that there are more than a few pack rats among us… people who seem to save whatever they acquire and will throw away none of it.
But, despite this, hoarding is nothing new. It’s simply gained more attention over the past decade. You may even have seen one or more television shows portraying real-life hoarders.
Unfortunately, while these shows do help to shed light on the disorder, they often portray only the most extreme cases. But, even less extreme hoarders can run into a myriad of problems.
Studies have shown that compulsive hoarding affects as much as 6 percent of the American population, or 19 million Americans. And that number is expected to grow because, while the first signs of hoarding may arise in adolescence, they typically worsen with age, and America’s aging population is growing for a number of reasons.
Unfortunately, many hoarders don’t seek help, either because they don’t realize they’re hoarding is a problem or they don’t realize it’s a mental health issue. And then there’s the social stigma surrounding the disorder, which makes it even more difficult for people who hoard to seek help.
All of this means that hoarding is likely both underreported and undertreated.
However, rest assured, if hoarding is affecting your life in any way, you’re from alone and help is available!
What Is Hoarding Disorder?
Hoarding is much more than simply being something of a pack rat, and it’s different from merely living amid clutter.
So, if you’re not the best housekeeper or are something of a pack rat, you don’t necessarily have any cause for concern. The difference is one of degree.
Compulsive hoarding has been defined as “a significant difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them.”
Compulsive hoarding is considered to be present when even the thought of getting rid of items causes distress or the behavior interferes with an individual’s physical, emotional, social, financial, or legal well-being.
Hoarders typically have what seem to be completely rational reasons for keeping the things they do, such as:
- Fear of losing memories by throwing certain items away;
- Not wanting to be wasteful;
- Worries about future poverty;
- Guilt over getting rid of items they perceive as sentimental in nature;
- The idea that certain items will someday be useful;
- Feelings of responsibility toward inanimate objects; and
- The joy acquiring and collecting new items brings.
These are just a few of the rationalizations that hoarders use as they continue to add to their ever-growing collections.
But, as we’ve discussed, compulsive hoarding is a mental health issue and, as such, it’s often brought on or made worse by one or more psychological triggers, such as the loss of a loved one, or the presence of other mental health issues, like depression or OCD.
Regardless of the sources and triggers for compulsive hoarding, overcoming it can be a difficult process.
What Can You Do?
If hoarding is affecting your life, either because someone you love is hoarding or you yourself are beginning to realize you have a problem, it’s important to remember that overcoming hoarding is a process.
Once you’ve come to grips with the fact that “the collecting” has gotten out of hand and acknowledge there’s a problem, there are a few guidelines you can follow to lessen hoarding’s hold:
1. Research and learn – There are many reasons people begin hoarding and almost as many forms of treatment. Do some research and learn as much as you can about the disorder so you’re informed about the options available.
2. Remove temptations – While a hoarder is unlikely to simply start discarding the items they’ve collected, it is possible to slowly start removing temptations. For example, if one hoards shoes, then avoiding shoe stores is a good idea. If a hoarder is collecting newspapers, cancel the subscriptions, and so on...
3. Recognize each accomplishment – Because overcoming hoarding is a process, recognizing and even celebrating each small step on the road to recovery can help keep up one’s momentum and mood through a very difficult period.
4. Set a goal – Similar to recognizing each accomplishment on the road to recovery, having a goal can help hoarders maintain momentum. One woman who used to love having guests over to her home hadn’t had any in years because of her hoarding. Her goal was to have a clean enough living space to throw an old-fashioned cocktail party!
5. Take it slow – Since hoarders tend to be emotionally attached to the items they’ve collected, emotional distress can result from parting with too much too quickly. In fact, it’s not uncommon for hoarders whose family members have come in and cleaned up their homes to go right back to hoarding, with a vengeance, in order to cope with the trauma and stress. In other words, slowly and steadily parting with items is typically much more effective than calling in 1-800-GOT- JUNK.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – Hoarding is not a habit that one quits “cold turkey.” Compulsive hoarding requires professional treatment… sometime in the form of antidepressants or other medications, but, most commonly in the form of professional counseling or psychotherapy. So, be sure to seek out and get the professional help you or your loved one need.
Compulsive hoarding is a real psychological disorder. Hoarding fills a void in these people’s lives.
But, hoarding doesn’t just negatively affect the hoarder’s life, it also affects their family friends, and neighbors.
Fortunately, help is available... So, do a little research and locate a mental health professional near you who specializes in helping hoarders and their families reclaim ownership of their possessions instead of those possessions owning them.