As we age, we tend to obtain more and more material things. Some of us can discard items that no longer serve a purpose in our lives while others, will continue to clutter living spaces. People with hoarding disorder will often hold onto things they feel they’ll need in the future, are valuable, or have sentimental value. The excessively accumulated bric-a-brac turns into problematic clutter that interferes with their quality of life, relationships, and daily activities such as eating, sleeping, and working. The clutter also increases health risks from poor sanitation and makes it extremely difficult to leave the home in case of a fire or another emergency. In many instances, these clutter-bugs can find themselves in danger of eviction from their homes and isolated due to their disorder.
Hoarding disorder tends to affect some five to 14 million people in this country, but this is a very conservative guesstimate. It most often affects older adults from age 55-years-old and up. Commonly hoarded items are newspapers, books, boxes, plastic and paper bags, photos, appliances, food, and clothing.
Some hoarders consider themselves to be collectors but according to mental health practitioners, they are not. Collectors seek very particular things like rare coins, books or stamps. Hoarders are not as discriminating and settle for random, ordinary finds. The acquisition of items for people suffering from the disorder has more to do with obsessive-compulsive behavior, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and depression.
Signs and behaviors
Difficulty parting with possessions
Suffers anxiety when attempting to get rid of items
Unable to categorize or organize accumulated items
Indecisive about where things go
Distressed or embarrassed by possessions
Paranoid of others touching or taking their properties
Obsessing over running out of an article
Not coming to grips with the impairment of their living space
Hoarders can also create feelings of anger, resentment, and depression among family members. The disorder can negatively impact their children and have an effect on their social development. It can also lead to divorce, loss of child custody and eventually result in severe financial woes.
In order to assess a level of functioning, mental health professionals will, with permission, also speak to friends and family members of the person suffering from the disorder. Besides hoarding, victims will often demonstrate difficulty with decision-making, perfectionism, procrastination, disorganization, and distractibility.
Animal hoarding is yet another leg of this disorder where individuals keep acquiring large numbers of animals that are usually held in filthy conditions.
Can hoarders be cured?
Many hoarders do not see anything wrong with their behavior or feel powerless to make changes in their lives. In some cases, cognitive behavior therapy might change the hoarding behavior in which a patient learns to make decisions about objects and confronts the emotions they feel about them. Antidepressant medication might prove helpful in some cases.
Some professionals prefer to concentrate on harm reduction, i.e., working with hoarders to find solutions for the most dangerous aspects of their condition, like preventing the spread of disease and reducing fire risks, without demanding that the individual stop the hoarding behavior itself.
If you know of someone who suffers from hoarding disorder contact the International OCD Foundation for more information; hoarding.iocdf.org