By Honilyn Magtibay

“I do not have hoarding-itis I have small space-osis”. This may sound funny but it can be heard as an excuse a hoarder would give to explain their obsessive behaviors. Whether you have heard of this saying or not, you probably know someone who collects and stores an excessive amount of items and says that they just cannot get rid of them. Or you might have heard stories of those whose rooms or houses are piled in stuff to the point it becomes a threat to their health and daily life. Today, we’ll be talking about the hoarders. 

Do hoarders exist?

“Hoarders” is a reality TV show produced by A&E networks in 2009 that features real stories of compulsive hoarders. The show depicts real life struggles, the serious impact of hoarding to their daily activities and provides professional help and treatment. It is one of the series that is addictive to watch but hurtful to see. Not only do hoarders struggle with a disorder they cannot control anymore, but their doings also greatly affect the people that live with them or care about them.

Compulsive hoarding is a mental health condition that we need to take more seriously. People didn’t discuss openly in the past or the behaviors are often kept hidden within the household. The show shed light to the real concern and let more people know that help is available for those suffering from hoarding disorder. 

What makes hoarders different from collectors?

Hoarding is a psychological disorder known as compulsive hoarding or excessive collection of items. It is associated with a wide range of conditions, including anxiety, attention deficit disorder, bipolar disorder, dementia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia. 

In layman’s terms, it is the acquisition of and failure to discharge large amounts of belongings that appear to be useless or with limited value. Unnecessary things clutter up and invade the person’s living space. It is an impairment in function that is associated with disorganization, indecisiveness, procrastination, perfectionism and avoidance.

 A hoarder basically accumulates too many things, fails to manage the clutter, and has difficulty parting with any possessions. They experience deep distress, anxiety or even mental breakdown if forced to discard any item. Meanwhile, a collector has a clear understanding of the values of the items they collect. When they acquire something, they organize it in a designated area and proudly display the collection to others. 

There are several warning signs to spot a hoarder:

  • Acquisition, clutter or excessive collection of items that they do not need or for which there is no space is available.
  • Isolation or limited social interaction specifically with other family members.
  • They have unusual emotional attachment to the object (emotional attachment of the object to a event, other people and place).
  • Uncertainty about the future and feeling of responsibility to future generations.
  • Feeling of responsibility toward the object and environment.
  • Experiencing utter joy when finding, keeping and storing objects. 
  • Outrage or anger when removing clutter and and inability to discard.
  • Excessively acquire items  from compulsive buying, picking through trash, collecting free items and kleptomania.

Hoarding brings a lot of danger to the person, his or her living space, physical and mental health and the people around. The person with hoarding habits is always distressed because they are ashamed. They feel guilt which can result in more chronic mental disorders like anxiety and depression. It also has health risks such as falling or getting hurt due to clutter. Furthermore, having too many things in your living space can lead to poor sanitation and other serious health issues.

Hoarders cannot maintain a healthy relationship with the people around them because they tend to hide what they are doing. They try to isolate themselves from the public. Also, they think that other people will just judge them and take away their possessions, so they do not want to interact with them. Hoarding in general does not have a good effect on one person’s health and wellness.  

Is there a treatment for hoarding? 

There are a variety of treatment options for hoarding. However, the most important one is for the individual to accept their condition, be motivated to change and accept outside help. They can first consider getting help from professional cleaning services as the idea of throwing things away will be too difficult to face, even if they are determined. Support and understanding from their loved ones are certainly vital to help them get better.

People will likely find combination treatments to be more successful, and they should seek professional consultation to find the best options since different people will respond to different methods. 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): To help individuals examine and change the way they think and behave when it comes to collect things excessively.
  • Medication: By improving their mood or reducing anxiety symptoms, they can better engage in the treatment process.
  • Support Groups: Can be led by a professional or peer-led. Joining a group of hoarders allow the individual to connect with those who also experience the same issues and get the communal support they might not have from their family.
  • Skill trainings: Focus on teaching skills such as organizing, problem-solving and decision-making which people with hoarding disorder usually have.
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI): Increase their motivation to make positive change and participation in their own recovery.

Note that treatment is not only one time thing. It has to be maintained as some people relapse.  

Resources: 

  • Hoarding Cleanup(800) 462-7337 / Hoarding Cleanup provides a nationwide directory of (fee-for-service) hoarding cleanup services and mental health providers specializing in hoarding behavior.  Website provides online support groups open to hoarders, family members, and anyone that works with hoarders.
  • International OC Foundation: Hoarding Center provides information and referrals for hoarding resources and education and maintains a resource directory for local clinics and in person support groups/therapists/treatment programs.

How we can help:

We offer a variety of mental health support to help you get better. Help is available for hoarding disorders. Contact us to schedule an appointment with our well-trained therapists.

In need of sharing what you’re going through and listen to others’ stories, join our Peer Support Group every Wednesday via Google Meet. Check out our event page. It’s completely FREE!

 

Reference: 

Cherrier, & Ponnor, T. (2010). A study of hoarding behavior and attachment to material possessions. Qualitative Market Research, 13(1), 8–23. https://doi.org/10.1108/13522751011013945

Fleury, Gaudette, L., & Moran, P. (2012). Compulsive Hoarding: Overview and Implications for Community Health Nurses. Journal of Community Health Nursing, 29(3), 154–162. https://doi.org/10.1080/07370016.2012.697846

Frost, & Hartl, T. L. (1996). A cognitive-behavioral model of compulsive hoarding. Behavior Research and Therapy, 34(4), 341–350. https://doi.org/10.1016/0005-7967(95)00071-2

Mataix-Cols. (2014). Hoarding Disorder. The New England Journal of Medicine, 370(21), 2023–2030. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMcp1313051