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Compulsive hoarding is a health condition that has received much attention from the media in recent years. However, hoarding is not always easy to detect and may be more widespread than many believe.
Compulsive hoarding can be secretive. An individual can discreetly accumulate items over many years. Sometimes hoarding is discovered only when the individual is no longer able to live in their own home or the family cleans the home following the loved one’s death.
The condition is also more widespread than many expect. An estimated 5 percent of the U.S. population suffers from compulsive hoarding behaviors. The problem is much more than just being a “pack-rat.” Hoarding can seriously threaten the health and finances of the sufferers and their families. The issue becomes even more difficult when sufferers do not realize that their compulsion is a serious problem.
Hoarding is usually characterized by these behaviors:
Excessively collecting items. The items can be free or purchased. The hoarder may spend many hours acquiring things. Getting these items makes the person feel excited, and leaving the items makes him/her feel anxious.
Not discarding items. The sufferer may feel discomfort at the idea of discarding any of their possessions. Even damaged items may still be perceived as useful.
Clutter interferes with everyday living. It may be difficult to move about the house or perform daily tasks. Residents of the home may stop eating at the table or sleeping in their beds in order to accommodate the clutter.
There are negative effects of having too much stuff. Having a mass of possessions is a big safety risk. Hoarding puts families in danger of fire or injury from falling objects. The clutter also makes it difficult to clean, so the house may become unsanitary as the hoard prevents timely removal of waste. If the home becomes unsafe, protective services may become involved to ensure that everyone is taken care of until the problem is solved.
A significant problem resulting from compulsive hoarding is that the sufferer may become socially isolated. Embarrassment will lead people to shy away from letting friends or relatives see the inside of the house. Conflicts with family can arise when the sufferer cannot part with mountains of possessions.
Hoarding also causes great financial strain. Excessive shopping for “treasures” can burden a bank account, making it difficult to pay bills or purchase necessities. A heavily crowded home will likely be in violation of fire codes and city ordinances. A renter may face eviction, and a homeowner may endure fines and court fees. Additionally, this disorder can impair a person’s ability to remain employed, which further reduces resources.
Help is available for someone who is a hoarder. Compulsive hoarding is considered a mental health condition possibly related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). However, more recent research presents the possibility that it is related to other mental health conditions. Effective therapy may, however, be sought from a professional trained in treating OCD-related disorders. To find a qualified professional near you, contact: The Obsessive Compulsive Foundation http://www.ocfoundation.org/hoarding/
While I can help with household organization questions, I am not qualified to help someone who is a hoarder. Someone who wants help getting organized can call my office for recommendations. You may also be interested in the upcoming class on $parkle$ which includes a segment on household organization.
Reference: Gilliam, C. M., & Tolin, D. F. (2010). Compulsive hoarding. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 74, 93-121. This information was provided by Robert H. Flashman, Extension Specialist for Family Resource Management, at the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service; and R. Renee Setari, Graduate Student, Department of Family Sciences, University of Kentucky.
Joan Martin is a family and consumer sciences agent with the Anderson County Extension.