Hoarding is the act of acquiring an excessive amount of worthless items and the inability or unwillingness to part with any of them.
According to the International OCD Foundation, hoarding is characterized by a large amount of disorganized clutter that creates chaos in a living environment. Rooms are rendered useless. It’s impossible to move easily through a space. Exits are blocked. Hoarding rates are estimated at 2 to 5 percent of adults.
Commonly hoarded items are clothes, newspapers , magazines, books, craft materials, food, containers and paper and plastic bags. In fact, hoarders save almost everything, including articles that remain in their original wrappers or have their sales tags still on them.
Hoarders also can collect dozens, even hundreds of pets. Animals may be confined in cages or allowed to roam free. Because of the huge numbers, these animals are seldom properly cared for. The health and safety of both the person and the animals are at risk because of the unsanitary conditions.
Hoarding is different from collecting. Collectors typically keep their possessions neatly organized and display them in a way that they can be viewed and appreciated by others. Collectors tend to budget their expenditures and purchase particular items that have value. They also have a sense of pride about their activity and enjoy talking and learning about their collections.
Hoarding, on the other hand, interferes with everyday functioning and may lead to unhealthy or dangerous living conditions. Hoarders may live with broken appliances and without heat or necessary comforts. Unlivable conditions may lead to divorce, eviction or even loss of child custody.
People hoard for a variety of reasons. They may feel that an item might be useful “someday,” that it has sentimental value or is too good a bargain to pass up.
The cause of hoarding is poorly understood, but the American Psychiatric Association identifies several risk factors. Hoarding is more common among individuals with a family member who hoards, suggesting a genetic component. It is often associated with distinct neurological abnormalities, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Sufferers frequently report childhood adversity and a history of alcohol abuse.
AM I A HOARDER?
Do I have trouble getting rid of things?
Do I get anxious when I try to throw or give something away?
Is it difficult for me to get organized?
Am I indecisive about what to keep or where to put things?
Do I feel embarrassed by my clutter?
Do I get suspicious about other people touching my things?
Do I buy things I want even if I can’t afford them or don’t have space for them?
Do I have duplicates of the same item?
Does my clutter feel out of control?
Do my possessions cause family conflict?
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, then hoarding may be a real problem.
HELP FOR HOARDING
Face your anxiety. Perhaps you are anxious in social settings, worried about managing your finances or have a fear of being abandoned.
Assess your possessions. Categorize which to keep and which to discard.
Learn how to make decisions. Gather relevant data, then select the best path to take. Don’t second-guess your choices.
Declutter your home. Enlist a professional organizer to help you get rid of useless items and find places for things you want to keep.
Practice relaxation skills. Take long, slow cleansing breaths throughout the day. Shake out your hands to help relax your neck and shoulders.
Consider medication. Antidepressants (SSRIs) are somewhat effective in lessening hoarding symptoms. Try them along with other behavioral steps.