Today I’m back to talk about what a hoarding disorder is, and how it’s about parting with items, but more than just someone who needs to declutter and organize their home. I want to talk about what it looks like on a deeper level, and how a hoarder can be helped. I began this series because after my grandmother needed to be moved into a long term care home, we had the task of cleaning out her home, which had never been decluttered. We found a lot of things that indicated to us that she had been hoarding, despite how neat and tidy her home had always been. For more on that, see A Reflection on Hoarding in this series.
Hoarding is a mental health illness, often connected to other mental health problems. It not the same as simply having a lot of stuff, or collecting. In this post, I want to dive in and explore what a hoarding disorder is.
What is Hoarding Disorder: Parting with Items
People with hoarding disorder have an especially hard time parting with items due to a perceived need that they need those items. It’s important to note that those with this disorder consistently struggle with parting with items, and experience distress when doing so, so that they often make the decision to keep these items. Sometimes, those with this disorder have accumulated so much that their homes are cluttered to the point that walkways are blocked or difficult to get around. Many of these items are not organized in any logical way and the home can become unsafe.
I thank God that at least my grandmother’s house was one she could move around in, though she did have unsafe habits such as keeping papers and bags in her oven–her logic being she never turned on the oven anyway. But the question is, why wasn’t she parting with such useless items as old bills and calendars?
Sadly, this disorder affects relationships, and even work and social activities. Family members of those who suffer from hoarding disorder sometimes experience anger, resentment towards that person, and may even experience depression. Which, as I have discussed in pervious posts, makes total sense. After all, if decluttering is good for our mental health, living in a space filled to this capacity would be seriously draining and upsetting.
Relationships can be so seriously affected that marriages end in divorce, a hoarder may lose custody of their child(ren), and they may be evicted from their home and have other legal problems.
A Serious Mental Health Condition
You can really begin to get an idea then, of the seriousness of this condition. This isn’t just having a lot of things—some of us are maximalist in our lifestyle. We like a lot of home decor objects, or have a closet full of shoes because we love shoes—wedges, stilettos, cute pumps, boots and so on. However, a hoarder collects things that often have no real value, such old Tupperware containers, or magazines and papers. Having a disorganized home is very different from the home of someone who hoards.
Think of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix—those homes were messy and disorganized. But by working with Marie, each of those families was able to part with items and tidy and organize their home in a way that made sense for their lifestyle.
Now, think about the show Hoarders. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen many episodes were the homes of these individuals are so full of items that certain rooms, like the bathroom or bedroom, are not even being used. Sometimes, the homes have become so compromised by the storage of excessive items that they are deemed unsafe to live in and the person suffering from this disorder loses their home. The inability to even entertain the idea of parting with items is often difficult to understand, and the show does a good job at demonstrating how serious hoarding disorder can be, and the toll it can take on lives.
Signs and Symptoms
I feel as though it’s easy to overlook this condition in your close family. I certainly didn’t think my grandmother had this condition. Perhaps it was mild in her case, or maybe she just made extraordinary use of the space she had to squirrel things away. However, I think sometimes it’s more obvious and the hoarding disorder might be overlooked because we might think the person never throws anything out because they are cheap, or lazy, or just dislike parting with items. Here are some signs that indicate someone may be struggling with a hoarding disorder:
- Inability to discard things
- Distress when trying to throw away items
- Extreme difficulty trying to organize items or categorize them
- Indecision and difficulty in trying to decide where to store an item
- Other emotional distress, such as embarrassment at the amount of items
- Suspicion of others touching their things
Hoarding can occur on its own, or in combination with other disorders such as OCD, ADHD and depression. It also can occur as a result of dementia.
Collecting is Not Hoarding
I think it’s important to talk about how collecting is not hoarding. For instance, I am a collector of books. I have a lot of books. I also have a lot of yarn because I crochet. However, these items are organized and easy to access and I have a use for them. Those who suffer from hoarding disorder often have no practical use for those items, do not display them or take pride in them, the way I take pride in my books. And, if need be, collectors can part with items. Collecting is intentional and organized, and items are often displayed so that they can be admired. Items collected by those who hoard have no consistent theme, are not organized and are acquired at random.
So how do we help someone with a hoarding disorder? I think this is difficult for those who are related to someone with disorder to do. Professional treatment is what is needed, and so far, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) seems to be the best option there is in reducing the anxiety associated with discarding items. CBT helps individuals with hoarding disorder learn to discard items with less distress and emotional upset, and improve their decision making skills. This helps in reducing the perceived need to keep items “just in case.”
I would think that there might be medications to assist as well, however I don’t think there is any specific medication that will help with hoarding disorder. Could a medication that reduces anxiety help? I think that might vary from patient to patient, depending on other factors, such as whether they also have OCD, and I do think that CBT is the probably more beneficial in the long run. Sometimes meds are also given as apart of a treatment however.
Often, treatment is paired with at home decluttering sessions with the help of professionals to assist with managing the decision making process and anxiety. The patient is helped be less distressed in parting with items.
Like a lot of mental health conditions, I think there has been a misunderstanding of what hoarding is, which is why I wanted to talk about it in depth. It is not just about failure to part with items, or declutter. Our society places so much importance on acquiring things–the newest iPhone, other tech devices, clothing and fashion items, home decor items, and everything you can think of, plus a ton you can’t! It’s easy to think that just because we are consuming a lot that maybe we are “hoarding” but this is not the case, as often things are entering and exiting our home just as quickly, whereas those with hoarding disorder rarely allow items to exit the home.
What are your thoughts? Share in the comments below!