A random google search for ‘hoarding’ nets 18 million hits. The results mainly link to medical sites. The reason; hoarding is a compulsive disorder in which people struggle to discard of stuff. The Mayo Clinic explains;
“Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.”
Approximately 5% of the world population suffers from compulsive hoarding. Hoarding is not a lifestyle choice. It is not a fad or trend, despite the relatively recent rise in reality tv shows raising awareness of this disorder. And compulsive hoarding is definitely not pleasant for those who live with or care about someone who suffers from this psychological disorder.
Some people may become obsessed with one item, while others become obsessed with having as many things as possible.
Hoarding is not having an untidy home. It is not classified by a small amount of clutter taking over a corner of a room or even one countertop. Someone with a real problem is putting their lives at risk, through extreme amounts of filth (ie. feces and urine from animals and rodents, dust and mold), from the fire risk associated with vast quantities of flammable material (ex. piles of newspapers and magazines), and from the risk of the accumulated stuff toppling and trapping a person. Often there can be tripping hazards and the danger of structural damage to a home from the sheer weight of materials. Not only does this put the homeowner at risk, but also anyone entering the home, from other family members, to friends, and even emergency personnel like firefighters or other first responders.
Telling someone they have a problem is not the answer. Pointing out that the collected items are junk or worthless often creates stress and alienation for the person suffering. Oftentimes the individual with a problem doesn’t even identify that they have a problem, or is unable or unwilling to part with their things, all of which they perceive as valuable. It is not rational, but is part of the illness. Recognizing it as such, is part of the solution.
Possible Signs of Hoarding Disorder:
- inability to get rid of things, regardless of value
- extreme emotional attachment to stuff
- perceived value of items now or in the future
- cluttered space to the point where rooms are unable to be used for their intended function
- piles and stacks of items
- items accumulating to the point of spilling into other areas of the home, outside of the home, or into vehicles
Emotional & Psychological Symptoms:
- poor organizational habits
- easily distracted
How You Can Help
If you suspect that a friend or loved one may be suffering from hoarding disorder there are things you can do. If you worry about the physical integrity of a home, the London Fire Department can send an Inspector to assess it for risk. Cleanup is only part of the solution though. To reduce the risk of the compulsion continuing, you need to address the causes of the illness and ways it can be treated, including cleanup, counselling, and coaching support. The London Middlesex Health Unit provides a list of other resources and organizations in London where you can turn to for help.
Recovery is not a one-step process. It is a gradual understanding of why the problem happened in the first place and steps to achieve healthy alternative thought processes so the problem behaviours stop and do not remanifest again. While Load of Rubbish is more than willing to assist families with the cleanup process, further counselling will help to ensure healthier coping mechanisms are put in place to make sure hoarding doesn’t take over your life again.
And that is the ultimate goal, because mental health matters to us all.