Hoarding is defined as a disorder where a person gathers objects compulsively. People with this condition accumulate excessive amounts of clutter in their homes or offices. They refuse to take them out or dispose of these items, or even consider them trash.
Hoarding is a serious disorder that can have long-term, severe effects on an individual. There are no single quick fixes for this condition, and often, it could lead to severe medical conditions and other complications in the future.
Unfortunately, hoarders tend to hide their hoarding problems. Or, they don’t see their excessive and compulsive hoarding of items as a problem at all. In many cases, the condition has gone untreated for so long that hoarders might have tried and failed, many times over, to deal with it themselves.
People with hoarding problems often felt like there was nothing that could be done for them. That’s why receiving help could be a very rewarding experience for them. When they learn how to deal with their hoarding symptoms, they realize that they’re not alone and that there are different options available.
They might need to make some changes in their lifestyle, and maybe they might need to alter their diet. However, once they’ve received treatment, dealing with their condition could be a whole lot easier.
People often ask about the difference between hoarding and collecting. For the uninitiated, collecting is something people do because they find particular objects interesting or valuable. Collectors often share their passion for collecting certain things, like paintings, stamps, and model cars, with other people. Hoarding, on the other hand, is a disorder that drives people to gather items, without any regard for the items’ value or state, compulsively, and excessively.
Unlike collectors who organize and meticulously takes care of their collections, hoarders usually don’t have any organizational principles. In a typical hoarding situation, objects just pile up.
Also, while collectors love to showcase or flaunt their collections with other people, hoarders tend to be socially reclusive, refusing to leave their homes or communicate with other people. Experts often related this reclusive behavior to the shame or embarrassment hoarders usually feel about their condition.
Sometimes, hoarding is caused by stress, so you should have stress management before you can go deeper to know more about hoarding disorder.
The hoarding could be a disorder on its own, or it could be a symptom of another disorder. Instead of making wild guesses about you or your loved one’s condition, it’s still best to seek medical assistance from a licensed physician. Below are some of the general signs, hoarding symptoms, and behavior exhibited by someone with hoarding disorder:
- Unexplained need to take and keep items, regardless of their value.
- Difficulty with getting rid of hoarded items.
- Buying “stock up” or “bargain” things even if there is no apparent need for them.
- Being engulfed in or feeling overwhelmed by the volume of possessions that have taken over living space.
- Difficulty with categorizing and organizing possessions.
- Experiencing functional impairments like social isolation, marital discord, loss of living space, and health hazards, to name a few.
- Severe anxiety with the thought of throwing away hoarded things.
- Indecisiveness with what items to keep or where to put them.
- Withdrawal from family members and friends.
- Distrust of other people touching or taking away their possessions.
- Unusual happiness or joy for new hoarded items.
- Denial of hoarding problem even if it affects his/her life.
Why Do People Hoard?
Since hoarding is not yet fully understood by researchers, the reason behind it remains a mystery. There is still a lot to study and learn about hoarding for us to grasp what it is entirely. Experts deemed it as a complex condition that is difficult to treat. Often, it causes pain and suffering, not just to the person who has it but to his/her loved ones as well.
The hoarding could be a disorder of its own or a symptom of other mental disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder personality (OCD).
According to Dr. Gregory Jantz, a world-renowned expert on disorders like depression and anxiety, one in four people with obsessive-compulsive disorder personality are also compulsive hoarders. While the real cause behind hoarding is yet to be discovered, Dr. Jantz noted one common reason why people hoard ~ hoarding could relieve anxiety.
For instance, the more hoarders accumulate items, the more they feel secured. However, hoarding could also generate anxiety at the same time. For example, excessive accumulation of things also makes hoarders feel isolated from the world.
As said, it is unclear why people hoard, but it is often associated with other mental health conditions. To date, researchers are still looking for ways to identify more risk factors associated with hoarding and more effective treatments for it.
Most Common Items People Hoard
Hoarders are known to collect almost all sorts of things. From garbage to high-value items to dead animals. There seems to be no limit to the kind of items a hoarder could collect. But, to give you a clear understanding of what these items are, here’s a list:
- Dead animals
- Food waste
- Vintage items (track tapes, video games, comics, etc.)
- Pieces of furniture (broken or no longer used)
Types of Hoarders
The following are some of the most common types of hoarders:
Shop Hoarders (Compulsive Shopper)
Shop hoarders are people who exhibit signs of chronic shopping. They tend to buy just about anything they lay their hands on. It doesn’t matter what the item is. Even if it has no practical use to shop hoarders, they’ll purchase it and leave it sitting in piles ~ unused. You’ll often discover these unused items still in their original packaging, occupying precious living space.
Food, even if they are canned or preserved, still have expiration dates. Meaning, at some point in time, they’ll rot and will no longer be edible. Yet, these realities are not enough to stop food hoarders from buying or collecting food. People with this condition often exhibit some type of emotional attachment to food.
Usually, food hoarders continuously buy food and grocery items even if their cupboards, pantries, and refrigerators are brimming with perishable and non-perishable food items. What’s worst is that they hold on to these items even after they expired. Rotten food often attracts disease-carrying rodents and insects, posing a significant health risk to the hoarder and his/her family members.
Garbage or Trash Hoarders
Garbage hoarders tend to rummage through other people’s trash and take home what they particularly deemed as “treasures.” They often find it difficult to differentiate what valuable items are from harmful waste. Garbage or trash hoarders are also at high risk of acquiring other diseases due to their hoarding condition. Trash attracts rodents, insects, and different kinds of pests. They either carry viruses harmful to humans, or they could cause significant damage to a home’s structure.
There’s a fine line between animal lovers who love to take care of animals and make them their pets and animal hoarders who have no regard for the kind and number of animals they take home and the living space these animals occupy. Animal hoarders often overlook their “pets’” grooming, waste disposal, feeding, pest protection, or well-being in general. This situation often leads to a dirty living environment, not just for the animals but for the hoarder as well. If left unchecked, these “pets” would urinate and defecate anywhere inside the house, which poses another health risk to the house’s residents.
Paper hoarding is one of the most common types of hoarding. Paper is the easiest to collect and the fastest to accumulate because it’s available virtually everywhere. Paper hoarders tend to collect excessive amounts of items made of paper. They could be invoices, paper towels, notebooks, magazines, books, coupons, and flyers, to name a few. You’ll often find these stacks of papers in a hoarder’s home, occupying living spaces and blocking walkways. Paper is highly flammable and is hazardous if left unorganized.
Hoarding Risk Factors and Complications
To date, the cause of hoarding is still unknown. However, experts were able to identify several risk factors associated with the said condition. The list includes:
- Having a relative with hoarding disorder. Hoarding often runs in the family. However, researchers are still uncertain whether its hereditary or not. Some scientists believe that a region on chromosome 14 could be compulsive hoarding in families diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder personality.
- Traumatic loss. Studies revealed that people who experienced traumatic losses in their lives are more likely to develop hoarding disorder. Some people could become hoarders as a way to cope with disturbing experiences like the death of a loved one, divorce, or accident.
- Other disorders like depressions or obsessive-compulsive disorder. While hoarding could be a condition in its own right, it could also be a symptom of other mental disorders like OCD and depression. Some people diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder personality (OCD) were found to hoard due to obsessive worries or fears.
- A brain injury that triggered a need to collect and keep things. A traumatic brain injury due to an accident and other incidents could lead to OCD. This situation increases the likelihood of a person who suffered from a brain injury to develop a hoarding disorder to cope with the trauma.
- Uncontrollable buying habits. Uncontrollable buying habits are usually associated with hoarding disorder. This often shows in people who can’t stop themselves from buying “bargain” or “sale items” even if they don’t need them.
- Inability to avoid free items like coupons and flyers. Hoarding is also associated with the unexplained need to take free items. This includes free sachets of sugar, coffee, or sauces in restaurants or bath essentials given freely by hotels. Most people with hoarding conditions also have a strong desire to collect groceries and shopping coupons.
Other Mental Disorders Associated with Hoarding
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)
Hoarding, particularly food hoarding, is often associated with reactive attachment disorder or RAD. This behavior is not just observed in adults, but in children as well. Children with RAD usually collect, store, and at times, even eat not only food but other strange things. According to research children with RAD hoard food to:
- Reject their parents or primary caregivers.
- Gain power over their surroundings.
- Show that they don’t trust their parents or primary caregivers.
- Feed their feeling of entitlement.
- Mimick other RAD children’s behavior.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Personality (OCD)
People with obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD tend to develop compulsive hoarding. As mentioned earlier, one in four people with obsessive-compulsive disorder personality (OCD) is found to have a hoarding disorder. Often, compulsive hoarding is a result of one’s fear of discarding his/her “treasures.” Just the thought of parting with their possessions could give compulsive hoarders a feeling of incompleteness.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
People who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD are also said to be susceptible to hoarding. Some research papers suggest that hoarding could have a stronger connection with ADHD than OCD. ADHD symptoms like distractibility, impulsiveness, and working memory issues could allegedly lead to hoarding.
Hoarding is also associated with anxiety or the body’s natural response to stress. In hoarders, It often manifests as a strong feeling of fear or apprehension about losing their possessions. The hoarding could also make a person feel isolated and uncomfortable in the presence of other people.
Alcohol and Drug Addiction
While hoarding has similarities with addiction, like compulsive behavior, isolation, and self-neglect, it is not classified as such. According to experts, addiction is a manifestation of the long-term changes to a person’s brain structure and molecular form. These changes are not observed in hoarders. However, hoarding could lead to drug or alcohol addiction. A person with a hoarding condition tends to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, further worsening their condition by impairing their cognitive function and ability to make sound decisions.
How to Help a Hoarder
While hoarding can be very difficult to deal with, there are many approaches that could help. Before deciding on any type of hoarding disorder treatment for you or your loved one, it’s essential to take a holistic approach first. One thing that you should remember is that you can’t force a hoarder to seek medical help or change his/her lifestyle overnight. But, as per Good Therapy, the following are some of the things that you can do to provide a supportive environment and encourage a hoarder to seek medical help.
Respect and Never Take Away a Hoarder’s Possessions
If you think that taking away a hoarder’s possessions is an easy fix, think again because it’s not. Doing so would not only drive the hoarder to distrust you. It could also damage your relationship with that person or cause them emotional distress. Without trust, it would be more challenging to encourage your friend or family member to seek professional help.
Educate Yourself About Hoarding Disorder
There’s nothing wrong with trying to help a relative or friend who has a hoarding disorder. However, if you’re not equipped with enough knowledge about the said condition, you might end up emotionally or mentally hurting the person you’re trying to help. You don’t want that to happen, so before making any move, educate yourself by consulting a health professional or reading information from reliable websites.
Don’t Enable Hoarding Behavior
As said, you can’t stop a hoarder from collecting unnecessary items. But, you can avoid enabling the behavior. For instance, if your relative or friend is a shop hoarder, don’t invite him/her to go shopping or don’t offer to keep their hoarded items.
Recognize Progress, no Matter How Small it is
Taking away hoarded items is often painful and challenging for a hoarder. If ever your relative or friend with hoarding disorder decided to declutter his/her home, the process could be slow and long. However, don’t rush them and make them feel that their small progress doesn’t count. Praise them even for small victories, like throwing away a few items a week.
Help Them Clean up or Sort Things out
Sorting stockpiles of hoarded items can be a tiring and difficult task. In some situations, an entire home would be filled with all sorts of items accumulated by the hoarder over time. You may volunteer to help your friend or loved one clean up or organize his/her belongings.
Find Hoarding Disorder Treatment
The best help that you could offer is to encourage your loved one to seek hoarding disorder treatment. It’s not always easy, and again, never force your loved one to get one. Instead, you can do some research about potential hoarding disorder treatment providers and recommend them to your relative or friend once he/she is ready.