Identifying a Hoarder and Why They May Hoard

December 19, 2018

Wikipedia describes compulsive hoarding as “the acquisition of possessions (and failure to use or discard them) in excess of socially normative amounts, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary.” Hoarding is a mental illness affecting many types of people throughout the world. Because hoarding is secretive by nature, it is impossible to know how many North Americans suffer from this illness but it is estimated that there are well over 700,000 cases. Hoarding will affect basic daily activities and can be very detrimental to your health as the situation gets more and more unsanitary. If you or someone you know suffers from Compulsive Hoarding, you must identify the problem, figure out the reasons for your hoarding and take steps to correct the problem before you are totally consumed.

The First step to dealing with a hoarder is to know the facts. Hoarding is considered by many specialists as a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder having the patients to obsess over keeping a large amount of collections, garbage, nick knacks, clothes and more that to others may all seem useless. Other specialists believe that hoarding is an independent mental disease on its own and isn’t directly linked to OCD. The reason for the conflicting agreements between experts is due to the fact that Hoarding and Saving Symptoms are found in 18%-42% of OCD sufferers. Whether you are an OCD patient and possess certain characteristics of a hoarder; or if you are independently hoarding, hoarding is taken on with shame, secretiveness, low self-esteem, anxiety, and in a lot of cases – denial. Many hoarders do not think that there is anything wrong with their behavior making this mental disease very frustrating for those around them and making it difficult to treat.

So how do you know if you or a loved one is just simply a clutter-bug, just disorganized or is hoarding? It all depends on what kind of emotions the individual is feeling when thinking about throwing something out. The level of tidiness or cleanliness of someone’s home does not determine the degree of compulsive hoarding they are experiencing or that they are even hoarders at all. Someone who has a messy, filthy home might live that way simply because they couldn’t care less about their personal hygiene and living conditions and are completely content wherever they are, whatever the possess or don’t possess and what they are surrounded by. Adults like this are simply disorganized, carefree, somewhat lazy and probably lack time management issues. If a professional cleaning lady came in to get rid of all their junk and clutter, they probably wouldn’t mind if 99% of their garbage were thrown out. This is the opposite of a hoarder.

When faced with the task of throwing out a hoarder’s belongings that have little to no value, they may feel scared, upset, distraught and guilty. To the outside world, throwing out a “collection” of fast food soda cups for example would be easy. Who wants a bunch of garbage lying around the house anyways? Hoarders have a very skewed view of importance for their belongings, feeling some kind of emotional importance to unimportant objects and the fear of losing control of their possessions. Typical hoarders will frequently pile things into categories, sort through their piles, and purchase or collect more items to add to the clutter.

With psychological help, the reason for hoarding can usually be traced back to childhood. Sometimes a hoarder may be afraid of letting go of the past and are obsessed with holding onto emotional memories. We can see the parallel manifest physically through their obsession to hold onto physical junk. They may feel as though if they throw something out, they are throwing out a part of themselves. Hoarders will also have hard time throwing things out by dwelling on the question “What if I will need this in the future?” More times than not, they will never use these objects for years and decades to come. Hoarding has also been linked to impulse control disorder (ICD). ICD patients have a strong need to be in control of all their belongings and can’t handle the thought of someone else controlling the destiny of this object. They may feel guilty for letting it go and breaking the emotional connection they may have with the objects. This is common for hoarders who may have had strong bonds fractured in their past and they may have replaced the need for these bonds with family or friends, with junk. They may also feel like by throwing out their belongings, they’re throwing away part of their life. Many elderly people suffer from hoarding, collecting random objects and placing them with sentimental value over the years unable to let go.

Hoarding can be a very difficult mental illness to overcome but they’re agencies and services available to help those who can’t overcome hoarding on their own. Hoarder specialists, junk removal agencies and cleaning companies are available to guide you along the way. A hoarder specialist will help you through the emotional turmoil of getting rid of the clutter, the junk removal service will haul it off to the dump and to treat yourself at the end of your emotional journey, have a cleaning company come in to really make your new home sparkle.

It’s better to identify the problem and solution of your hoarding sooner, rather than later. If you or someone you know is one of the 700,000+ people who suffer from compulsive hoarding, don’t let this mental illness continue to negatively affect you in your daily activities. Steering away from the shame and secrets will help you move on and get you on track to a better, clutter free life. Remember, mental illness is an on-going battle so keep at it to avoid falling into your black hole of clutter again.

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