We all like to keep precious mementos. They remind us of a treasured moment. But when does a desire to keep stuff tip over into a hoarding disorder?
What are the signs that a person has gone from simply collecting items of value to hoarding?
A person suffering from hoarding disorder:
Feels unable to discard everyday items
1. Collects an excessive amount of items
2. These items are typical of little monetary value
3. Stores them in a chaotic manner
4. Has a poor quality of life because of the clutter
5. Their lifestyle impacts on family and friends
6. Are anxious when people try to remove their possessions
7. Become extremely attached to their items
8. Have difficulties making decisions
9. Struggle to manage normal tasks such as cooking, cleaning
The difference between hoarding disorder and collecting
Hoarding disorder is not the same as collecting. Those who collect things will typically concentrate on one particular item. This item will also have some value to the collector. The collection could consist of anything, from stamps, magazines, plates, etc.
Collectors organize their possessions. Collectors want to access their collections. For instance, a stamp collector will catalog their stamps and stash the books away neatly. A hoarder will have stamps littering the house, filling up drawers, on tables and on the floors.
They will have no idea what they have or where to find particular ones. Hoarding disorder is difficult to treat. This is because the person hoarding will often not realize or want to admit they have a problem.
The reasons for a person suffering from hoarding disorder are not clear. However, it is likely to affect certain people:
- Those that live alone
- Are not married
- Have previously lived in a cluttered environment
- Had a deprived childhood where they didn’t have material items
- Had a poor relationship with parents
- Already suffer from anxiety
Psychological causes behind hoarding disorder
The actual cause of hoarding disorder is not known. But there are clues.
1. Early childhood
Although the average age of a hoarder is in their 50’s, studies show that it can begin in early childhood. Many children start collections of some kind when they are young. It could be dolls, action figures, marbles, cards, even simple things like shells from a beach.
However, we all know that one child who becomes overly attached to a particular object. They will only be appeased by a particular toy or teddy. Some children will only suck from a certain pacifier or dummy. Whereas others can only sleep with their favorite blanket.
They get emotionally attached to an object and become inconsolable if that object cannot be found.
It is known that hoarders also place an emotional value on their objects. Hoarders will keep ordinary, worthless things like a scrap of paper. This might be because it has a person’s handwriting on it. They will place enormous value on things like old carrier bags because they used them when a friend visited.
It is thought children who displayed exaggerated emotional upset when a particular object was removed may have a tendency to hoarding in later life.
Many hoarders experienced a traumatic event in their lives. Is it possible that this was responsible for triggering hoarding as a defense mechanism. Hoarding disorder both relieves anxiety and causes it. In studies conducted on older people that hoarded, the simple act of acquiring stuff relieved their anxieties.
Stressful life events such as losing a partner, parent or child or going through a divorce could all be triggers for a hoarding disorder. Couple this with events such as eviction from a home or the loss of possessions from a fire or burglary and the stage is set for hoarding.
All of these could start a seed in the mind of someone already predisposed to hoarding. Collecting items ease the pain of recent trauma. It provides a sense of security; your items are never going to leave you.
For people with social anxiety and low self-esteem, hoarding offers a leg up the confidence ladder. Older hoarders reported that stockpiling possessions gave them a sense of pride and accomplishment. Equally important was that they felt more connected and socially engaged with others.
By going out and acquiring objects, these served as social props for the hoarders to have the confidence to participate in daily life. It raised their self-esteem and they saw themselves in a more positive light. People were interested in what they had collected.
The hoarders felt that they had control and they were being productive. It constituted a way of life for them. Their quality of life was improved and they felt reassured. Hoarders typically live on their own and are withdrawn socially. Hoarding is incredibly comforting to someone who feels isolated from society.
How to help someone suffering from hoarding disorder
The hardest part about hoarding disorder is that the hoarder will not want your help. They might not even think they need help. Hoarders feel anxious if told to get rid of their possessions. Therefore it is important not to spring anything on them at short notice.
If you think someone you know has a hoarding disorder there are things you can do:
- Talk to them gently about the situation and show them the possibilities of a life without clutter.
- Ask them if they would like the help of a psychiatrist or other mental health professional?
- Go with them to therapy if they ask to support them through their recovery.
- Don’t expect overnight success. It has probably taken years for the clutter to build-up. It is not going anywhere overnight.
- See if there are any short-term medications that would help. This, combined with counseling has proven results.
Hoarding disorder can be life-limiting but it doesn’t have to be. With the right help and mental attitude, you can beat hoarding and have a productive and happy future.