We all have a slight tendency to hoard. We love keeping those college papers that brought such accolades from a favorite professor or the trophies from sports camp in middle school. And let’s be honest, most of us are guilty of keeping aspirational items around, even though we’re not using them…the rowing machine, the pasta maker, the jeans that will never fit again – but we think they might!
These are normal manifestations of the human desire to hold onto things within limits that don’t hurt anyone. Problems arise when individuals can’t let anything go. In other words, when material possessions flow into the house, but never flow back out again.
At a certain point, this tendency becomes full-blown hoarding disorder, which is damaging to the hoarding individual as well as their loved ones. So, let’s take a look at what that is, how it’s diagnosed, the consequences and the solutions.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) explains that hoarding disorder is characterized by a compulsive need to hold onto items others view as worthless. “They have persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions, leading to clutter that disrupts their ability to use their living or work spaces,” says the APA, adding that “Hoarding is not the same as collecting. Collectors look for specific items, such as model cars or stamps, and may organize or display them.”
It’s not just possessions such individuals hoard, either. Some people have trouble letting go of newspapers, magazines and mail – opened or unopened. They save odds and ends from broken possessions, clothes they haven’t worn for years, every scrap of paper produced by children in grade school, and so on.
Ultimately, the hoarder’s space gets overrun with items, which get stashed in increasingly unlikely – and increasingly stuffed – corners of the home, making life nearly unlivable.
Hoarding disorder may manifest slightly differently in different people, but it is characterized by a persistent inability to throw away worthless items, by psychological distress at the thought of doing so, and by pathologically cluttered living spaces.
In order to be diagnosed, a mental health professional needs to do an assessment.
The consequences of hoarding disorder can prove debilitating, and include:
Family Alienation: Family members usually don’t want to spend time in a cluttered, ill-kept environment. The hoarder, however, may get offended by this, leading to poor relations between loved ones.
Health and Safety Issues: Clutter presents a major fall hazard, and is dangerous even to younger people, but especially to the elderly. It also increases dust, insects, mice and other pests, all of which can lead to sickness, asthma and allergies.
Disorganization: For obvious reasons, a cluttered environment is not a serene one. People with clutter everywhere may miss important notifications, arrive consistently late because of an inability to find items, and have trouble getting work done.
Legal Consequences: Hoarding creates environmental hazards, can result in abuse or neglect of children or the elderly, and is sometimes associated with animal cruelty. Any of these can lead to a legal order.
Stress: Believe it or not, studies show that cluttered environments are bad for mental health. They reduce our ability to find necessary objects, they interfere with our serenity and they mire you in the past or future.
The only answer is to clean the home as quickly as possible.
While helping loved ones with hoarding disorder often requires psychological intervention, the first step is always to clean out the environment. The best bet is to find a company that:
Creates a Cleaning Strategy for You: The sheer amount of stuff in a hoarder’s home is overwhelming, especially for laypeople. A professional can help make the best plan of attack.
Arranges Equipment and Supplies: Trucks, dumpsters, cleaning supplies and so forth are all necessary to the cleaning process but are hard to procure. A pro can arrange them for you easily.
Implements the Strategy: Once you’ve got the supplies and the plan of attack, why not leave the actual cleaning to a professional as well? Not only can you spend your time elsewhere, a cleaning company will likelier achieve a better result.
Oversees Ongoing Cleaning and Repairs: The fact of the matter is, even with help, many people struggle to overcome hoarding disorder. There is a good chance such people will “relapse” and return to a cluttered environment, leading to poor hygienic conditions and broken possessions. Before you hire a cleaning company, talk to them about whether they provide ongoing services, making it much easier to get help next time.
Watching a loved one succumb to hoarding disorder is sad. You know, even if they don’t, that it leads to poor living conditions and the stress of a cluttered environment. It’s time to do something about it today.