We all know someone who has a collection of some items that has special meaning to them. You probably have a friend who loves turtles, for example, and has a shelf full of whimsical turtle statues. Often, men will have sports-related memorabilia tucked into several corners of their home or hunting trophies hanging in their den. While these collections are generally harmless, there are people who compulsively collect “stuff” and have accumulated so much that their possessions have literally taken over their home or yard. When a person’s life begins to be so affected by their items that they can no longer safely live in their home or they aren’t able to give up even a tiny portion of their collection, they’ve crossed over into the realm of hoarding.
A hoarder is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as a person who “excessively saves items that others may view as worthless and has persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions, leading to clutter that disrupts their ability to use their living or work spaces.” This isn’t to say that someone is a hoarder simply because they have an assortment of specific items like model cars: collectors focus on something specific and will often display them or organize them somehow. When people hoard items, however, they generally save random, unrelated items and store them haphazardly.
In most cases, a hoarder saves things that they feel:
- they may need in the future
- are/will be valuable
- have sentimental value
- make them feel safer when they are surrounded by the things they save
The APA says those with the condition – and their families – suffer negative social, emotional and physical effects to the point where there is a disruption of normal life. People who hoard, however, often don’t see the problem: many will live in unsafe and unsanitary conditions in order to maintain and add to their collection of items.
Hoarding symptoms may include some or all of the following:
- A persistent inability to part with any possession, regardless of its value or ability to be used
- Feeling excessive discomfort if others touch or borrow items or distress at the idea of losing an item or getting rid of it
- Inability to use an area of the home for its intended purpose (for example, being unable to cook in the kitchen or use the bathroom to bathe)
- Keeping stacks of newspapers, magazines or junk mail
- Allowing trash or food to build up to unusually excessive, unsanitary levels
- Limited or no social interaction
- Difficulty organizing items, sometimes losing important items in the clutter
- Difficulty managing daily activities because of procrastination and trouble making decisions
- Moving items from one pile to another, without discarding anything
- Shame or embarrassment
Are Hoarding and OCD Related?
Hoarding has long been thought to be a form of OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder because of the victim’s fixation on their items. Often, it can be traumatic for them to discard even one or two items because of their strong need to save things.
Recently, however, some researchers have come to believe that hoarding disorder isn’t the same for all people: they think hoarding may be related to ADHD and/or dementia in certain people.
Treatment of hoarding disorder can be challenging because many people either don’t recognize the negative impact that hoarding has on their lives or they don’t believe they need treatment. When they do seek out a therapist, hoarding therapy generally follows a similar path as treatment for OCD. Often, the most effective means is a combination of medication and therapy.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy is used to help the person become aware of their thoughts, emotions, and beliefs about their hoarding and help them identify and challenge inaccurate thinking. Certain anti-depressants have been found to be effective in treating the disorder. Frequently, family or group therapy is encouraged. Over time, the need to hoard can be overcome and learning to take small steps can lead to big changes.
We Can Help!
If you or a loved one has symptoms of hoarding disorder, talk with a doctor or mental health provider as soon as possible. Additionally, some communities have agencies that help with hoarding problems. Check with your local or county government for resources in your area.
For more information or to talk to a mental health professional about hoarding, contact Dr. Rosen or call The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094.