Hoarding is defined as an inability to get rid of items that have no ostensible value. It’s considered a compulsion rather than an addiction, as addictions are rewarding and compulsions are a tendency to repeat the same actions with no real benefits. According to the International OCD Foundation, hoarding is considered a type of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and it affects as many as 1 in 20 people. Research by the International OCD Foundation also reveals a small correlation between OCD and hoarding, as 1 in every 5 compulsive hoarders have non-hoarding OCD symptoms. While the median age of a hoarder sits at 50, it can affect people much younger as well.
At what point is “collecting” hoarding? It’s important to recognize that hoarders usually fight a lifelong battle with their compulsion. While collectors will proudly display the things they own, hoarders are usually reluctant to show off what they’ve collected because of the intense disorganization. The hallmark symptom of hoarding is the dangerous amount of clutter in the household. Hoarders tend to lose things in their own convoluted mess, struggling to organize and get rid of the things they own. They have an unusual attachment to things they don’t need, and reason with impractical purchases by claiming they’re “stocking up” or “getting a bargain.” It takes more than simply cleaning out a house to get rid of a hoarding addiction.
Doctors can prescribe antidepressants to treat hoarding addiction, but medication cannot fix the compulsion on its own. Hoarders respond best to things like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, where they explore the reasoning behind their desire to hoard. They may attend group and family therapy, gradually cleaning their homes during visits from a therapist. It’s important that hoarders gradually get rid of things rather than throw away their junk all at once, as it can lead to intense feelings of sadness and guilt afterward. If the compulsion is severe, they may be urged to consider undergoing psychiatric hospitalization. Many hoarders are able to defeat their compulsion before that point.
Can hoarding be dangerous? To start off with the obvious, it can take a toll on a person financially. If there are children under the care of a hoarder then not only will they struggle to get around, but they may also come to view hoarding as a normal behavior. As hoarding is the product of a deep psychological problem, many hoarders lose their ability to differentiate garbage from regular objects. When this happens, they begin collecting things they believe to be valuable from the trash, which introduces disease, germs and pests into the household. Should there ever be a fire in the house then the items stockpiled make escape nearly impossible, making the compulsion to hoard a threat to a hoarder’s well-being.
Hoarding is a deep-rooted psychological issue that can be hard to discuss sometimes. People who are ready to talk about it are encouraged to develop a positive rapport around the subject by showing respect, building trust, having sympathy and offering encouragement. Throwing away a hoarder’s items without permission can lead to distrust and a general inability to break through to them. In the event they do decide to clean out their clutter, those deciding to help out must always ask before they throw away items. On the road to recovery, hoarders are advised to put things away in boxes, throw away little by little and even consider consignment. While recovering is hard, hoarding is a matter of overcoming a personal barrier to a resume a normal lifestyle.