Hoarding Disorder is characterized as persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions or items because of an intense need to save them. Often, the items hoarded possess little to no monetary value, remaining in the possession of the hoarder without being used, create a cramped living environment, and lead to unsanitary living conditions. Persons struggling with a hoarding disorder typically experience feelings of loss, anxiety, resentment, and fear at the thought of giving away, throwing out, or discarding items. Unfortunately, many of the items hoarded no longer have a current value, future value, or possess an actual need for the hoarder.
Hoarding create many challenges for the sufferer including but not limited to cramped living conditions leading to homes filled to capacity, unhealthy living conditions (mold, mildew, spoiled/rotting food, animal feces and urine, vermin, etc.) extending beyond one’s physical environment. Hoarding affects the overall physical and mental health of hoarders making them more likely to suffer from depressed mood and anxiety. People that hoard often make continuous adjustments to their living environment without even realizing it, i.e., walking down a hallway sideways as it becomes increasingly cramped, sleeping on a floor instead of a bed because there are items preventing him/her from sleeping on the bed, cleaning themselves at the sink because the shower is filled with things that typically do not belong in a bathroom, etc. Hoarding can be present in several different ways, i.e., possessing several animals/pets, newspapers, clothing, magazines, old letters/mail, trinkets, etc. It should be noted, persons that hoard animals may dozens or hundreds of pets in unsanitary conditions because they are unable to care for them properly.
Compulsive hoarding is a form of mental illness. Previously classified as merely a symptom or sub-type of obsessive-compulsive disorder, experts have promoted compulsive hoarding from sub-type to actual disorder. Like a lot of mental health disorders, hoarding can range from mild to severe. For some people, hoarding may not have a significant impact on their lives, however, for others hoarding can interfere with daily functioning. People with hoarding disorder often do not feel living in a cramped, unsanitary environment is a problem, making treatment challenging. But intensive treatment can help people with hoarding disorder understand their compulsions, recognize the importance of maintaining a sanitary living environment, live safer, and live more enjoyable/fulfilling lives.
It may come as no surprise to many of us that have entered the home of a hoarder to see sinks and countertops overflowing with dishes, garbage all over the floors, walkways narrowed by clutter, multiple animals, things inside of the home not typically seen in a home, rotted food, a foul smell, etc. Unfortunately, those that suffer from hoarding disorder usually do not stop at a cramped living space, but will spread their clutter to other areas such as garage, yard, vehicles, etc. Excessive clutter and difficulty discarding things are usually the first signs and symptoms of hoarding disorder, which often surfaces during the teenage years. Hoarding can also be the result of a significant loss or unresolved feelings of abandonment. As the person grows older, he or she typically starts acquiring things for which there is no need or space. By middle age, symptoms are often severe and may be harder to treat.
Signs of Hoarding Disorder Include:
· Intense feelings of fear and anxiety at the thought of getting rid of a possession
· Cluttered living space, making some parts of the home unusable or not used for its intended purpose (not being able to use the kitchen sink because of excessive dishes and garbage in the sink, using the bathtub to store items, using a bed as a storage and sleeping on the floor, etc.)
· Keeping stacks of newspapers, magazines or junk mail
· Letting food or trash build up to unusually excessive, unsanitary levels
· Possessing several pets that are not being properly cared for, i.e., animal is not being walked, fed on a regular and consistent basis, feces and urine in the home, over breeding, sickly animals, etc.)
· Moving items from one pile to another, without discarding anything
· Excessive attachment to possessions, including discomfort letting others touch or borrow them or distress at the idea of letting an item go
· Acquiring unneeded or seemingly useless items
· Difficulty organizing items
Potential Reasons for Hoarding Include:
· The items possess significant emotional value to the hoarder
· They believe these items will be needed or have value in the future
· The hoarder feels secure and safe when surrounded by things
· Unresolved feelings of loss and abandonment
Risk factors Associated with Hoarding Include:
· Age (usually begins in childhood)
· Familial history of hoarding
· Past stressful event, i.e., history of loss, abandonment, significant life change, fire, etc.
· Intense feelings of loneliness and isolation
· Personality Type (indecisive)
Complications Associated with Hoarding Disorder Include:
· Increased risk for fire or fire hazard
· Becoming trapped in living space
· Increased risk for falls and injury
· Unsanitary conditions that pose a risk to health
· Challenges related to cognition and memory
· Financial problems
· Familial conflicts
· Legal issues and eviction
· Difficulty managing daily activities, procrastinating and trouble making decisions
Hoarding disorder can be treated with psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or medication (antidepressants are usually prescribed). However, many people that suffer from hoarding disorder benefit from a combination of all three.