We are becoming increasingly conscious of the number of people there actually are in this world who hoard, largely due to a popular reality show, “Hoarders.” As many of us watch the show in awe we have to believe that there is some type of mental disorder that kicks in and causes otherwise “normal” people to go to such lengths to allow themselves to live in filth, unsanitary and unsafe conditions.
Several hoarders have reportedly been found dead in their homes after piles of litter has literally collapsed and trapped them underneath.
One 62-year-old woman suffocated in her Shelton, Washington home in 2006 after a 6-foot high pile of clothes and debris fell on her. According to the police and news reports, it took her husband and rescuers 10 hours to find her body.
Another woman, 82, living in Fairfax County, Virginia was found dead in her home. She had a total of 488 cats between the house she was found in and another property, and 222 of them were dead.
Hoarders collect extreme amounts of items, some valuable and some just trash, and they eventually run out of space to store it. Rooms are filled from floor to ceiling, rooms are brimming, yards are turned into trash piles, and in some cases people add more rooms or even buildings to their property to accommodate all the “valuables.”
Items hoarded can range from collecting magazines and newspapers to clothes, furniture and even pets. “Research is being done on hoarding among foster children because it has been noted that there appears to be a higher prevalence rate among them than among non-foster children,” said Elaine Birchall a social worker who counsels hoarders in Ontario, Canada. “Given the correlation with traumatic loss among adult hoarders, this isn’t surprising.”
What type of mental breakdown would cause a person to live like this?
A Mayo Clinic reports states that “Some people develop hoarding tendencies after experiencing a stressful life event that they had difficulty coping with, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, eviction or losing their possessions in a fire.”
Hoarding is a compulsion, and goes hand-in-hand with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). The triggers are depression, anxiety and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Disabled, invalids or the aged are also at risk, since their mobility problems, and often they are too proud to ask for help, limits their ability to dispose of things as easily.
“It is important to know, however,” says Birchall, “that these disorders do not CAUSE hoarding. For many it is a way they have found to cope with anxiety and loss.”
Recently the mental community has revised their Manual of Mental Disorders (what mental experts use when trying to seek a diagnosis) because it is believed that anxiety is a trigger. An estimated 2% to 2.5% of the population has been found to have some type of stress response that could trigger a need to hold on to something in order for them to feel safe or happy, says Birchall.
Hoarding occurs for several different reasons:
- Value – a person believes the items may increase in value and be worth more if they hold on to them.
- Sentimental - the items have some personal connection to them, either from a loved one or a memory the item represents.
- Unorganized – hey don’t know how to organize their items
- Security - the more items a person has the safer they feel.
- Indecisiveness – unable to decide what to do with the items
- Procrastination – they plan on cleaning it up, but keep putting it off until it becomes overwhelming
Birchall says, “The inability to handle stress makes a person feel anxious, overwhelmed and ashamed, and so things begin to pile up.” These people are often perfectionists, and their anxiety causes them to have difficulty to make a decision as to what to do with the items. They end up not making a decision at all, but simply holding on to the items. Unfortunately, while all this is happening they do not see a problem building.
People around them ARE seeing a problem, however. Neighbors complain about eyesores and property values. Family and friends are worried about the mental problems that have to be taking place for this person to feel the “need” to keep everything. Local officials can become interested when it appears to become a hazard to health and welfare.
Hoarders will need a great deal of time and psychological counseling, along with a follow-up, in order to help the sufferer and their loved ones to deal with the clean up, the elimination, and the after shock of not having all their “security blanket” around them in order to be able to start to part with items. Some may be motivated by eviction – either
About the author:
Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion and memory training expert. As a memory keynote speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life.
Life’s Little Mysteries: What Causes Hoarding? http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/779-what-causes-hoarding.html
Understanding O.C. Hoarding – http://understanding_ocd.tripod.com/hoarding.html
Mayo Clinic – Hoarding: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hoarding/DS00966/DSECTION=causes