What is hoarding?

What is hoarding?

Perhaps you wonder if your family member is a “hoarder.” (You may even harbor secret fears about yourself!) We all have cherished possessions. From trophies to teacups. Spare buttons to cans of half-used paint. But hoarding is different.

Most of us can determine when we have “enough.” And we can decide to stop buying things and/or start donating or recycling them or throwing them away. Not so for those with a hoarding disorder.

The characteristics of hoarding include

  • a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value
  • significant distress when trying to discard or part with those possessions
  • amassing so much clutter that rooms cannot be used as they were originally intended

At its most extreme, hoarding creates social and environmental problems such that the person gets isolated and cannot maintain a safe or healthy home environment.

A hoarder continually brings in more belongings despite having no room to store them. You might first notice piles of papers that pose a fall hazard in hallways. Or belongings stacked high on tables or in the sink. It’s as if these surfaces are for storage, not eating meals or washing dishes. Hoarders become too embarrassed by the clutter and will not allow others to come inside the home. With severe hoarding, mold, bacteria, insects, or rodents start creating a health problem for neighbors as well as for the person who hoards. (At this late stage, the local fire department and/or Adult Protective Services may begin an eviction process.)

Hoarders are people who are unable to determine what is valuable and necessary. Everything seems to be important and to need saving. It becomes too emotionally painful to throw any of it away. This is a disorder, not a decision. You can’t shame a hoarder into changing. And if you force a cleanup, sadly it may harm your relationship. Often it takes extreme action, such as threat of eviction, to cause the person to seek help.

If your relative show signs of hoarding, talk to the doctor. Ask for a referral to a counselor or therapist who specializes in treating this disorder.