What is Hoarding and How we Can Help

Hoarding is the collecting of objects beyond any possible usefulness and to the point that it decreases the quality of one’s life. Hoarding may begin with the collection of specific items that are valued by the collecting community, such as dolls or trading cards. Other times it involves the accumulation of a wide variety of material by either buying new objects or refusing to discard useless or broken ones.

Whatever the first step a hoarder takes, the result is a home that is dangerously packed with goods that are of no use to the occupants. At best, the person who hoards often becomes socially isolated because of the embarrassment of having guests in the home. At worst, the clutter creates an unhealthy and unsafe environment. Stacks of materials may fall, block passage through the house, create a fire hazard and provide a habitat for vermin.

Hoarding often does not cause distress in people who exhibit the disorder. They feel secure in the midst of their clutter, and it is only the other people in the household who find it intolerable. These other people are often the key to getting the person who hoards into treatment. When loved ones express to the hoarder that they feel unsafe, embarrassed and perhaps even disgusted by the condition of the home, their distress may induce the hoarder to seek therapy.

Psychotherapy is quite successful if the affected person is a willing participant. Therapy for hoarding involves treating the anxiety that is a hallmark of the disorder. Anxiety may be simply associated with letting go of clutter, but it may also tie in with a fear that the possessions are somehow a barrier against want. Teaching hoarders to conquer their anxiety is followed by teaching them skills to resist the urge to buy or keep objects in the future.

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