Do you know anyone who is swamped by their possessions? I’m not talking about mess. I’m talking about someone who hoards. Every room in their house is cluttered and there is no longer a clear passage from the front door to the living room. Hoarding is actually a mental disorder. It was classified in 2013 by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, before that, it was seen as an offshoot of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Hoarders simply can’t get rid of possessions and some hoarders are always compulsive shoppers, forever accumulating even more possessions. Hoarding may sound harmless, but think about living a life choked full of objects, to the point where you can barely function. Think about struggling to access your clothes and even food because your house is chocked full of objects. Would you believe around 2.5 percent of the population are hoarders? That is some 600,000 Australians. Hoarding ends up having a harmful impact emotionally, physically, socially, financially and in some circumstances, even legally. There have been cases when neighbours have forced council to forcibly clean-up suburban gardens piled high with broken cars, boats and other items that are deemed to be a community health risk.
The cost of hoarding
Catholic Community Services NSW / ACT, which offers services to help clean up hoarding households, estimates the cost of each intervention to be around $3000. They put the general cost of hoarding and squalor in Australia at around $1.8 billion.
Of course like any mental affliction, hoarding varies in severity. Some hoarders manage to maintain a good quality of life and limit their hoarding to only a couple of rooms, severe hoarders allow possessions to build-up and up until it impacts every aspect of their life. Do you know any hoarders? What triggers this disorder?
Psychiatrists and psychologists cannot agree what causes hoarding, but they have noticed a few common traits of hoarders.
Severe hoarding usually does not usually appear until people are middle-aged (around 50) however hoarding tendencies can begin at as young as 11 years. During these years, potential hoarders save broken toys, old school work, even pencil stubs.
Many hoarders are indecisive or anxious. You are more likely to become a hoarder if there are other hoarders in your family. The condition is partly heredity.
Trauma is linked to hoarding
Many hoarders have suffered a traumatic event in life that triggers their hoarding. Their possessions act as a kind of buffer zone between themselves and a world they perceive as threatening. They are socially withdrawn and isolated which causes them to hoard as a way of finding comfort. Many people who hoard also suffer depression or anxiety. Some, also have obsessive-compulsive disorders.
People with this disorder require professional help from a psychologist or even physiatrist. Group therapy can also help hoarders and it lessens feelings of isolation and shame associated with hoarding. Self-help and even on-line support groups can help diminish feelings of isolation and increase the person’s self-esteem through sharing stories in the recovery process.
How can you help hoarders?
If you have a friend or family member who hoards, here is some support you can provide.
You are not helping a hoarder by simply showing up and throwing away their possessions. It is just not that simple. The hoarder will feel under attack and remember, they often hoard because their possessions act as a buffer between them and a threatening world. Throwing away their possessions may in the long run make the condition worse. Instead, you need to focus on the person and not their possessions.
Visit the hoarder and phone regularly. Remember that hoarders are often socially isolated, and their extreme behaviour isolates them further. How can they have people over for dinner if they literally can’t find a chair to sit on and the table is piled high with strange objects? Visit the person often and tell them that you love them … unconditionally. Also say that hoarding is just one part of them, but it does not define them.
If the hoarder is ready to make changes, encourage them to seek professional help or even find an online support group. Offer to go to the doctor with your hoarder and get a referral for mental health support, such as sessions with a psychologist.
Encourage small steps
If the hoarders won’t go, just encourage them to clear one small area of their house at a time. You might also ask them to throw out one item a week. It may only be a pencil stub, but that is a start and you need to congratulate them. Set the hoarder little goals and let them slowly work up to bigger goals. They are going to need a lot of encouragement and support on the way.
Never boss or take control of the decluttering process. The hoarder must feel that they have total control in choosing what to discard. Remember, these people often suffer anxiety and depression, so making them feel threatened will not help. Ask them what you have to do to help them and listen to them. This shows you respect them.
Remember also, not to get overly invested in the clean-up process. You are dealing with someone with a mental disorder. Getting them to change is a tough job. It is no reflection of you if they can’t change.
Cognitive behaviour therapy helps
Psychologists often use cognitive behaviour therapy to help hoarders. Cognitive behaviour therapy aims to help a person identify and challenge unhealthy thinking patterns and to learn practical self-help strategies. These strategies are designed to bring about positive and immediate changes to the person’s life. Cognitive behaviour therapy helps people who have unhelpful thoughts which are preventing them from reaching their goals or living the life they want. Cognitive behaviour therapy shows people how their thinking affects their outlook and teaches them to think in a less negative way. It is based on the understanding that thinking negatively is a habit that, like any other habit, can be broken. That is what I’ve been teaching for years with my prosperity mindset programs. If you change your thinking you can change your life, however people with a hoarding disorder need some heavy-duty intervention. Some hoarders need cognitive behaviour therapy and medication.
If you have a friend or family member with this disorder you might like to read Buried Treasures by David Tolin, Randy Frost and Gail Sketee.
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.