Hoarding - Accumulating items to an extent that it becomes detrimental to quality of lifestyle, comfort, security or hygiene.

Drowning in a Sea of Stuff

For those who have never felt the urge to become a serious hoarder, the degree to which some people hold onto stuff can be hard to comprehend. You might think,“how can they bear to live like that?”

Some hoarders are selective accumulators, and hold onto specific items or categories of things which give them emotional comfort. Other hoarders cast a wider net, collecting a wide variety of items, things which represent value, security, or some other emotional need. Some hoarders simply cannot bring themselves to ever throw anything out – including garbage.

Collecting and gathering is a natural instinct which has evolved in many creatures - especially those that have learned how to survive through long periods of scarcity such as long winter, drought, monsoon, flood, crop failures or pestilence. Most of us at some point have enjoyed the pleasure of building a collection of items “just because”, such as shells, postcards, coins, or memorabilia. Hoarding becomes dysfunctional when the accumulated items or detritus becomes a hazard, or source of discomfort, fear or pain to the person who hoards, or the people who have to live with them.

Hoarding is sometimes known as disposophobia - the fear of disposal.

Some Hoarders live in homes with piles of objects on every available surface, including functional surfaces such as sinks, counter tops, stoves, baths, toilets etc.

Hoarding behaviors are common among those who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder.

What it Looks Like

  • A man who stores piles of objects in the house preventing passage to certain areas of the house, floor or functional areas like the bathroom or kitchen sink.
  • A woman who refuses to discard trash objects, unused items, waste products, broken appliances - even rotting food.
  • Bibliomania - the obsessive collection of books.
  • Animal Hoarding - the obsessive collection of tens or dozens of pets - often in an unhygienic or unsafe way. This is an indirect form of Animal Cruelty.

What It Feels Like

If you live with a hoarder, you probably feel powerless. You have probably tried every logical argument in the book to try to convince them that what they do is of no benefit to them, poses a hazard to them, and is a problem for you for others. You may appeal to their sense of decency. You may have tried to pour a little guilt on them. You may have threatened to leave. You may have threatened to retaliate. You may have threatened them with the Health Department, public ridicule or rejection - all to no avail.

You may even have tried a more aggressive approach. You may have taken control when they are not around - throwing items in the trash, destroying stockpiles of medicines, papers, objects and clutter. This can lead to an aggressive response in retaliation, or it can lead to a passive response in the form of replacement of the removed articles.

You may have tried a more passive or supportive approach, only to find your true anger and unmet needs spilling out in the most unpredictable, often uncontrolled ways. You may even find yourself later apologizing to the hoarder for your own bad behavior, all the while feeling trapped because you are actually apologizing to a person who is chronically and without apology mistreating your home environment.

How to Cope

Because the value system and thought process of a hoarder or a person who suffers from a Personality Disorder is likely to be radically different from yours, value-based or logic-based arguments tend to be ineffective. People who hoard do so because there is some emotional value derived from the hoarding which is greater to them than the associated cost.

You will have to accept that you cannot convince the person to change. Especially as the harder you try to change them, the more entrenched they are likely to become, even if they themselves wish they weren’t that way.

So you are going to have to consider your needs independently of theirs. You absolutely have a right to protect yourself and your children from hazardous situations and conditions. You also have the right to live in a comfortable and relatively clean environment. However, you do not have the right to force others to live that way. Therefore, your only option is to begin to work on boundaries that will create a safe and comfortable place for you to live

What NOT to Do

  • Don’t try to fix a hoarder. It’s their job to fix themselves if and when they see the need.
  • Don’t threaten, beg, bargain or try to nag a hoarder into changing.
  • Don’t try to control or thought police a hoarder. It’s important to respect their right to think and feel what they want while protecting your own boundaries.
  • Don’t try to convince yourself you can live in an unclean or unsafe environment if you can’t. Move yourself to a safe place.
  • Don’t try to ignore the problem or assume it will just naturally go away or that they will “grow out of it”.
  • Don’t take an aggressive approach by taking violent or physically aggressive steps.
  • Don’t blame yourself for the situation or accept responsibility for another person’s mess.

What TO Do

  • Talk to friends who understand and who know about Personality Disorders. Surround yourself with support and a nurturing environment.
  • Understand and accept that Personality Disorders are real mental disorders and that you can’t just fix them with simple persuasive techniques.
  • Learn how to set up and maintain effective boundaries to protect yourself while respecting the right of the person who suffers from the personality disorder to think differently.
  • Move yourself and any children to a clean, comfortable, safe and healthy living environment.
  • Remember – every adult gets to clean up their own messes.