Understanding Hoarding

Submitted by Tribute2010 on February 12, 2014 - 7:50am
Taking Charge of Priorities

                               the collection

Although complex and difficult to change, hoarding is a common behaviour among all races and countries throughout the world. I was never exposed to hoarding as a kid until later when I remember a workplace I frequented had a lot of items laying around in the way . . . None of us confronted the owner about it. We positioned it as his problem and we had to either put up with it or quit. I suppose there was a message in the clutter. Unaware of his reality I imagined each item becoming a piece of comfort like a floating life raft on a stormy sea of worry. Collectively we all held the almost convincing notion that the clutter could be easily and simply explained away: just stuff in waiting - waiting to sell or trade someday . . . someday.

Most people experience bemusement, confusion or even disgust when witnessing a hoarding scene. They throw up their arms and label this incomprehensible behaviour as "sick". Yet sometimes these same folks will humour themselves regarding their own personal excessive practices even though they may suffer for years and years or even perish as an upshot of their situation. Television depicts clutter as a consequence of our busy lifestyles rather than a symptom of a more thorny problem of personal and public safety. Surely a more enlightened and compassionate approach is to allow that a person who hoards could be doing so because of a genetic predisposition, or because of some sort of obsessive/compulsive condition, or simply because the heap of stuff just came about by a person overwhelmed with the outcome of being severely disorganized in domestic matters. Previously thought as a subtype of OCD, only "15-30% of people who hoard will have OCD" (Birchall). "Most often it (hoarding) has a life of its own without the presence of obsessive compulsive symptoms" (Rowa).

I have collections. No problem. But for a few (about 4/1000 and more females than males), collection numbers compound over time. Hoarders will gather more items and/or animals than they discard or can care for. Problems begin when gathered stuff reaches a critical mass: odours, debris, complaints from neighbours, cessation of water and electricity services, and finally city building inspectors, fire and police. At this point the owner or tenant, more often an older adult, is faced with loss of independence; especially where intervention was not attempted before things really got out of hand. Sometimes uninformed family members conduct or threaten forced clean-outs but the afflicted hoarder then just relocates and repeats the behaviour, leaving a trail of hatred and resentment. For family members it is not easy, but somehow trust has to be established for a process of change to take place and that change often will be only in baby steps. Sensationalizing hoarding does little to address the inherent need for understanding and professional care.