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Could you be a hoarder?

We all hold on to a thing or two we don’t really need, but how do you know if the degree to which you don’t let things go makes you a hoarder? Read on to find out more about this often undiagnosed illness.


What is hoarding?

The Mayo Clinic defines “hoarding” as a pairing of two things:

  1. The excessive collection of items.
  2. The inability to part with these items.

This pattern of behaviour can often lead to cramped living conditions and a potentially unsanitary environment. Unfortunately many people who hoard don’t see it as a problem, and that can make treatment challenging. However, intensive treatment can help hoarders better understand their compulsions and go on to live healthier, happier lives.

How common is it? reports that 1 to 2 per cent of the general population have problems with hoarding and that the illness can be seen in all cultures and at all education levels and economic ranges. Unfortunately many cases of hoarding are unreported, as the individuals are unwilling to seek help.

How serious is it?

The most common manifestation of hoarding is the impairment of daily living. With so many unnecessary items cluttering a space, the space can no longer be used for its intended purpose, and that is disruptive to a healthy lifestyle. In serious cases, a space can become a maze of objects to the point that the room itself is virtually unusable. In some cases, hoarders may also exhibit symptoms of diogenes syndrome, which is characterized by signs of self-neglect. Hundreds of cases of animal hoarding, which can be extremely unsafe to all humans and pets involved, exist as well. Unfortunately hoarding is not just a serious mental health concern — it is also a safety concern. Having so many items wedged into a small space is often unhygienic and can increase the risk and severity of potential hazards, such as fire.

Where does it come from?

Although research on what causes compulsive hoarding is still ongoing, some links have been made. According to Hartford Hospital, the problem is often accompanied by other illnesses, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, anorexia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. There is also some belief it may run in families, and signs of the problem may be seen in childhood, although it may not develop fully until adulthood.

What are some of the signs?

Cumpulsive hoarders often have trouble categorizing possessions and determining value. They may feel connections to the objects and place importance on each of the items collected. Typically they exhibit a need to stay in control of their items and don’t like others to touch or move anything. They may also have trouble remembering where things are and have fears of losing items when they are not in sight. Most notably, hoarders experience emotional distress when asked to discard things.

How is it treated?

Because hoarding is a mental illness, it cannot be cured by simply eliminating all the clutter present. There are mental health professionals specifically trained in dealing with individuals experiencing compulsive hoarding. Often it is a long journey as the individual works toward understanding why he or she has held on to so many items and begins to discover how to let them go. If you fear you or a loved one may be exhibiting signs of hoarding, contact your local mental health services provider for more information on finding the best possible form of treatment.

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