Hoarding can range from mild to severe (where severe is called "hoarding disorder"). Hoarding disorder is a mental health condition that includes:
1. Things continue to be added to the home by buying more, acquiring free items, or keeping things after they are used up.
2. Difficulty making decisions - the stress it causes makes it easier to just keep everything.
3. The accumulating clutter inhibits use of rooms and furniture for their intended purposes.
4. The clutter impacts a person's ability to do their job, interact with family, maintain a social life, or live in a safe home.
IT IS ESTIMATED THAT 5% of the general population of the United States is hoarding on some level. With a population in Minnesota of 5.52 million (2016), that means that as many as 276,000 people in Minnesota could be hoarding. Hoarding falls on a scale from level 1 to level 5 on the Clutter-Hoarding scale from the Institute for Challenging Disorganization. Not all hoarded homes look like what you see on those reality cable TV shows.
HOARDING IS OFTEN HIDDEN from family, friends, and neighbors. The curtains may all be closed so that neighbors cannot see in, and because the hoarding individual is embarrassed. No one may be allowed to enter the home. Family may or may not know about the situation, especially if they have not visited their loved one in several years.
THE STUFF IN THE HOME may feel comforting to the person who has hoarded it all. It has become their normal environment and can provide a certain type of security. Hoarded stuff can start to spill out to the front and back yard, onto the driveway and into the car. Plumbing, electrical or structural issues remain unrepaired for years because the person living there may fear being reported to authorities or access to the problem area may be blocked.
-- 75% of those who hoard are overshopping, either in stores or online
-- 50% bring home free items they find, from other people's trash, or handouts available, or free samples, or even extra bags from stores
-- 15% acknowledge that their behavior is irrational
-- 42% of hoarded homes have great difficulty using the sink or do not use the sink to wash dishes
PEOPLE WHO HOARD often have more than one mental health issue or personality trait that contributes to the hoarding. Examples:
Anxiety - Indecisiveness - Perfectionist - Vulnerable - Impulsive - Isolated - Depressed - Self-Conscious - ADHD/ADD - OCD - Unprocessed trauma or loss - Other family members who hoard - Form emotional attachments to their stuff
TREATMENT OR SOLUTION OPTIONS:
HOARDING IS --
NOT laziness - The person who hoards is not just waiting for others to do the work for them. They are usually very protective of their stuff and will have great difficulty parting with things.
NOT just lack of experience with organizing belongings - The accumulating of stuff has served some purpose, maybe known, but often unknown purpose. Hoarding is about keeping too much, believing everything is important or necessary, and often feeling so overwhelmed that it seems impossible to do anything about the piles.
NOT chronic disorganization - Some people lack the skills and motivation to keep their home tidy. They may very much wish they could do things differently. They may have read self-help books and tried for years to get control of their stuff.
WHEN A FAMILY MEMBER is hoarding, the rest of the family may have great difficulty trying to figure out what to do. Any discussion may lead to arguments. Any "help" may lead to arguments. The family members may be at their wits' end and very frustrated. In some families, everyone walks away because they have given up.
THAT IS THE TIME TO REACH OUT for help from a therapist, support group, social worker, or professional organizer. Change has to be voluntary and the person who is hoarding needs to be in control of decisions about their stuff. Change is slow but is possible. The cost of hoarding recovery is high. There are multiple aspects of hoarding that may require multiple professionals for support and help.
We avoid using the word "hoarder" and instead would use the phrase "person who hoards". Hoarding is a mental health condition. It is part of who a person is, but only a part. Instead, please say "John is hoarding" or "Mary has been hoarding for 20 years".
Persons who hoard may be very successful or talented in other areas of their life. The person may be known in the community for their accomplishments. Hoarding does not discriminate by age group, income level, gender, education level, race, color, or creed.
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CHRONIC DISORGANIZATION (CD) refers to being disorganized for a long period of time, perhaps all their life. The person may have tried to get organized and failed. CD has different causes and is not the same as hoarding. Someone can be chronically disorganized, wish they could get organized, and readily accept help. For more information, see the ICD website.
The Hoarder in You: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life, 2012, Robin Zasio
Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Clutter ... , 2009, Tompkins & Hartl
Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother's Compulsive Hoarding, 2010, Jessie Sholl
Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding & the Meaning of Things, 2011, Steketee & Frost
Buried in Treasures, 2013, Tolin & Frost
From Hoarding to Hope: Understanding People Who Hoard ..., 2015, Geralin Thomas
The Secret Lives of Hoarders: True Stories ..., 2011, Matt Paxton, Phaedra Hise
The Hoarding Handbook: A Guide for Human Services Professionals, 2011, Bratiotis, Christina, et. al. " New York: Oxford University Press
Task Forces Offer Hoarders a Way to Dig Out, Jan Hoffman, The New York Times. May 26, 2013.
A home that is hoarded often has one or more safety concerns present, such as:
-- blocked windows or exit doors,
-- stuff stored near furnace & water heater,
-- stuff takeing up much of the floor space in rooms,
-- electrical cords laying across the floor,
-- excess dirty dishes,
-- light fixtures no longer light rooms,
-- smoke alarms no longer work,
-- stuff is stored on the stove or in the oven,
-- stairways are littered with stuff,
-- broken appliances,
-- ungathered trash or rotting food,
-- mold, spiders, rodents,
-- poor air quality
Many local municipalities have fire codes in place that could be enforced.
Why is that important?
1. Emergency personnel need to reach you as quickly as possible if your life is in danger. Wasting time getting in and climbing over stuff can mean loss of life.
2. More stuff in a home means a more intense fire that burns quickly and produces more toxic fumes.
3. More stuff in a home that is hosed down in a fire becomes very heavy and can cause the floors to collapse.
4. Stuff laying or stored on the floor raises the chances of tripping and falling. As people age, a fall can be a life-changer.
5. Piles of clothes, papers, etc. attract moisture and cause mold to grow, which cause breathing problems and other illnesses.
6. Piles of food or other things that are decaying attract insects and mice. Mice can bring serious diseases with them. Eating expired food can negatively affect your health.
7. When stuff is piled high and creates narrow pathways in rooms, those piles have been known to collapse, trapping a resident or a pet. If help is unavailable right away, it can lead to a real tragedy.
8. Storing anything combustible on top of the stove, or in the oven can result in a fire.
9. Storing stuff within 3 feet of a gas furnace or water heater is a fire hazard.
10. Using space heaters within 3 feet of combustibles is a fire hazard. Sometimes space heaters are used because the furnace is not working.
CAUTION: A hoarded home may contain insects, mice, mold, mildew, and other things that are affecting the health and safety of the people living there. If residents repeatedly get sick, the home situation could be a major contributor. For this reason, visitors or helpers in the home should consider wearing gloves and a proper mask. When professionals work in highly hoarded homes, they may wear full-body suits and use breathing gear.
Much more research needs to be done. There is some evidence that hoarding can be genetic or run in families. It could also be environmental, in that when children grow up in a home hoarded by the adults, children may think this way to live is normal. Sometimes a person wanting help for their own clutter problems recognizes that someone in their extended family may be hoarding.
Because a person who hoards often hides their situation from others, extended family may discover the situation quite by accident. When discovered, family often does not know how to react. It is important that family members educate themselves about hoarding before taking any action.
Hoarding is a mental health disorder. Look on the Hoarding Toolbox page for more information.
In clinical samples, approximately 75% of persons with hoarding disorder have a concurrent mood or anxiety disorder. Other conditions that occur often with hoarding are obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and ADHD/ADD (attention deficit disorder).
Approximately 5% of adults and 2% of adolescents are hoarding at a clincally significant level.