Concerned about whether or not your loved one has a problem with hoarding? You are not alone. “Hoarding” is the dirty word (no pun intended) that millions of Americans in their home are struggling with at this very moment. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a research center located in Massachusetts, at least one in 50 people is affected by compulsive hoarding, but that number may be at high as 5 perfect, or one in every 20 people. But what distinguishes messy people or bad habits from the compulsive behaviors characteristic of the medical illness? What steps can a hoarder take towards building better relationships with loved ones and reclaiming their life from the clutter? 

This article will help to explain a number of important topics surrounding hoarding disorder, including: 

  • The two main types of hoarding
  • The symptoms of hoarding disorder
  • What causes hoarding disorder
  • The health risks of hoarding 
  • When and how to intervene 

Being a hoarder can be isolating and depressing, but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence! A hoarder can recover from this illness, give up all of their hoardings, and move on with their lives. The first step is better understanding the dysfunctional behaviors wrapped up with the word “hoarding” and what the hoarder is experiencing that drives him or her to behave in these ways. Just click and scroll your way to a new beginning!

The Two Main Types Of Hoarding

The words “hoarding” and “hoarder” are all around us. Thanks to pop culture and recent events, hoarding is a word of the day of sorts. Especially since, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the phrase “toilet paper hoarding” appeared in every other sentence, becoming a daily topic of conversation around the world. 

But is this really an example of hoarding? The answer depends on the particular hoarder and on which definition you are using. It’s not surprising that applications of the word “hoarding” fall on such a broad spectrum that there are actually two different definitions for it. 

First definition of hoarding: “the act of collecting large amounts of something and keeping it for yourself, often in a secret place” (Cambridge English). 

 Ex. In a recent interview, Heidi Klum confessed that she probably owns at least 2000 pairs of shoes, saying, “Does that sound horrible? You know what it is – I’m a hoarder, and I just hoard and hoard and hoard.” 

Second definition of hoarding: “Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs” (MAYO Clinic)

Ex. An elderly woman named Mia lives in a small condo that is piled high with old magazines, cups and bowls, newspapers, clothes, etc. The hallways are so cluttered that Mia has fallen several times. The condo has a horrible smell because Mia’s cats can no longer reach the litter box and so they relieve themselves on the carpet. When Mia’s grown daughter, Molly, arrives to drop off groceries, she nearly gags at the stench and calls her mother a hoarder. Mia becomes defensive and angry, and this has seriously strained the relationship between the two. 

A majority of people are familiar with the first definition and example, but many of us are less informed about the second two. What does hoarding mean when it becomes a disorder so disruptive that it negatively affects quality of life and even presents a safety hazard? 

Symptoms matter, and we will see below why the behaviors of Heidi the hoarder and Mia the hoarder differ in ways that help indicate which of the two has the hoarding disorder. 

The Symptoms Of Hoarding Disorder

Compulsive hoarding comes with a number of symptoms, including:

  • Collecting too many things
  • Feeling a compulsive need to hold onto things
  • Becoming upset by the thought of discarding things
  • Allowing rooms to become unusable due to clutter
  • Tending towards an inability to make decisions, plan, or organize

Not only do individuals with hoarding disorder have a tendency to acquire excessive quantities of items that are either unnecessary or disproportionately far too large for the space, but they also feel that items have an inherent sentimental value that overrides any reason to part with them. 

This feeling is so strong that the individual may become angry or confrontational when prompted to throw things away or declutter. According to the MAYO Clinic, these individuals tend to have a number of other behavioral characteristics in common, including “indecisiveness, perfectionism, avoidance, procrastination, and problems with planning and organizing.”

What Causes Hoarding Disorder

Although scientists haven’t come to a widely accepted conclusion on what precisely causes hoarding, they do agree that traumatic events and a family history of hoarding can be good predictors of hoarding, and that hoarders tend to be socially withdrawn. For this reason, researchers have suggested that hoarding may be some subconscious effort at self-soothing.

The Health Risks Of Hoarding

There are a number of health risks associated with hoarding. The piles of belongings scattered throughout the homes of hoarders are notorious fire hazards. But equally as important: due to the nature of living in a cluttered space, it can be increasingly difficult to keep track of food, waste, and other personal items. 

As a result, spaces occupied by hoarders are prone to pest infestations, air quality issues, plumbing problems, and other major concerns. If the hoarding has persisted for long enough, then you may want to call professional cleaning and pest control services to assist you. The last thing you want is to get injured or get sick from exposure to these often unlivable conditions.

When And How To Intervene

Research shows that roughly three times as many adults ages 55 to 94 years experience hoarding disorder than adults in the 34 to 44 age range. This means that many adult children are grappling with their aging parents’ tendencies to hoard and are not sure what to do. 

Therapy is a useful aid in challenging some underlying beliefs that may prevent your loved one from parting with their accumulation of clutter. And as for the mess, be very careful as dangers can be hidden in the piles of belongings. Be honest with yourself about what you can handle and consider calling a professional to assist you. The last thing you want is to end up in the emergency room during a global pandemic. 

Spread the word: being a hoarder is only a life sentence if you allow it to be! Make sure to call Crime Scene Cleaners to let us help you remove unwanted items from the home. If you are also interested in biohazards, learn what is a biohazard today!