Written by Ethan King
Clutter has a way of accumulating in our lives. But when it becomes overwhelming and uncontrollable, it may indicate a deeper issue: hoarding. Hoarding is not just a matter of having a messy home or holding onto a few sentimental keepsakes. Rather, it is a complex psychological disorder that affects millions of people worldwide.
People who hoard experience persistent difficulty getting rid of their possessions, regardless of their practical value or the lack of space to accommodate them. Such behavior often leads to a chaotic living environment that can hinder daily functioning and can seriously impact one’s quality of life.
Major cases of hoarding can even put the individual’s health and safety at risk. If you or someone you know is struggling with hoarding tendencies, it’s crucial to recognize the symptoms and consequences of hoarding and to begin taking the steps toward overcoming it.
Recognizing Symptoms of Hoarding
Hoarding can manifest in various ways, and its symptoms can be subtle or pronounced. If you suspect that you or someone you know might be struggling with hoarding tendencies, look for the following:
- Living Spaces Packed with Clutter. The living spaces of people who hoard are often excessively cluttered and disorganized, making it difficult to use rooms for their intended purposes. For example, the kitchen or dining room table may no longer be a space where they eat meals because it is covered in piles of stuff.
- Extreme Difficulty Discarding Items. People who hoard often have overwhelming emotional attachments to their possessions. They believe they must save items regardless of their actual material value. It becomes a challenge for them to let go of even seemingly trivial items such as a newspaper or pieces of mail.
- Compulsive Collecting. People who hoard often engage excessively collect items, even if they have no immediate use or significance, as a way to fill emotional voids or to cope with anxiety.
Unpacking the Consequences of Hoarding
Hoarding can have severe consequences on an individual’s life and well-being, as well as on those around them. Some of the common consequences of hoarding include:
- Increased Stress and Anxiety. The thought of getting rid of possessions can perpetuate distress and anxiety for people who hoard, causing them to frequently avoid any decluttering activities. Further, research has shown that a cluttered environment itself can have a negative impact on overall well-being, as it can lead to heightened stress and anxiety, decreased productivity, and other unhealthy habits.
- Impaired Daily Functioning. Living spaces filled with clutter can make it challenging to perform basic daily tasks, leading to a decline in quality of life. For example, they may be unable to use their kitchen or unable to access certain rooms of their home.
- Social Isolation: Hoarding tendencies can lead to social isolation because people who hoard may feel embarrassed or ashamed about their living conditions. As a result, they may not avoid having friends or family over for social get-togethers.
- Financial Burden. People who hoard may spend substantial amounts of money on collecting and acquiring items, especially nonessentials, leading to possible financial strain.
- Health and Safety Risks. Cluttered living spaces can create health and safety hazards such as fire risks, mold growth, and rodent or insect infestations.
Taking Steps Toward Recovery: Managing and Overcoming Hoarding
If the any of above tendencies apply to you or someone you know, know that recovery is possible with the right approach. Here are some clear steps to help you or a loved one manage and overcome hoarding:
- Set Realistic Goals by Decluttering Gradually. Approach decluttering and organizing with realistic goals in mind. Understand that it’s a gradual process. Attempting to tackle everything at once can be overwhelming and counterproductive. Start with small areas first, such as decluttering a single room or a single shelf. Celebrate each accomplishment along the way.
- Sort Items. Try to categorize possessions into three groups: items to keep, items to donate or sell, and items to dispose of. This step can be emotionally challenging, so be patient throughout the process. As you start the process of sorting through your possessions, do your best not to acquire more things to replace the ones you’ve donated or disposed of.
- Seek Professional Help and Support. Recognize that hoarding is a psychological disorder that may require professional intervention. Hoarding often stems from underlying emotional or mental-health issues such as anxiety or depression, and in turn, can exacerbate such issues. Therapy, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), has shown significant success in treating hoarding disorders.
- Develop a Support System. Build a strong support system of understanding family members, friends, or support groups. Hoarding can be isolating, so having a support network can make a significant difference in the recovery journey.
- Hire Professional Cleaners/Organizers. In severe hoarding cases, professional cleaning and organizing services can be invaluable. These experts are trained to handle hoarding situations with sensitivity and efficiency, making the living environment safer and more manageable.
Hoarding Can Be Healed with Professional Help
Hoarding is a complex and challenging disorder, but it’s essential to remember that recovery is achievable. By setting realistic goals for decluttering gradually, sorting items into categories, developing support systems, and seeking professional help in the form of therapy or professional cleaning, those who struggle with hoarding tendencies can embark on a path to healing and regain control of their lives and living spaces. Be patient and let those struggling with hoarding know that they are not alone on this journey. A brighter and clutter-free future is possible.