Living with a hoarder can be treacherous and devastating. You will find yourself having to pave your way around mountains of clutter, that keeps growing day by day. Hoarding is a disorder. Those who hoard not only find it practically impossible to part with anything that comes their way, they also collect and take home any junk they deem to be valuable by their standards.
All surfaces, from the floors to counter spaces, will be cluttered with useless junk, that no one in their right mind would remotely dream of keeping, such as dated newspapers, complete and incomplete crosswords dating back 20 years, used toilet paper roles, outworn clothing, envelopes, old calendars, expired foods, expired flyers, little packets of condiments, sugar and salt from every restaurant outing, outdated coupons, empty containers and so on. In most cases, nothing of value is being hoarded. There are also cases where animal hoarding occurs, contributing to an unhealthy, nefarious environment.
The detrimental effects of hoarding, on the quality of life, are overwhelming and devastating. Studies indicate that hoarding affects over 6% of the population in the USA. That is a whopping 19 million Americans. These are reportedly conservative estimates.
Hoarding is an obsessive compulsive disorder which can range from mild to severe. Living with a hoarder, is a depleting, confusing, frustrating and hazardous. Finding a clean surface to work on is impossible. You will spend most of your time moving stuff around, trying to carve out a small space for yourself, in the mountain of junk that your home has become.
Hoarding makes day to day life impossible. If your loved one is a hoarder, you will discover that nothing is sacred, not even your bed. Hoarding creates a chaotic and unhygienic living environment, which takes its toll on healthy relationships and is not conducive in creating a safe and suitable environment, in which to raise children.
Hoarding gets passed on from one generation to the next. If your children spend years picking through clutter on the floor, to dress for school, there is a pretty good chance they will become hoarders as well. The old heredity versus environment debate, points heavily at environment being the key factor. Studies to date have not given any real indication that hoarding is genetically inherited and hoarding symptoms are found to start during childhood.
I was raised by an obsessively clean and organized mother, who prided herself on the indisputable fact that her floors were so clean, you could eat off them. My mother hated knick knacks and opted for a minimalist home environment. Any useless gifts that made their way into our home, were promptly hidden away, only to resurface temporarily, when the person who had gifted us was expected for a visit.
I was still in college the first time I discovered what hoarding was. I was visiting a young couple in their new home. When I stepped inside the door, I was stricken with horror at the sight of their toddler crawling through dirt and piles of garbage, which littered the floor and every surface of their home. I never visited again.
I have personally witnessed a situation where hoarding affected an entire family and ended in divorce. The two children, who grew up with a mother who hoarded, have both become hoarders, to their father’s dismay.
As a young woman, living in Toronto, I found a job at a local shop which sold maps and atlases, amongst other travel items. My job was to attend to shipments. On the first day I entered the premises, the stench which hit my nostrils, catapulted me into a cleaning frenzy, organizing and tossing away everything, which by my standards, classified as garbage. I distinctly remember filling up endless bags with half empty, take away containers. Some of these had been around so long that I saw an array of hairy mold specimens I never knew existed. I was not expecting to be rewarded for my hard work, but I certainly was not expecting the reaction I got, when the owner came to close down the shop, at the end of the day. It was inconceivable to me that anyone could be displeased, let alone angry, about a super clean up job. I had no idea what I was dealing with and my best intentions were apparently misplaced.
Because hoarders have a strong attachment to the items they collect, they can be quite opposed at accepting any help or throwing away anything. Often times hoarders are in denial and truly believe there is value in what they are accumulating. Compulsive hoarding can’t be resolved by simply cleaning out the house.
Look at it this way, if you were dealing with a drug addict or an alcoholic, would you resolve their problem by simply tossing the drugs or alcohol? The underlying problem needs to be addressed, otherwise the cycle will simply start again. Hoarders whose homes are cleared without their consent can become seriously distressed, even depressed, refusing any further help. There are things you can do to help a hoarder return to some semblance of normality.
Ten Things You Can Do To Help Treat Hoarding
- Find and join a local support group or team up with a coach to help sort and reduce clutter. Remember that relapses can easily occur if the right steps are not taken
- Challenge the hoarder’s thoughts and beliefs regarding the items they keep and try to make a pact for them not to pick up more junk each time they head out of the house.
- Develop a plan to prevent any future clutter.
- Self-help books, support groups, individual talk therapy, medications and group therapy have been known to help hoarders get internally motivated to change their ways
- Returning to a normal life is a life long challenge for a hoarder. Staying in treatment has proven to decrease the chances of a relapse.
- If someone close to you is a hoarder, be certain to acknowledge that they have a right to make their own decisions at their own pace. To develop trust, do not throw anything away without asking for permission first.
- Be empathic and remember that everyone has some attachment to the things they choose to own.
- Make an effort to understand what importance, if any, the items they hoard hold for them. This process will assist the hoarder to gain a new perspective.
- Encourage and motivate them to come up with solutions to make the home safer, such as moving clutter away from doorways, halls and stairs.
- Team up with them, don’t go it alone. Never argue about whether to keep or discard an item; instead, through constructive communication, attempt to discover what will help motivate them to discard and organize the environment. Perhaps the promise of a social life? Together, you could organize a dinner at home with friends, to motivate them.
Through empathic communication you can help a loved one recognize that hoarding actually interferes with their core goals or values, their quality of life and their family’s wellbeing. These steps will assist them in paving their way back to a healthier lifestyle.