Don’t be a Compulsive Hoarder

Experts say that there is a thin line between a pack rat and a compulsive hoarder. While the first one finds it a struggle to let go things that he/she has sentimental attachment to, the other one would refuse to discard anything - even those things that belong to the trash bin.

[Page-Contents]
Don't be a Compulsive Hoarder
What is Hoarding?
Understanding Hoarding
The Causes of Hoarding
Insights into the Causes of Hoarding
Hoarding Syndrome and its Treatment
Live Healthy, Live Clutter Free
Dealing With Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome

Compulsive Hoarding, which refers to a mental condition characterized by excessive collection of items and inability to throw them away, often results in unsanitary and cramped living conditions. Clutter takes up most of the space in the house affecting the person's quality of life.

This condition, also known as compulsive hoarding syndrome, is possibly a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, many people who suffer from excessive hoarding do not exhibit other OCD-related symptoms. Hoarding is also associated with other mental disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder.

People who are compulsive hoarders find it hard to discard items over the exaggerated fear of needing these items again. They also have issues about being wasteful. Others are simply too sentimental to let go of these things.

Although this disorder has no cure, there are various treatment options that can help fight the urge to hoard. Cognitive and behavior modification therapies can be sought from therapists who can teach you how to organize and de-clutter spaces and let go of things that don't really matter.

A recent study at the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders Program at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine revealed that Paxil, an antidepressant paroxetine may help in this condition.

Admitting Is The Challenge
The biggest problem, however, is recognition of the problem. Since many people suffering from compulsive hoarding don't see their activities as problematic, the treatment becomes all the more challenging. It's very important for one to realize and admit to himself/herself that the excessive collection of items is not a normal activity and should therefore be treated.

Anti-Cluster Strategies
Once you're able to admit that, you can get help from a therapist or psychiatrist. You can also take on these anti-clutter strategies to help you get through this.

Strategy #1 – Make Quick Decisions
When you receive mail or newspapers, make quick decisions about which ones to keep and which ones to discard. The longer you postpone making a decision, the harder it would be for you to discard these items. Never leave anything to decide on later. You must decide at that fist moment.

Strategy #2 – Don't Let Everything Into Your Home
If you want to buy something, think many times before you do. Learn to control your purchases. Learn the difference between wants and needs. Before you purchase anything, ask yourself if it's something that you truly need or something that you can live without. If it's the latter, just save the money for something that's more important.

Strategy #3 – Find Fulfillment In Non-Material Things
Often, people engage in compulsive hoarding to satisfy themselves. It's imperative to realize that fulfillment can be obtained elsewhere. Find non-material things to satisfy yourself. Find new hobbies that won't require hoarding such as sports or outdoor recreation, engage in relaxing activities like massage or yoga, and do something social at least once a week. This will help to keep you occupied.

Strategy #4 – De-Clutter 15 Minutes A Day
Set aside 15 minutes of your day to remove the clutter around your house. This is more effective than doing a monthly cleaning. It's easier to clean small amounts weekly than to do a massive cleanup once a month; also, by the end of the month, it would be much more difficult for you to let go of the items that you have accumulated.

hoarder's cluttered livingroom

Hoarding is a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder. The reasons for this are very diverse and vary depending on geography and upbringing. This is epitomized by accumulation and amassment of things that are of little or no value. This does not necessarily have any sentimental or emotional attachment to the individual. They have the phobia of need arising from the loss of the item. What happens is they live in clutter which may become hazardous to their health.

Why Do People Hoard?
Obsessive compulsive disorder is brought about by a number of issues. One of them is the lack of executive skills. This means the individual has problems in thinking, planning and doing things. This makes them helpless where they have to think, plan and execute disposal of possessions that are not relevant. They have a hard time putting things in order of importance and would rather have them all.

Another common issue is beliefs. The individual harbors untrue, unfounded and unhealthy beliefs on possessions. This is common where the person thinks that all their possessions have some sort of intrinsic value and can never be fully written off. Moreover, they tend to hold them as mental milestones in their lives or significant attachment. They also have the fear of losing something that may have antique value in the future.

Emotional barriers are also a contributing factor. Depression is a common symptom with most hoarders. Thus, they have these objects constantly surrounding them in an attempt to feel safe. This makes them have strong attachments to specific things they have personified, making them prone to avoidance and defensive tactics. The main cause of this is because of upbringing, where the individual has had emotional gaps and has learnt to substitute their needs with physical things. This makes it difficult to give out or discard the items in place.

Treatment
Hoarding can be treated through psychotherapy. This method of treatment allows one to deal with behavior and emotions to combat the disorder. Like any other symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder, it is easily treated with Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). This therapy consists of behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Positivity is the key in this therapy; it helps reduce instances of breakdowns which trigger cognitive dissociation which brings the manifestation of the disorder.

Compulsive hoarding can be treated by using anti-depressants that are either prescribed or readily found in local pharmacies. They include drugs like Tricyclic antidepressant family, fluoxetine (Prozac), fluvoxamine (Luvox), and sertraline (Zoloft) just to mention a few. Although they do not completely cure, they help in mitigation of hoarding as a symptom.

another livingroom cluttered by hoarding

Often people diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) will find themselves obsessed with keeping unwanted and often useless items. While this may not necessarily be normal to most people, it is a common problem with people with OCD. By definition this form of the disorder is called hoarding.

Hoarded items may be stored anywhere in the house. They tend to fill up one's living quarters and make it quite uncomfortable and embarrassing to visitors. Although the hoarded items may at some point and time have had some value, they are kept for way too long and their value often diminishes.

Behavioral Tendencies of Hoarders
Often people wonder how hoarders behave. As stated, this is a disorder whereby the person sufferers from often irresistible impulses to collect useless items. Over time, they develop a deep obsession with these things. Thus, they are unable to give them up and instead keep them. Their overall behavior revolves around this compulsion to collect useless things.

Although all hoarding follows a specific behavioral type, the collected materials may differ from person to person. One person may hoard useless paper manufactured goods. These may include paper bags, plastic packing bags, bread bags, junk mail, newspapers, etc. Another person may hoard every new thing that they may see. For instance, they may see new trinkets on sale at the pawn shop or a new table and may feel the irresistible urge to purchase it.

The effects of Hoarding
Hoarding as obsession involves the often senseless retention of items that would be considered as junk by other people. They may develop some form of attachment to these items which makes them incapable of throwing them away. It reaches a point where the hoarder tends to dissociate themselves from close family and friends around them.

Moreover, hoarders can become especially violent if someone tries in any way to clear up their special items. Suggestions may make them agitated and cause them to regard those close to them with suspicion.

Hoarding can be quite an embarrassing obsession. The cramped living quarters formed by the mass accumulation of junk may make the lives of the hoarders and those around them uncomfortable as well as unhealthy, especially if the hoarder collects dirty or used items.

Some of those close to the hoarders may eventually distance themselves from the hoarder due to embarrassment. This may eventually lead to the hoarder forming a deeper emotional attachment with the items in their possession.

While hoarding may be one or the more serious forms of obsessive compulsive disorders, understanding it is the first step in helping the hoarder towards recovery.

hoarded kitchen

Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome (CHS) is a disorder where a person afflicted with it collects unnecessary items excessively and finds it hard to throw unneeded things away. Usually diagnosed with OCD in 25 to 40 percent of the cases, hoarding is a condition that has already affected approximately 1,200,000 people in the United States.

While hoarding does not affect all people the same way, some are more severe than others wherein their living conditions are cramped because of all kinds of things clutter their living spaces which become unsanitary and unhygienic.

Some people hoard old newspapers, junk mail and food, while others accumulate trash. More extreme case is hoarding animals even if they have no plans of taking care of them.

Although disorganization, weakness of character, and laziness are listed as apparent reasons for hoarding, scientific and medical research hasn't ascertained the precise causes of hoarding yet but has considered genetics, biological conditions, and brain abnormalities as primary possible causes.

Compulsive hoarding may manifest if a person suffers from damage caused by infection, surgery, stroke, or even injury leading to brain lesion or abnormal development of the brain. Also, the brains of people with hoarding disorder are seen to function in a different way compared with normal people and with people afflicted with OCD without hoarding tendencies.

Scientific research also discovered that people with OCD compounded by hoarding possess patterns of glucose metabolism different to other people but the effect of this on hoarding is yet to be ascertained.

For genetic causes of hoarding, studies show that 85 percent of people who have compulsive hoarding disorders have close relatives with the similar disorder and scientific research states that in all cases of hoarding, genetics account for approximately 50 percent of these cases.

In a similar study of the relation of genetics to hoarding done in 2007, unique DNA patterns in genes found in chromosome 14 were identified with people who have compulsive hoarding disorder. It was even found out that stronger unique patterns were present among people who have families with two or more members that have the disorder. The effect of these unique DNA patterns to hoarding hasn't been discovered as of yet, unfortunately.

The precise reason as to why people engage in hoarding remains inconclusive and scientific research about what may possibly cause the disorder is still being done. One study attempted to find out if there was a correlation between being deprived materially in childhood to hoarding, but none was found.

Aware of the fact that accumulating clutter is a socially unacceptable behavior, hoarders still find it difficult to do anything about it and fail to seek medical treatment or professional help unless insisted by their families.

girl sitting in cluttered room due to hoarding

Compulsive Hoarding is defined as the obsessive collection of usually worthless items and the inability to dispose of them. They end up congesting the living space of a person afflicted with the disorder. Though the precise cause of hoarding hasn't been ascertained yet, genetic, environmental, physical or intellectual, and emotional causes have been suggested.

Possible Genetic Connection
Among the causes, a genetic cause is the least understood. Studies show that 85 percent of people who have compulsive hoarding disorders have close relatives with a similar disorder. Since the disorder seems to run in families, it was postulated that genetics has an impact on a person becoming a hoarder. Also, in a study done to find out if a specific gene can be identified as the cause of hoarding disorder in families, it was discovered that unique DNA patterns in genes found in chromosome 14 were identified with people whose families have relatives with OCD. The effect of this DNA and how it relates to hoarding is still unknown, but more research is being done to identify the difference in DNA makeup and genetic composition between hoarders and non-hoarders.

Environmental and Health Causes
Environmental causes, on the other hand, suggest that family experiences can influence hoarding behavior. Simply put, exposure to a family member with hoarding disorder may increase the chances of developing the disorder in the future. In addition to that, a child may be more likely to develop hoarding if exposed to severe stress in the family or the family members put to much emphasis on perfectionism.

In the case of physical or intellectual causes, studies show that changes in the brain may lead to compulsive hoarding where the symptoms manifest after a surgery, a stroke, or if a person experiences head trauma brought about by injuries. Brain-related infections may cause hoarding along with brain lesions and abnormal brain development.

From the emotional side, it was postulated that anxiety might also cause hoarding. Recently, the committee handling the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has considered classifying hoarding disorder as a type of anxiety disorder instead of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which has been its classification up until now.

Perfectionist Tendencies
Compulsive hoarders also tend to have perfectionist tendencies, which hamper their ability to decide what to do with their collections. Due to this tendency, a hoarder would just simply choose to keep the item in reaction to the stress created by the need to make a decision. A compulsive hoarder may also fear throwing away something that can trigger a memory or may even be scared of losing important information.

More research needs to be done on the causes of hoarding for us to be able to understand how all of these causes fit together. At the same time, the psychological health community will gain insight as to why compulsive hoarders react to their collections in the manner that they do and what causes their behavior.

room hoarded with appliances and junk

Psychotherapy and medication are the primary modes of treatment for hoarding syndrome. With some people, medication is very effective, but to make sure that the syndrome is treated, psychotherapy is recommended. Psychotherapy also guarantees that hoarding habits won't get picked up and resurface at a later time.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Hoarding
Taking its foundation from the Cognitive Model of Emotional Response, cognitive behavior therapy has become very popular in the treatment of hoarding syndrome. Cognitive behavior therapy is centered on a person's feelings and what he does about these because a person's way of thinking can actually be altered. This type of therapy assists a person in retraining his brain so that the apprehension of doing away with all the clutter in his home is no longer felt. It also helps in focusing on the clean up of his life.

Home visits are periodically done by CBT therapists to promote healing in the long term and to make sure that old habits do not resurface. The therapy can be done on a one-on-one basis, but a hoarder also has the option to join group sessions. During group sessions, a hoarder would have assistance from fellow hoarders in exploring their common need of saving and keeping useless items. Decision–making skills are also improved at the same time.

The Two-Year Rule
Besides medication and/or therapy, implementing a two–year rule could assist in de-cluttering not only your house, but your life as well. This rule applies to clothes and linens and simply means that whichever of those items you haven't worn or used for the last two years must be discarded.

Shopping habits must also be checked and hoarders are advised not to engage in bulk buying. Things that are not needed urgently should also not be purchased. Money, along with home space, is wasted on these items because they are never put to use. Should the desire become too much to fight off, a hoarder is advised to go purchase the item on the condition that it will be returned the next day.

If a hoarder is a pet-loving kind of person, two to three pets should be the maximum allowable number for animal hoarders to keep and should exert the effort to keep these pets well groomed all the time.

Importance of Support
The support of family and friends becomes essential once a hoarder decides to begin de-cluttering his life and his house. These people can assist the hoarder in the healing process by physically helping the hoarder get rid of unneeded items, but more importantly, the moral support to the endeavor of the hoarder is more significant in such a way that the hoarder won't feel alone in facing his task of getting rid of the clutter.

hoarded messy computer desk

If it takes you forever to find your keys or if you can practically surf on the ocean of things that you own, that only means one thing: there is an overload of clutter in your home. It is imperative that you do something about it, and here is why:

Why Control the Clutter?
The biggest effect of clutter is stress. Even for people who have gotten used to the idea of living under piles of clutter still feel stressed when they can't seem to perform a task or find an important object. When there is too much clutter around, it's very difficult to organize your thoughts and function properly. It's also almost impossible to relax. And you know that too much stress can't be good for you, as it contributes to a wide range of health problems including heart diseases, hypertension and cancer.

Aside from that, clutter can also make you feel tired and lethargic, and this contributes to a sedentary lifestyle. Instead of feeling motivated to work out and engage in physical activity, which your body needs, you're more likely to feel stuck on the sofa and just watch the television the whole day.

Clutter isn't good for your emotional well-being either. Because there is no space for new things to come into your life, you cling on to your past. It's much more challenging to move on and face new beginnings with hordes of things holding you back. A cluttered house can make you depressed more easily than one with a clear and organized space.

How To Get Rid Of Clutter
Getting rid of clutter is easier than you'd like to think. To start off, prepare five large boxes. Label each box with donate, sell, recycle, put away and organize, respectively.

The donate box is where all the good stuff that you no longer use should go.

The sell box is for items that you don't use anymore but can be sold for a profit. An example would be that expensive set of winter clothes that is taking up too much space in your closet.

The box for recycling are for items that cannot be used anymore but also can't be donated or sold.

Then there are the boxes for putting away and organizing. The organize box would contain all items that you wish to store for easy access, like those piles of books you've been meaning to read all this time. You can organize them neatly in a bookshelf. The put away box is for the other things that you wish to keep but wouldn't need to use on a regular basis, like old photographs and mementos.

Once you've organized everything and put the things where they belong, make sure that you keep your home spic and span by de-cluttering regularly. Don't wait until a month before you clean up again. By this time, the clutter would have already accumulated to a level that you wouldn't want to clean up. De-cluttering isn't only to tone down your stress but also to improve the quality of your life through mental stimulation and physical activity.

hoarded bedroom

Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome (CHS) is a type of mental disorder where an afflicted person experiences difficulty in discarding items and ends up living in a house that other people would consider unlivable. Hoarders not only collect food, trash, dumpster finds and collectibles, but in some cases, animals as well. A hoarder doesn't see any problem with regard to his behavior nor does he see that his safety, along with his living environment, has been compromised.

Symptoms of Hoarding
No demographics have been set for hoarders and the syndrome begins manifesting itself approximately in pre-teen years and may advance as the hoarder grows older. Compulsive hoarders typically have these behaviors:

• Hoarders tend to be perfectionists
• Hoarders keep everything because they are unable to let go of items they think might be valuable
• Hoarders often ostracize themselves from family and friends and, in extreme cases, from colleagues in the workplace

A compulsive hoarder has a wide-ranging quantity of items in his possession that are mostly worthless junk. This worthless junk however, is viewed by a hoarder as collectible. The junk varies and commonly are books, receipts, magazines, clothes and the like, which a hoarder has a hard time letting go of. The hoarder's home most likely will have a pathway where one can walk, but both sides of the pathway are literally stacked with junk and a corner of the house may be designated as a place where they can eat or sleep.

Reasons for Hoarding
The reason why compulsive hoarders tend to keep worthless items is that they always see the "value" of the useless pieces of junk. People with compulsive hoarding syndrome also have the tendency to shut themselves in because they are unable to have visitors in their homes due to the junk that literally lies everywhere. This behavior alone already has a negative impact on their social lives and runs the risk of progressing to depression because there is no contact with other people and there is lack of activities of the social kind.

Hoarding is Unsafe and Unhealthy
For the elderly that are afflicted with compulsive hoarding syndrome, bodily harm may result due to their behavior. The ability to move freely around the house becomes severely limited and hampered. The possibility of slips and falls tend to increase due to the decreased mobility. There are even cases wherein an elderly hoarder was lying on the clutter at his house and was unable to get up for several days until a caregiver arrived to help him out.

Fire hazard exists in the house of a hoarder due to countless types of objects stacked together, ready to spread fire quickly should an ignition occur. Diseases are also a common occurrence in a hoarder's house because the house may become infested with rodents and insects. As a consequence, the whole house becomes a fire and health hazard.

 


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