The profile of a compulsive hoarder

Hoarding may be defined as giving in to the compulsion to collect worthless, useless items, and the refusal to discard them even though they have no use and little or no value. The desire to hoard can be found in several psychiatric illnesses, but is mostly associated with people who suffer from OCDs (Obsessive Compulsive Disorders). For those who are afflicted with hoarding as their particular OCD, their lives become seriously disrupted. The symptoms that often accompany hoarding include a negative attitude, the inability to make decisions, and an unwillingness to meet problems head on. Hoarding is actually much more common that you may think, and in the UK alone over one in every two hundred people are afflicted.

Hoarding is a serious disorder and has nothing at all to do with people who collect stamps or coins, or other so called “collectibles”. Also, for the avoidance of doubt, hoarding does not relate to people who collect things such as spare parts in order to build a car or some other complex item. Those that suffer from the compulsion to hoard have severe difficulty in discarding anything at all, including empty food packaging, old newspapers, and opened or unopened post; generally speaking, all the sorts of things that other people would consider to be useless rubbish. Old clothing, (including worn out shoes in need of repair), and out of date magazines are some of the most common “hoardables”, and the thing that makes hoarders hang on to their clutter, is the suspicion that one day these things may come in useful.

The act of dithering becomes so pronounced that decisions are never made to throw anything away. The fear of unknowingly or mistakenly discarding something that may possible prove useful at some time in the future becomes irresistible, and the clutter begins to grow and grow. This “fetish” for not making errors, merely serves to slow down many of what “normal” people would consider to be routine tasks and chores; such as doing the washing up, or the ironing. In the end, many of the day to day activities get irrevocably postponed and never get done, and as the clutter builds, so the problems build with it.

The sad fact of the matter is that hoarders become emotionally attached to their clutter, which makes it even harder to even begin to consider discarding it. The reasons for holding onto clutter are very tenuous in the beginning, but as time develops and the hoarding compulsion takes a greater hold, there is absolutely no rhyme or reason for hanging on to the items they refuse to let go of.

Ultimately, the home starts to become hopelessly overtaken and crowded with the ever growing amount of clutter. Floors, tables, chairs and even beds become places for amassing clutter, to the point that those objects are no longer capable of fulfilling their proper function, because they have become totally obscured.

The normal everyday functioning of hoarders also becomes impaired. This is because, in pursuit of their longing for perfection, and due to their uncertainty in dealing with decisions, even the most simple of routine tasks takes that much longer to complete. Typically, a hoarder may simply moves parts of his or her clutter from one pile to the next in their indecision, as this postpones making the ultimate decision on whether or not to discard any particular item. This clutter does of course constitute a health hazard from possible trips or falls as well as the unsanitary risks, and of course it also poses a very real fire hazard.

It is also extremely common for compulsive hoarders to have little or no social life. Because they are afraid to let anyone into their homes to witness the mess and chaos, they become socially self-segregated and isolated. This behaviour and its repercussions often continues for many years. Many hoarders have full time employment, although if quizzed about their job, will often express dissatisfaction, and will feel that they are not being fully extended and that their skills are being wasted. It is quite normal for them to start work earlier than their colleagues, and to finish later, on account of the fact that it takes them longer than it should to complete their tasks.

This sluggishness and indecisiveness means that hoarders need a special approach when it comes down to administering corrective therapy. It is one of the main reasons that compulsive hoarding is now being treated by many professionals as a distinct OCD category in itself, and a particular type of OCD that warrants its own special treatment techniques.