When many people first come across hoarding, they mistakenly think that it is a somewhat curious but harmless habit that some people fall into. But the reality is that hoarding is actually what is termed, as an OCD (Obsessive Compulsion Disorder), that often has disastrous effects on the sufferer’s life, and also on the lives of those around them.
The clinical definition of hoarding can be summarized as:
The receipt of, and unwillingness to dispose of, large quantities of various possessions that seem to be of little use or value.
When normal living space becomes so overcrowded with clutter as to make that space unusable for its proper purpose.
When normal routine functioning is badly disrupted because of the act and results of hoarding.
It is often the elderly that become hoarders; firstly because of a natural reticence to throw things away that inspire memories, but more and more, an unnatural and irrational desire to collect things simply for the sake of keeping them. Of course with the elderly the problem becomes more apparent, because over the years, the sheer volume of their hoarding reaches devastating proportions. It is then often down to the grown children of these elderly hoarders, to deal with the problem; either because the hoarder passes away leaving massive piles of apparent junk behind, or, the problem becomes so immense that it interferes with the quality of the hoarder’s life and may also present a real danger to the health and safety of the hoarder.
People who turn into hoarders find themselves enmeshed in a vicious circle. The huge amounts of clutter that they hoard can literally destroy their social lives. This happens because they do not feel that it is appropriate to invite people to see them when their property is in such a mess. Although they realize it is in a mess, that knowledge on its own, is not sufficient enough to inspire them to deal with the problem. The vicious circle then progresses further when they no longer feel bound by everyday etiquette to even try and keep their surroundings tidy. With this constraint broken, the hoarding compulsion is given a full and a free reign.
There are of course different magnitudes to hoarding, as in many other OCDs.
The most acute cases of hoarding can devastate the sufferer’s lives, especially if no help is forthcoming. What happens is that the hoarder begins to feel ashamed, both of their behaviour, and the mess that it creates, and this in turn will lead to isolation from the outside world. The physical manifestation of hoarding just cannot be disguised, and so the only other solution open to a chronic hoarder, is to keep the outside world at bay.
Living in amongst the mess that clutter creates is simply not tolerated, and in most cases it is not understood by society. Hoarders are often viewed as people that simply have no sense of pride; that they are simply too lazy to be bothered to keep a clean and tidy home.
But the reality, in real cases of clinical hoarding, is far removed from this. Very often the hoarder will feel ashamed, and fully realizes just what a mess they are making of their lives and their surroundings. The truth of the matter is however, that they simply cannot stop. It is a fierce compunction that simply cannot be ignored.
Very often, the clutter that is created through hoarding can be a sign that all is not well with the person(s) within the household. Clutter can sometimes be a warning sign of depression, or that the householder is suffering from low self esteem and respect, or that they may be feeling feel that they just no longer care for anyone, or that nobody cares about them. If any of this is indeed happening, then that person is in desperate need of help.
There are some people of course, who just like to squirrel things away, and this is not related to an OCD. This type of hoarding will not normally lead to a crisis point, and can be dealt with under the “law” of common sense. But if it does turn out to be a compulsive disorder, then the sufferer needs to seek professional help, or be pointed in the right direction. The first step along the road to recovery is to acknowledge that you are a compulsive hoarder, and to fully accept that you suffer from an OCD.
At least once this acceptance has been made, then treatment can be sought, which, with proper professional help, can result in a full recovery back to a more normal balanced behaviour pattern that conforms to social expectations.