Compulsive hoarding is a psychological disorder where people are unable to dispose of or part with possessions. Hoarders compulsively save items regardless of whether they have any use or value. This excessive accumulation can lead to dangerous amounts of clutter, which can cause unsanitary living conditions, heightened risk of injury, difficulties with socialising and relationships, property damage and increased risk of fires.
There is a distinct difference between hoarding and collecting. Collectors look for specific items, like books or records or model cars, and they tend to be very careful and organised about how and where they store or display their collections.
Hoarders, on the other hand, save mostly random items and generally make no effort to organise, store or display them. While the possessions may seem like garbage to other people, to the hoarder each item may have sentimental value or a memory attached.
Hoarding affects about 2% to 6% of the population and is considered a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People affected by this disorder have tendencies towards indecisiveness, perfectionism, avoidance, procrastination, and problems with planning and organisation. It can also be linked to a range of other psychological problems including:
- Personality disorders
- Addiction problems
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
The Dangers of Hoarding
Hoarding can cause a large number of problems, and not just for the person afflicted with the condition. The most immediate problems that hoarding can cause are related to living conditions. As clutter piles up, areas of the house can quickly become unusable, inaccessible and even dangerous. Piled up rubbish can start to rot, attracting vermin, promoting the growth of mould and creating unsanitary living conditions.
The piles of garbage can also become physically dangerous, increasing the risk of trips and falls, and in extreme cases, the clutter has been known to collapse and crush people.
The rubbish in the house can also pose a serious fire danger. Dried garbage can become highly combustible and the clutter can block exits and also obstruct firefighters trying to enter.
Besides the health and safety concerns, hoarding can also have a range of other serious effects on a person’s life including:
- Stress and anxiety relating to everyday objects
- Health issues due to unsanitary conditions
- Withdrawing from friends, family, and society
- Distrust of others
- Relationship stress and breakups
- Loneliness and isolation
- Social shame
- Financial and legal issues such as eviction, damages, health violations
Besides the person afflicted with the disorder, hoarding can also have psychological effects on family members and loved ones, especially children being raised up in a hoarding house.
If there are pets in the house, hoarding can also affect animals and lead to cases of animal cruelty.
Treating the Problem
Treating the issue can be difficult as people with hoarding disorders often don’t actually see it as a problem. The hoarding is also usually just a symptom of a larger psychological problem, so merely cleaning up the house won’t fix anything as the hoarder will usually just fall back into old habits.
There are two main types of treatment for hoarders: cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) and medication. CBT works to identify negative habits and behaviours and gradually change the attitudes and eventually those behaviours.
Cleaning the House
Cleaning a hoarding house is not like a spring clean or an end of lease clean. You can literally end up removing tonnes of rubbish and filling several trucks. You could be dealing with unsanitary and physically dangerous cleaning conditions. And on top of that, you also need to take into account the hoarder’s psychological and emotional condition. Hoarders tend to form a very strong connection to their possession, so cleaning the house and disposing of items can be very difficult, even traumatic.
Before starting any cleanup, it’s vital to ensure that the hoarder has adequate psychological and emotional support. This can come in the form of professional psychologists or social workers, as well as family members and loved ones. Besides the physical labour of the cleanup, there will also be a lot of emotional work that the hoarder will have to do to psychologically process the cleanup.
It’s also vital that you call in professional cleaners to ensure that the cleaning is done efficiently and safely. Good deceased estate clearance companies offer professional hoarding clearance services.
If you have a friend or family member with a hoarding problem, contact a doctor or mental health professional. They will be able to provide help and advise you regarding the next steps. They can also direct you to helpful community, council or government groups.