Compulsive Hoarding Disorder

By:    Published: March 19, 2012

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Most people have some degree of clutter or disorder in their homes, be it a disorganized desk, a cluttered closet or a designated junk drawer. But there are some people, known as compulsive hoarders, who acquire so much clutter it ends up taking over their homes and even their lives.

What many people see as trash, compulsive hoarders see as treasures that they can’t throw away. Rooms that people use on a daily basis become unusable storage space for the items they possess. Eventually, the clutter becomes so overwhelming that it disrupts their lives.

Compulsive hoarding is a serious disorder, affecting more than one million people in the United States, alone. If you think you might know of someone who has a problem with hoarding, read through this guide to get a better understanding of this disorder.

What Is Compulsive Hoarding?

According to the International OCD Foundation, hoarding is defined by two characteristics: acquiring too many possessions and not being able to get rid of those possessions. When those possessions begin to negatively impact a person’s life to the point where they can no longer move freely around their home or use certain rooms of the house, that person has become a compulsive hoarder.

Some of the early warning signs of someone who is developing this disorder are:

  • The person talks quite frequently about his or her possessions.
  • The person does not let you into his or her house or into a certain part of the house.
  • The person puts off repairs or paying bills.
  • The person shops often and is always acquiring more things.
  • The person is very disorganized and views cleaning and organizing as major tasks.

Hoarders will save a variety of things from clothing, toys, newspapers and plastic containers to food wrappers and junk mail among other items. The saved items vary from person to person as does the reasons they hoard.

Why Do People Hoard?

People hold on to things for many different reasons including:

  • Emotional attachment. We all have certain treasures that hold sentimental value to us and hoarders are no different, although they tend to have an attachment to many, many items instead of a select few. Hoarders may even associate their items as being part of their identity.
  • Not wanting to waste. Hoarders tend to see each and every item they own as having a purpose. Even if they can’t use it now, they may be able to use it in the future, so they feel it would be a waste to get rid of it. This is actually the most common reason that people hoard.
  • The fear of losing important information. Just as hoarders see every item as having a purpose, they see all sources of information as being just useful, too. Brochures, magazine, newspapers and books, even if they’re outdated, can supply a wealth of information so they save them for when they’ll need that information.

What Causes People To Hoard? Researchers have found that genetics can be an underlying cause of hoarding. According to the UCSD Department of Psychiatry, up to 85 percent of people who hoard have known someone close to them who also had this problem. Other causes of compulsive hoarding include:

  • Family experiences
  • Psychological issues
  • Brain abnormalities

Compulsive hoarding is also associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), although it has not yet been determined whether compulsive hoarding is caused by OCD or just a disorder that’s common among people who have OCD.

Who Tends To Hoard?

Hoarding tends to occur more frequently in men, but usually develops earlier in women. Hoarding behaviors can be exhibited in children and can worsen over time. There are some characteristics that are common to people with a hoarding disorder. They are:

  • Perfectionism
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Memory problems
  • Short attention spans

How Does Someone Stop Hoarding?

The most common way to treat compulsive hoarding is through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This therapy can help hoarders uncover the underlying reason of why they hoard, and resist the temptation of acquiring new items. Through CBT, hoarders can also work with a therapist who will help them go through their possessions and decide what’s important to keep and what’s unnecessary.

Medications, particularly antidepressants, are also commonly used to treat compulsive hoarding. A combination of medications and psychotherapy also works well for some hoarders.

It’s also for important that people who have this disorder receive support from those around them. It may be helpful for some hoarders to join a support group so they can receive advice and guidance from others who have had this problem.

While there is no definitive way to prevent the development of compulsive hoarding, it’s important that people who may be suffering from this disorder to seek help at the first signs of development. Getting treatment right away and getting to the root of the problem is the most effective way to overcome this disorder.

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