You may have seen some of the TV shows about problem hoarders – but what is a hoarding disorder?
Research into hoarding disorder has found that the condition affects approximately 2-6% of the population, and if left unmanaged it can lead to serious health and safety issues.
Typically, hoarding can be identified by the excessive collection and saving of possessions, as well as an inability to discard any of the collected items. This can result in an extreme level of clutter throughout the home which can make it difficult for occupants to live comfortably and safely.
Collecting and saving items is a common behaviour that many individuals undertake throughout the course of their life. While sometimes this behaviour can serve functional purposes such as saving an item for personal entertainment or to be used for a specific or likely events in the future, at other times the reasons for this behaviour can be less clear – for instance saving an item because one feels as though it might be needed or valuable in the future.
Each of these examples can be found on a continuum that includes everything from positive forms of collection to hoarding disorder. At the functional end of the continuum are behaviours such as collecting stamps, building models, collecting recipes, etc. while at the “feeling” or pathological end of the spectrum are behaviours that can lead to every space within the home being filled with belongings. This results in places that are often required for daily activities (eg countertops, sinks, stoves, desks, stairways, showers, toilets) being stacked with items that make them unusable.
More specifically, the clutter can make it difficult for the individual to undertake basic cooking and cleaning activities and may also lead to increased fire hazards, personal injury and unsanitary living conditions. Some people who suffer hoarding disorder may collect animals, keeping dozens or hundreds of pets in unsanitary conditions because they can’t care for them properly.
What causes Hoarding Disorder?
Researchers have not been able to clearly define what causes people to hoard. However, some influences being investigated include genetics, brain chemistry and stressful life events as possible causes.
While the causes may be unclear, what is most important to hoarders and health practitioners alike, is that there are ways to manage and treat hoarding compulsions. There are ways for people suffering this disorder to experience safe, fulfilling and happy lives.
Treatment of Hoarding Disorder
Treatment of hoarding disorder can be challenging because often sufferers do not view their behaviour as being abnormal. However once this initial challenge has been overcome, a carefully considered and non-intrusive treatment plan focussing on collaboration with the sufferer, can help people with hoarding disorder understand and manage their compulsions and thereby live safer, more enjoyable lives.
There are two main types of treatment for hoarding disorder — prescription medications and psychotherapy. To obtain medication treatment for this disorder, visit a local GP for advice.
Further Information on Psychotherapy
The more common treatment choice for hoarding disorder is psychotherapy. Of the psychotherapeutic treatments, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is most often used to treat hoarding disorder. As part of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, treatment of hoarding disorder may include:
- Exploring why the person feels compelled to hoard;
- Learning to organise and categorise possessions to help make decisions on what should be discarded;
- Improving decision-making and coping skills;
- Decluttering the home during in-home visits;
- Learning and practicing relaxation skills;
- Having periodic visits or ongoing treatment to help maintain healthy habits.
Where to From Here?
If you are someone who may be experiencing one or more of the hoarding behaviours that have been described above, or if you know someone who is, there are steps that you can take to help improve the situation.
Some of the steps for people with hoarding tendencies to lead a healthier and more fulfilling life include:
- Keeping up with personal hygiene and bathing. If you have possessions piled in your bath or shower, make it a priority to move them so that you can bathe.
- Making sure you get proper nutrition. It’s important to be able to cook yourself nutritious food. Keep the areas around your stove and refrigerator clear so that you are able to safely access your food.
- Accepting support and assistance from others. Social isolation is a significant contributor to maintaining and increasing hoarding habits. If you don’t want visitors in your house, try to get out to see friends and family. Support workers and helpers for people with hoarding disorder can let you know that you are not alone and help you learn about your behaviour and resources.
- Take small steps. With the help of professionals, you can tackle one area at a time. Small wins like this can lead to big wins.
- Focus on your goals. To keep motivated to declutter, focus on your goals — living a healthier and more enjoyable life.
- Do what’s best for your pets. If the number of pets you have has grown beyond your ability to care for them properly, remind yourself that they deserve to live healthy and happy lives — and that’s not possible if you can’t provide them with proper nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care.
- Review your treatment plan daily. It’s hard work, and it’s normal to have some setbacks over time. But treatment can help you feel better about yourself and reduce your hoarding.
Author: Leonie Sanders, Dip Mgt, B Psych (Hons), M Org Psych, MAPS.
Leonie Sanders has over 30 years’ experience working in a variety of sectors including: public health; building; banking and finance; business development; employment and tertiary education. Her therapeutic approach is holistic, evidence-based and systemic, dealing with families or organisations as systems of interrelationships, while dealing with the whole person physically, emotionally and socially.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Leonie Sanders, try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or call (07) 3088 5422.