Does your home, office, or vehicle look like a tornado struck? Do you barely have room to navigate through it? If you answered "yes" you may have a Hoarding Disorder. Yes, hoarding is an actual mental disorder that affects an estimated 2 - 6% of the population. Hoarding is more common in older adults between 55 and 94, and men more than women.
It is important to note that not all people with hoarding symptoms actually have a hoarding disorder however, if you or someone you know shows many of the symptoms below, you may want to seek a professional opinion:
difficulty trashing, recycling, donating or gifting things,
clutter in their homes, office, cars,
piles of things such as magazines, newspapers, clothing. The piles may get shifted and added to but they rarely decrease in size or number,
sleeping with items on the bed,
trouble categorizing, organizing, or paying attention,
difficulty making decisions,
excessive shopping or collecting "free" items,
not acknowledging the seriousness of the problem.
Below are some more prominent signs that a hoarding disorder exists and that you should seek professional help:
The hoarder keeps part or all of their home off-limits to others. They don't invite people to their homes for fear that if someone sees how they are living they will try to intervene and make them get rid of their things. The hoarder may go to great lengths to keep people out of their homes because they fear things will be taken or removed without their permission. They may insist on meeting somewhere other than their home so you won't see how they're living.
If you're already aware of their problem you may notice that you are having more frequent conversations about their problem. Conversations that may often turn into confrontations and/or arguments, especially if you offer to help them declutter.
Decluttering of any kind may be a major undertaking that could take hours or days. The person with the disorder may become so overwhelmed by the many possibilities of sorting, organizing and storing items that they may stop the process altogether.
Failing to pay their bills, The reason for this may be because they can't find them in the mess, or, if they receive them electronically, they haven't placed them in folders in the computer, or set reminders to pay them.
Excessive shopping, picking up FREE or sale items without actually having a use for them. They can't, or won't, admit to buying or collecting things they don't need because they see them as useful, or feel that they might need them in the future. Overfilled closets, cupboards, and pantries are good examples of "just in case" buying or collecting.
Home repairs are put off until "the house is clean" because they don't want anyone to see their house and their living conditions. In some cases, the repairs never get done.
Hoarders not only clutter their homes, they tend to migrate to the garage (if they have one) or renting storage units.
They are overly protective of their "stuff". They may tend to snap at you if you pick up or move their items, or, they may refuse to loan you anything even if they have a dozen of the item that you need.
Hoarding Disorder Doesn't Just Affect the Hoarder
Families of people with Hoarding Disorder often suffer life changing consequences from living with someone with the disorder. For instance they may suffer from financial strain, anger issues, shame and emotional stress as well. Below are some more examples of negative ways that hoarding affects others who share a home with someone who hoards:
Conflict. A major conflict begins when hoarding costs others to lose "usable" living space, especially in shared spaces such as the kitchen, living room, bathroom, etc.
Financial strain. This may be due to excessive shopping which could lead to maxed out credit cards, low-to-no savings, the need for storage rental, etc.
Young children of hoarders are affected in many areas of their lives:
Social. They may not be allowed, or they may be ashamed to invite friends over.
Mental. You may see signs of depression, resentment, and anger towards the lifestyle they are forced to live and may feel that their parent values their "things" more than them which in turn can cause feelings of rejection.
Division. They may feel their parents are pitting them against each other leaving them feeling torn between the parents.
Custody. Should the parents live apart, hoarding may become a legal issue in custody battles.
Adult children are also affected. Their parent's disorder may lead them to become estranged from them and, in some cases, they may prevent their own children from visiting.
If the adult child is a caregiver to their parent(s) the disorder could lead to "caregiver burden". This is a common occurrence in situations where someone is responsible for providing physical or emotional care for another. The caregiver may have increased internal conflict such as chronic worry, anxiety, depression, the ability to cope, self-esteem issues, and even financial trouble.
Spouses and/or partners are affected as well. Frustration and anger can build-up when, after repeated requests to declutter, the person with the Hoarding Disorder doesn't seem to be gaining any ground. They may even consider separation or divorce if a resolution isn't reached.
Health and Safety Concerns
Someone with a Hoarding Disorder may believe that their hoarding isn't affecting anyone else but they couldn't be further from the truth. Hare are just a few of the ways that too much clutter in the home affects the safety of all occupants and/or visitors:
Dust. Vacuuming, sweeping, mopping and dusting are very difficult in a home filled with clutter. This can lead to breathing complications due to the dust, dirt, pet hair build-up.
Bugs, mildew, fungus. Spillages can't be wiped up if they can't be reached. This can lead to mildew and fungus. Leaks in pipes, rooves, etc. can also lead to mildew and/or fungus. Bugs are automatically drawn to rotting vegetables, fruits, etc.
Medical issues. The lack of a clean environment can lead to frequent headaches, breathing issues such as asthma or allergies.
Personal hygiene. It's hard to bathe/shower if every sink, bathtub, or shower in the home is used for storage, rendering them useless unless they are cleared out before use. It may also be difficult to determine between clean and dirty clothing if it is not properly cleaned and taken care of.
Injuries. When you're having to climb over or walk around stuff to get from one location to another within the home injuries are bound to happen such as falling over stacks of items, stubbing your toe, or pulling muscles trying to get around things.
Fire hazard/safety. Paper, magazines, clothing, etc. are very flammable. A home filled with these things are very dangerous as one little spark could set the place on fire and extinguishing could be impossible. Not to mention reaching exits to evacuate in the event of a fire.
Weakened flooring. Some homes were not constructed with the intent to hold tons of excess goods thus leading to possible breakthroughs in the flooring, especially if the floors also have been weakened by spills that haven't been cleaned up.
Everyone (myself included) loves the cute, fuzzy little fur babies but there comes a time when enough is enough. People who hoard animals acquire them in large numbers (dozens, even hundreds). It may start with one or two but in most cases they don't get them spayed or neutered. Before they know it they're running out of room for not only the animals themselves, but also their food and water dishes and litter pans. Or, they don't have enough hours in the day to take the dogs out for a walk to do their business so the dogs (and cats) end up going to the bathroom wherever they can. This is a safety issue for not only the humans, but also the pets. If the odors or noises become a nuisance to the neighbors you may find that you are turned into the police. In that case, the police will investigate and, if the complaint is found to be substantiated, the home owner/renter may be arrested for animal cruelty and the animals will be removed.
Hoarding Disorder is a very serious problem that doesn't just go away by itself. It requires professional help through an intervention. There are companies (like ours) that will help with the cleanout and removal of the belongings however, a professional counselor will be needed to deal with the emotional stress of not only the hoarder, but also their family and/or caregiver.
For cleanout services in the Steuben, Wyoming, Livingston, Chemung, Tioga, or Tompkins County areas of NYS call Compassionate Cleanout Services at (607) 661-6731.