Weatherford Democrat

February 17, 2013

Hoarding: the effects of obsessive keepers


Weatherford Democrat

— By KATHY SMITH

Between 700,000 and 1.4 million people in the United States have compulsive hoarding behaviors.

It is defined as the excessive collection of items along with the inability to discard them. Hoarding can create cramped and hazardous living conditions that could pose health risks. Hoarding can interfere with daily tasks including bathing and cooking. Above all, the clutter or hoarded items can be a safety and a fire hazard.

Some of the characteristics of a hoarder are an individual who has accumulated large quantities of objects, documents, papers, animals or possessions beyond apparent necessity or pleasure. They struggle with parting and letting go of possessions. They may have a wide range of interests and uncompleted projects. They may be a chronically disorganized person gets distracted easily and has weak time-management skills. A hoarder often makes decisions differently than a non-hoarder. People who hoard do not see these characteristics as a problem.

Clutter for hoarders gives a feeling of safety and comfort. People who hoard usually have very few relationships. The ones they do have, they have had for a long time. Often hoarding has been caused by a traumatic life-changing event such as the loss of a divorce, death of a relative, loss of job, losing possessions in a disaster. If a person has not adequately dealt with this trauma, it can trigger a hoarding problem.

Hoarding can affect anyone regardless of sex, age or economic status. People are more likely to hoard if they had family members who did.

Often hoarders are perfectionists. They worry about making the right decision about what should be done with each possession. And when they can’t make the decision, they tend to keep it.

You should seek help from a doctor if clutter and difficulty in discarding things is a problem. This condition usually surfaces in the teenage years. As the person gets older they start to acquire things which there are not need or space. By middle age, when the condition is diagnosed, symptoms are usually severe and difficult to treat.

Family and neighbors can help a person who hoards. One way is help the person come forward and find the help they need to overcome this problem. Hoarding will continue if the person isn’t helped. The worst thing to do is to go into the hoarder’s home and clean it up. This can cause the hoarder to revert to old habits or even get worse. Social support is needed to help the hoarder deal with the problem.

Coaching is an important skill to have when dealing with people who hoard. Often family members do not make good coaches. Here are some coaching skills to consider: 

• Listen without judgment.

• Treat people who hoard as you would like to be treated, with respect and dignity.

• Focus on the person’s good qualities, not the mess.

• Recognize small steps of progress in eliminating clutter.

• Remember that good coaches help shape the decisions so it’s easier to make, they don’t make the decision for them.

• Make the person who hoard feel accepted by family and others.

If may be difficult to do, but contacting local authorities such as police, fire, public health or animals welfare agencies may be the best choice especially when health and safety is a risk.

Source: Kansas State Research and Extension

Kathy Smith is a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for Parker County. Contact her at (817) 598-6168 or kl-smith@tamu.edu.