3 Signs That You’re a Hoarder. Most people save items of perceived financial or emotional value, but sometimes it can be tricky to tell the difference between a healthy collecting habit, a messy lifestyle, and compulsive hoarding behavior. The first two fall within the normal range of behaviors, but hoarding is a chronic, severe medical issue that requires specialized treatment as well as trash bags. Here are the top three symptoms that could indicate a hoarding disorder.
1. Inability to function adequately for daily activities
What This Is Not
Many individuals keep things that they don’t need but are able to perform daily routines unimpeded. Collectors seek specific items that they keep well-organized, and they take pride in displaying their items. These cases are not considered hoarding.
What This Is
Other people have so much clutter that they can no longer cook in their homes or live safely in their homes, or they might inadvertently pose a threat to others. In addition, because they feel safer if they can see their possessions, the clutter may be divided into massive piles in plain sight throughout the home. Some people cannot use parts of their homes for their intended purposes, such as beds they can’t sleep in, sofas or chairs they can’t sit on, or tables they can’t sit at. These individuals may also withdraw socially and refuse visitors because they feel embarrassed or ashamed of their living space; in more extreme cases, they may live with a broken appliance or without heat rather than allow someone in to fix the problem. Experts say that these cases qualify as hoarding.
2. Keeping large numbers of items that most people do not consider valuable or useful
What This Is Not
Hanging onto mementos, stocking up on a good sale or building a stockpile for emergency scenarios may fall within the realm of normal behavior, especially if these items are kept organized and out of sight.
What This Is
Hoarders often feel a disproportionately large emotional attachment to objects that other people view as being trivial or trash. They may also believe that their items have intrinsic value, such as what others see in artwork, or they believe that the items will be useful in the future. When evaluating whether someone is displaying signs of hoarding, it’s useful to consider the type of objects he/she is keeping; compulsive hoarders tend to hang on to things like: “old newspapers and catalogs, junk mail , broken objects that they might want to fix someday. “Freebies” such as flyers , Items that they might want to give as gifts, although they never actually give them away, clothes they might want to wear someday but never wear, and even napkins from dinner at a restaurant. Hoarders feel more secure when they are surrounded by these possessions and can see them easily. However, they are unable to organize their items because they become so overwhelmed by the different organization options that they give up trying. Over time, this creates floor-to-ceiling piles of “treasures.”
3. Significant impairment or distress caused by the clutter
What This Is Not
Some cases of depression, anxiety and other disorders may mimic hoarding by causing a cluttered environment, social withdrawal or other common symptoms. However, as soon as the medical issue is addressed, these side issues stop dominating the home and the individual. Given the similarities in the end results, a professional evaluation is needed to determine the root cause of the behavior and distinguish between these disorders.
What This Is
In cases of hoarding, the compulsive collecting and clutter dominate the home and the behavior. In more severe cases, an individual who lives alone may keep certain parts of the home off-limits to visitors or keep the shades drawn tightly, or he/she may find excuses to avoid having visitors at all out of embarrassment over the clutter. Other hoarders may find themselves fighting excessively with family members over the clutter, or they may feel anxious or depressed because they are overwhelmed by the clutter. They often endure–and are terrified by–threats from well-meaning loved ones who don’t know how else to motivate the individual to clean the mess. In still other cases, the individual and his/her family risk fire, infestation or eviction due to uncontrolled hoarding.
How Is Hoarding Disorder Diagnosed?
Most hoarders tend to avoid seeking help, so it may be up to loved ones or health care professionals to initiate care. First, the physician or psychologist must rule out medical conditions that could cause similar symptoms and mental disorders that would better account for the symptoms displayed. A typical assessment may ask questions such as:
- Do you have trouble throwing out or giving away things that most people discard?
- How hard is it to use the rooms and surfaces of your home?
- To what extent do your clutter and acquisition affect your daily activities?
- To what extent do your symptoms interfere with your family, social, school or work life?
- How much distress do you feel as a result of these symptoms?
Mental health professionals, such as a psychologist, may also ask for permission to speak with family and friends to make a more accurate diagnosis.
How Do We Treat Compulsive Hoarding?
Depending on the severity of the hoarding disorder, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication may be recommended either in conjunction or alone. CBT lowers the distress associated with discarding unneeded items by reducing the perceived need to save them while building skills such as decision-making, organization and relaxation. In particular, CBT helps the individual learn how to make quick, reasonable judgments on whether to keep an item. Some anti-depressant medications can help reduce anxious or depressive feelings while bringing about faster improvement. In addition, sometimes pairing an individual with an organizer can help him/her to better understand the advantages of altering their habits and to set manageable goals for clearing the mess. In some cases, a “harm reduction” approach may be utilized initially to reduce the risks to the hoarder and the community; this helps keep everyone safer while more long-term treatments take effect. No matter how severe the hoarding case, rehabilitation help works. Armed with effective CBT and gentle medication, a compulsive hoarder can indeed live a more satisfying lifestyle.