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The Dark Side of Hoarding

Look beyond what the eyes may see when entering the home of a hoarder




Hoarding disorder is a mental health condition in which a person feels the need to save an excess amount of belongings that appear to have little to no value. This person considers each item to be significant and necessary to keep regardless of the negative effects the accumulation has on their quality of life, relationships, health and even their safety.


People may develop a hoarding disorder when experiencing some form of physical, emotional, or psychological trauma. These traumatic events may consist of the loss of a loved one through death or even divorce. Losing employment, dreadful childhood experiences, challenging emotions, loneliness, abuse or neglect are some other common examples. Those who do not have this disorder may wonder why the extreme form of clutter is not just easily addressed: especially when it is obviously causing major issues in the home and the individuals life.


However, if we look beyond the surface, we start to gain some understanding of why someone may choose to surround themselves with such extreme clutter.

Believe it or not, many people hoard to cope with unresolved issues in their life.

Therefore, approaching these individuals with genuine respect and empathy can allow us to help them begin the process towards letting go of clutter and creating a space that is healthy and even welcoming.


Hoarding occurs over time, and is sometimes not be noticed until spaces within a home are filled. In many cases, the clutter extends to areas outside the house such as the backyard and garage. The severity of the hoarding habit may even lead the individual to rent storage space, to continue to hold on to more possessions.


Many hoarders may call what they have a collection. The word "collection" implies value and unfortunately helps the individual to justify their desire to keep these things. Most describe items through feelings and memories vs. reasonable needs and wants. One common type of hoarding disorder is "compulsive shopping". Though some of the items bought may actually be needed, there is an unhealthy cycle of buying and storing an inappropriate amount of goods, based on the space available in the home. Eventually items are stuffed in any area they can fit; to the point where the person can no longer even access them. In most cases these items are never seen again.


Some symptoms of Hoarding:

  • "Closed door" policy

  • Indecisiveness

  • Procrastination

  • Disorganization

  • Reduced social gatherings

  • Seperation from loved ones and friends due to feeling embarrassed about their living space

  • Struggle to let go of anything in the home due to the feeling that everything may be needed in the future

  • Broken relationships with family

  • Poor diet

  • Health & Hygiene issues

  • Neglected home repairs

  • Anxiety, Depression, ADHD, OCD

  • Functions of daily living becomes challenging


Some Risks of Hoarding:

  • Safety and fire hazards due to doorways and windows being blocked

  • Flammable material throughout the home

  • Fall risks due to walking or climbing over belongings

  • Property damage caused by leaks, electrical wire damage and neglected repairs

  • Health code violations


Effects hoarding has on families:


Family members experience high levels of stress when dealing with a hoarder. One cause of this stress is due to not understanding the mental and psychological trauma the hoarder is experiencing or effective ways to approach helping them. Frustration with loved ones develops over time after repeated requests to condense clutter. Many times, when a change is not made family members seperate themselves or threaten to involve outside resources.


Hoarders may not understand the magnitude of how their hoarding affects other family members. Family members may start claiming areas in the home where they feel most comfortable despite still being surrounded by a lot of things. Communication between loved ones is also limited and shared activities are reduced due to confined and cramped spaces.


Family members may experience health issues when living in an unsanitary environment. Mild to severe hoarding could potentially lead to respiratory issues or other health-related problems due to mold or infestation, air quality issues, and poor sanitation.


Tips for helping someone with a hoarding disorder:


  • Seek Help: Find a professional who is experienced in providing support in helping a hoarder.

  • Show Respect: Notify or Ask Permission if before touching their belongings.

  • Listen: Take note of what their needs are and what they would like

  • Reassure: communicate that you are there to support them

  • Start small. Focus on decluttering one room at a time

  • Encourage: Recognize and celebrate victories as you see the progress the individual make


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