In a recent news story, a 62-year old woman in Shelton, Washington died when a six foot pile of clothing and other items collapsed on top of her and suffocated her. It is believed she was looking for the telephone at the time. It took the police ten hours to dig out her body.
What is hoarding?
The Mayo clinic site defines hoarding as: “The excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them.”
Hoarding may be a subtype of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD.) Psychologists are divided as to whether hoarding is a subtype of the above conditions, or if it should be considered an entirely separate disorder altogether.
Whatever the case, the presence of hoarding behaviors can definitely be considered a manifestation of other mental disorders. About 30 to 40 percent of people with OCD demonstrate hoarding behaviors, which can occur concurrently with anxiety, depression, indecision, procrastination, PTSD and other disorders.
Hoarding may be a coping mechanism to help people deal with major life stresses. In fact, it may be brought on by the anxiety of a traumatic life event, such as the death of a loved one. 2 to 2.5 percent of the population of the U.S. respond to stress by holding on to things, or “not letting go.”
In a recent study of foster children versus non-fostered children, it was discovered that more children who had been fostered went on to demonstrate hoarding behavior as compared to children who had not been fostered. Since children in need of foster care have lost their parents and other adult family members, whether through neglect, abuse, or death – the findings of this study support the hypothesis that there exists a strong correlation between stress and hoarding.
How do I know if I’m a hoarder?
People who hoard often have difficulties making decisions, particularly about their possessions. Hoarders have trouble assigning a relative value to individual items since his or her strong emotional attachment impairs the objective ability to see the said item’s “true value.” The mind creates “valid reasons” for holding onto even the most insignificant or meaningless items, such as junk mail, broken things, clothes that is never worn, freebies, items that may one day be useful as gifts and etc. Unable to discard and organize items, they often live in unsanitary conditions as their accumulations end up taking their living space. Some people exhibiting hoarding behaviors will believe that this behavior is normal while others chose to isolate themselves from society for fear of being found out.
If you believe you might be a hoarder, the fist step to getting help is becoming aware of the problem and being ready to address the underlying causes of the behavior. Think back to when you first started noticing changes in your external environment. Can you trace it back to an occurrence in your life that, up until now, you thought was “nothing” or that you “got over it?”