From Clutter to Calamity

At what point does hobby item collecting become unsafe, imbalanced or unhealthy hoarding?

Hoarding or Collecting?

After reading this you may believe that you or a loved one may be a hoarder. It is important to understand that hoarding is not the same as collecting even large amounts of items. Perhaps you have a very large doll collection is a spare room. It is organized, is limited to that one room, but may appear overwhelming to others. You enjoy sharing your collection with visitors. You appropriately budget your money to acquire more dolls. A family member believes you are an obsessive hoarder. Are you? Or, perhaps you have an excessive amount of tools, wood, screws, etc somewhat sorted and organized in the garage? You are always on the lookout for new affordable items, but don't discard the old. Your unfinished projects are making it impossible to park the car in the garage. Are you a hoarder or a collector? Although these examples represent collecting that may be considered excess, it probably doesn't constitute obsessive hoarding.

True hoarders usually feel embarrassed by their possessions and are uncomfortable with others seeing them. They may refuse to let others in their home or on their property. They will not call repair workers when essential items need to be fixed or replaced. In an effort to hide their secrets they rationalize that there is no room for the work to be done, or no place for needed appliances to be delivered. Compulsive hoarders are frequently in debt. They are aware of the hoarding cycle and experience sadness, or depression after acquiring additional items.

Hoarding in Older Adulthood

Hoarding is particularly dangerous for the elderly, who frequently have significant physical and cognitive impairments. Their inability to function in the home becomes profound. Hoarding and hiding behaviors are commonly reported in individuals who have dementia. A study of elderly hoarders found that hoarding constituted a physical health threat in 81% of identified cases. This threat included the risk for fires, falling, unsanitary conditions, and an inability to prepare food. An additional study of older hoarders found that 45% could not use their refrigerators, 42% could not use their kitchen sink, 42% could not use their bathtub, 20% could not use their bathroom sink, and 10% could not use their toilet. They become incapable of managing health and medication regimes. Additionally, elderly hoarders are at a significantly higher risk for eviction and premature relocation to senior housing, which may have devastating emotional and psychological consequences.

The Consequences of Compulsive Hoarding

Hoarding can cause serious and even devastating consequences. Hoarders frequently fail to recognize the dangers of their behaviors to themselves and possibly others. Many hoarders live in squalor and may subject their elderly parents, children or spouses to numerous hazards. In some cases the legal system is forced to intervene. Standard legal interventions often involve sanctions, such as evicting the individual, mandating a clean out, or removing vulnerable individuals from the home. Public health and/or fire safety issues may put the home at risk for condemnation. If the hoarder has children or elderly living with them they may be charged with abuse and/or neglect resulting in protective services intervention. Frequently loved ones are removed from the home related to their threatened physical safety, thwarted emotional, social and educational development, and failure to receive needed attention and care.

Treatment for Hoarders

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