Hoarding: How Severe Mental Disorders Can Impact Friends and Neighbors

Hoarding warning signs: cluttered living spaces, inability to discard items, difficulty managing daily tasks, poor organization, shame or embarrassment, limited or no social activities.
Hoarding warning signs: cluttered living spaces, inability to discard items, difficulty managing daily tasks, poor organization, shame or embarrassment, limited or no social activities. | Source

Reasons and Rationales for Hoarding and Clutter

Several years back, I worked with a gentleman who hoarded books and papers at work and books and other materials at his private residence. He actually bragged about the abundance of materials he stored at home. He had not grown up in poverty, so I wondered at his gathering and keeping. This brought to mind an adage with which a professor began his anthropology course each semester at my school - "Some Americans get when they can, can what they get, and sit on the can." Sounds like hoarding.

When does materialism become a collecting sickness? Hoarding can drive away family members and friends. It may even negatively impact your employment if coworkers and supervisors notice that your car is filled with "stuff."

Rooms at the associate's house mentioned above had been filled with floor-to-ceiling bookcases on each wall and filled, in turn, with many books. The rooms could no longer be used for their intended purpose or design. He verbalized his belief that if he filled his office at work with enough books and papers that his company could not lay him off.

This is akin to announcing that if the wedding invitations are already sent out, then you must marry your finance. The marriage-announcement situation has indeed led many people into marrying an incompatible person, but the work-hoarding was a new one to me. The employees left on board had to clean out the mess and were not happy about it. They resented the hoard and the person that collected it.

This busy individual actually worked two full-time jobs that overlapped hours, doing tasks of one job on the other job and juggling duties, so the circumstances were not the most productive. Ultimately, he was laid off from one position and left the accumulated hoard there for several weeks, abandoning it without regret. I wondered - is there there a type of fake hoarding? If so, it was just as disruptive as the real thing and very off putting.

The hoarders and wasters:

Not all the gold that is beneath the moon

Or ever hath been, or these toil-worn souls

Might ever purchase rest for one

-- The Cary translation

Gustave Doré's illustration to Dante's Inferno. Plate XXII: Canto VII: The hoarders and wasters.
Gustave Doré's illustration to Dante's Inferno. Plate XXII: Canto VII: The hoarders and wasters. | Source
Source

Curious Behaviors

I've met several other individuals about whom I was uncertain when considering their "collecting" hobbies. One collected too many stray cats and eventually was forced to give them up to better homes. Another collected too many cats and continues to do so to this day; he feeds them and goes without food himself and is ill much of the time. It is a matter of time before his city authorities intervene.

The elderly parent of one acquaintance told family one night that she had accumulated a sizeable quantity of things and refused to get rid of them so that these possessions would present a problem to those left behind when she died. In that way, she said, she would be remembered. What she was remembered for, unfortunately, was for giving wrapped pieces of trash as birthday and Christmas presents.

Another elderly parent left behind dozens of large packing boxes of heavy plastic margine bowls from the 1970s in her attic, along with a large amount of other inexpensive items. One of her adult children went on to fill an entire large basement with toys and put an alarm on that house, afraid of their potential theft.

Still another person filled storage units with very old but not collectible furniture, in case it was needed. He had a houseful of new, good quality furnishings and wasted hundreds of dollars monthly on the storage. In fact, I knew two people in separate states who did this, when they really needed that wasted money to pay off their credit card bills.

Habits from the Great Depression

A good friend kindly says that my father was probably stocking up on goods, rather than hoarding in the late-1960s and 1970s, when our town saw its first discount stores open. I think he began to hoard, while my mother's idea of cleaning was often only to throw things out, but she did not eliminate his hoards. I lost some homework papers and books that way, though.

My parents, both being older, had lived through The Great Depression and my father always said that if you found a good item, you should buy at least two or three. You never know when a product will go off the market. However, hoarding did not begin until he neared retirement age and the discount stores opened. I suppose he was preparing for retirement in a way, but the attic and basement, along with the stair cases were stuffed with products, including paper grocery sacks filled with cartons of cigarettes (they smoked a carton a day between them).

Another friend's grandmother would throw nothing away and purchase very little. She went so far as to consume spoiled foods and milk many times, when it was not necessary to do so. Her style was a habit from the Depression that she remembered with fear. She also maintained a small chest freezer that was full of expired food, perhaps thinking it was still edible.

Interestingly, one of her children did the same thing as an adult and only ceased the freezer habit - a 6-foot-long freezer that time - when it broke down and all the food stuffed into it spoiled and made a deadly stench before it was discovered. When the grandma died, the children found a lot of things, but one was a large box full of television remote controls, about three dozen. The old sets were discarded, but the remotes were saved.

Many rooms of the house were stuffed with things and it took a cleaning crew and over a year to sort out the estate and stuff.

What a relief some open space might be!
What a relief some open space might be! | Source

Battle Of the Hoards

What happens when two or more hoarders gather together in the same domicile?

Hoarding In Real Life

BUSINESS

Two couples were severely handicapped by hoarding and this included all four individuals. the first couple lived in a home that was stacked on the first floor with decades' worth of 7-foot-high piles of family business paperwork, with a narrow path from the front door to the kitchen and the bedroom. The staircase to the second floor was blocked. Both people amassed things, but she suffered the more severe problem in that she was responsible for the paper that choked the home. She also controlled others' time with her talking.

She also wanted to be in charge of all family members' activities across the country for all holidays - friends and family members began to drift away in avoidance. As the problem became critical, she finally cleared out the paper, save for the required 7 years' records for the IRS. Her husband began staying in a second house they owned and they both seem free of hoarding to this day.

A MUSEUM

Another couple, with infant children, ran a historical museum on their several acres of property. This was a Civil War Museum operated by enthusiastic re-enactors of the major battles. In costume, they were completely different people than in their street clothes. In fact, the characters were more interesting personalities.

Their ranch style home at the front of the property was filled with diapers - clean and dirty, numerous baby items, and papers, while the museum was clean and orderly. The house had a narrow pathway from the front door through the living room and kitchen to the back door. All the other rooms were blocked off with stacks of clutter.

Visitors included several school groups each month and all were amazed at the clutter, but seemed to forget it when they entered the interesting museum to be guided through it by Civil War Era characters.

This continued for years, but the hoarding problem was finally resolved. Today, the museum is much expanded and does a good amount of business, while visitors no longer need to walk through the house to access the museum. The family is still together and no stacks of things can be seen in the house's windows any longer. If the museum had not been so interesting, the family might have lost their business, because of the condition of the house.

HOARD BATTLE

Still another couple seemed to compete with one another over who could bring in the larger number of things to a small home and spend the larger amount of money every month. They literally could not walk through the home except along a narrow path between the front door - usually blocked as well - and the kitchen, where one could not access appliances or cupboards.

All other rooms and the staircase to the upper floor required climbing. Unfortunately, this condition was solved by death, others coming in to clean the place out.

If you suspect yourself or someone you know of hoarding, check out the San Francisco site above and look for similar help in your community.

Help For Hoarding Disorder

  • The San Francisco Bay Area organization listed above offers a guide for addressing Extreme Hoarding Behavior or what they also call Clutterer's Syndrome or Pack Rat Syndrome.
  • The website features a 10-question hoarding detection screener that raises good questions. The very first one asks if the person of concern blocks exits with his or her hoarded items? I am aghast that I could answer "Yes" for several people I had known in the past.

More by this Author


Comments 27 comments

copywriter31 profile image

copywriter31 4 years ago from Port Neches

I did not know "Hoarding' was a named, real sickness, but I found your hub to be interesting. An Uncle very close to me suffers from this condition... He has no room to park his car because his garage is full of newspapers dated 1963 and many other 'things' he will never again use. He is losing more and more room inside his house due to Hoarding. But this is the kicker--his deceased sister hoarded things in EXACTLY the same way. My uncle is 87 years of age.


jeyaramd profile image

jeyaramd 4 years ago from Mississauga, Ontario

Speaking of accumulating books. The employee that I replaced had hidden important contracts in cabinets. We had to sort out these contracts that the manager assumed was complete. So, it was a surprise for the employer to have come across a back log that he never knew existed. These are the same employees who would never leave a job even for a day. Hence, keeping a tight lid over their footsteps. Its awful. I could feel the employer's pain. I was in pain myself sorting out months worth of work. It was a nightmare. It was great to eventually move on to daily activities without the backlog. But, at the time, it felt like the never ending story. A black hole. Great hub. I appreciated it so much. A treat to read from start to finish. Thanks again.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

copywriter31 - I feel bad for your uncle. It must be miserable to be so cramped. He and his sister lived through the Great Depression and perhaps that contributes to the condition - fear of starving or not having anything?

jeyaramd - That is a horrible, long, hard job you had to do and rejoice in your being done with it. It is SO wearying.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 4 years ago from Alberta and Florida

A few months ago, I worked with a group of volunteers for the county cleaning out the home of two elderly and ill hoarders. Unbelievable what these people thought was valuable, and they were so resistant! But, something you haven't addressed here, the hoarding was not the main problem. That was the influx of bugs, rodents and mold in the house because it could never be cleaned. There wasn't one clear surface in the place, and once it was cleared, it was nauseating. We had to go in dressed like a haz-mat team... I will never forget the experience. Lynda


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

I've seen the decay on "Hoarders", but the hoarders I've known did not have the bugs, rodents, and accumulated spoiled foods (they ate them all) - most having no basement probably helped with this. Lots of dust, though, so lots of dust mites. I've never seen the other complications in person.

After helping to clean out one house and becoming exhausted - and very sneezy, I don't think I could put on a haz-mat suit and attempt the extra challenges that you completed. You and your other volunteers are specially gifted and generous with your time beyond most, imo. There must be many homes like that you describe, but the public is unaware until the stench reaches the street and the neighbors' yards.


Cara.R profile image

Cara.R 4 years ago from New York

I noticed how you mentioned, is there fake hoarding,

and if it is true, it is just as disruptive as the real thing and very off putting. I'm not a hoarder but I do have OCD.

I can relate to the part about the great depression and my grandmother was so afraid to lose things, even water, she unhooked the toilet. (she had a well instead of city water) You had to use saved water from the shower to flush the toilet using a bucket.

People who have OCD are ill. And although this hub has an interesting perspective and a link for people who need help. It doesn't touch on the actual illness itself. It reads more about how much of a "turn off" this illness is to others but not the torment it causes the hoarder. Maybe I am too close to the subject. But even if someone faked being a hoarder their still ill and need help. This was an interesting hub.


Hendrika profile image

Hendrika 4 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

I find this most interesting. I also thought my husband is a bit of a hoarder, but after reading this I know that we do not have a real problem. Should start throwing "stuff" out though before it actually does!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

Cara.R - Thanks for your contribution. I did not intend to target OCD, but only my experience and some of the effects on others; and not all illness cases of hoarding are OCD. Some stem from effects on brain chemistry that malnutrition and unbalanced electrolytes can cause. A few others from conditioning. Many Hubs could be written on different aspects of hoarding and my choice is not the OCD route.

I have experience as a therapist/counselor for 25 years and feel discussions and explanatory materials about mental disorders are best left to patients and their practitioners and professionally sanctioned lectures or workshops to the public. I do like articles from the patient's point of view, but there are unauthorized people diagnosing mental health conditions on the Internet and in articles and unknowingly providing wrong information. There is so much overlap among mental disorders and their etiologies that the crime of practicing without a license is very close at times in the offending materials; in Ohio the crime of face-to-face Dx without a license is a misdemeanor on first 3 offenses and felony on the 4th, the last time I checked.

I feel that a portion of our society discusses and tries to diagnose mental disorders as a sort of entertainment source and for other negative reasons. I steer clear from that fray.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

Hendrika - I had a problem with too much "Stuff" in my car at one point years ago, because it was the only way to keep it from being destroyed or taken by a campus landlord and a couple roommates. I got wised and moved and the problem was solved when I could actually take things into the house! Oh, I DID have a small rose bush bloom in the backseat of my car once before I thought about removing the bush and planting it. LOL

Listen to what Imma says about the filth and stench too. That's pretty incredible and I feel very bad about the illness that hoarders on TV seem to have.

***

I recall that we had a case of a paranoid schizophrenic that heard voices telling him to hoard or be killed, so that's another possible cause. Always see a practitioner for help in cases where hoarding seems to be an illness or result of illness. It's mind boggling.


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 4 years ago

I did watch the reality show Hoarders recently and honestly, it was tragic to see what this compulsive behavior did to not only the hoarder but the entire family. Up and interesting.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

Thanks!

We had one gentleman that lived on a major street, whose home and yards were filled completely. He said the yard "stuff" was art. Finally, the city pressed charges of some sort and he cleaned everything out. It's all stayed clean for two years so far; but I've heard of folks being evicted from their own homes when the city officially condemned the sites for the hoarding and decay. Poor people! Where do they go?


Cara.R profile image

Cara.R 4 years ago from New York

Thank you Patty,

For taking the time to help me better understand your point of view. I do agree that there is a lot of misinformation on the internet. And a lot of what my doctor would call "pop doc's" ; trying to diagnose people without true experience and education on the matter. Now that I understand you and your hub better; I think you are a smart woman to steer clear of how some people turn diagnosing mental disorders into a form of entertainment.


Maren Morgan M-T profile image

Maren Morgan M-T 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

Yes, they are out there.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

Hi Cara.R - Now we probably realize that someone will turn the Dx for entertainment into a mental health condition as well. Or is it all Schadenfreude? Thanks for your additional comment. Have you written of personal experience with OCD; I'd be glad to see that.

Maren Morgan M-T - Right you are.


Cara.R profile image

Cara.R 4 years ago from New York

I hope it is neither and definitely not all Schadenfreude, I had people in my life like that, their very toxic. I haven't written a hub on my OCD yet. I want to but I'm not sure where to begin.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

Hi Cara.R - Do you have a point in time that you yourself recognized any behavior that you would call that of OCD? That might be a place to start. Or start with the present and work backwards, or just start with a certain aspect of your own OCD that you would like people to know about and understand. It may be more than one Hub.

Any ideas out there, anyone? :)


ytsenoh profile image

ytsenoh 4 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

Very interesting hub packed with a lot of useful information. I used to wonder what the difference was between hoarders, collectors and pack-rats. I find it uncomfortable to watch the reality shows about hoarding--if you've seen one of the episodes one time, it's very eluminating and sad. When my Dad was still here, one of his ailments was severe dementia and he started purchasing two and three of numerous items and stuff was everywhere, just stuff. Hoarding is definitely an interesting subject. Thank you.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

And it's a bigger problem in this country than I ever realized before. Thanks for posting!


Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

I'm a packrat, but not a hoarder. haha. It's amazing to me how far hoarders go, so I know that there's a mental disorder involved. Thanks for this hub. Lots of votes here. Great examples!


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA

Voted up and interesting. I think we all have hoarding tendencies, and what may seem like hoarding to one person is a collection to another.

While there can be fake hoarding, I have a feeling that most people who hoard truly are doing it for what they think are the right reasons - saving the environment, saving for a rainy day, etc. I think they truly have a sickness.

I was struck by your sentence: "She also controlled others' time with her talking". I hadn't thought of people hoarding time, but I know some people who do that!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

Those that have no reasons at all to give for hoarding are the most disturbing to many onlookers. The one that heard voices that said he would be killed if he did not hoard was suffering - the voices told him to give away his money, food, computer, etc. and to hoard outdated vitamins and dog food (cans), food wrappings (after cleaning them) and knickknacks.


NMLady profile image

NMLady 4 years ago from New Mexico & Arizona

We have a friend who sold/gave away everything she had when she retired. She was a widow and moved from SD to AZ with only what she could fit in a medium sized car. She has a small apt. now and is so happy. I think it has something to do with NOT being owned and controlled by possessions.

Having said that, I am have a GREAT deal of difficulty letting go of a Civil War Pineapple antique mahogany bed that was my Great Grandmother's..... and i KNOW it has to go. Yes, this is causing me anxiety as I fear no one will treasure it properly BUT I am moving and will have no room for it...... not set-up and not taken a part for storage. My anxiety is quite real and quite uncomfortable!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

That sounds reasonable. Have you considered donating the bed to a museum? I think the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit might like to have it. How about a museum where you are headed? Civil War items are great to have. How about a group of Civil War Reenactors that collect these things?


MobyWho profile image

MobyWho 4 years ago from Burlington VT

Good donating advice. Having downsized at least six times, I know how hard it is, but it's funny now to see what we both treasured and saved through these moves. Mostly small stuff - an antique postage scale; a 2" bronze Scottie; a chipped 3" tall ginger jar. Lots of photos.

When my previous mother-in-law died, I went through her attic filled with plastic oleo jars - guess she thought they'd be valuable some day. I found $20 bills in a couple of them - so I had to search every single one! I hoard no more!!!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

That was quite a job to search through all those jars, wasn't it? What a collection!


Angela Blair profile image

Angela Blair 4 years ago from Central Texas

Excellent, eye-opening Hub. I have a friend that hoards food, mostly canned goods and boxed things -- I just didn't recognize it as actually being an illness -- there's food stored in every nook and cranny of the house. Thanks so much for writing on this subject -- I'm certainly now more aware of what I'm dealing with. Best, Sis


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

Probably it's worse when all the expiration dates are all past and the stuff is still there, but food everywhere is not a good sign. I used to keep to much on hand and I stopped. .

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