Hoarding and Helping a Hoarder
What is Hoarding?
Reality television has brought hoarding out into the public eye. Most television viewers have seen at least a few minutes of shows that highlight people who have stockpiled everything from unopened boxes of QVC purchases to trash, and dead animals. These shows tend to edit out the important counseling moments that happen behind the scenes while keeping the more dramatic scenes for the public to view. This article is written with the intent of helping people overcome their need to hoard.
Hoarding is when a person keeps an excessive amount of material goods in an enclosed area. The extent of hoarding can be anything from one particular area to an entire home that is packed to the ceiling. Most people have a stash of unusable items, however the hoarder keeps items until their living space is unusable for it's intended purpose. Hoarders may have narrow paths through their homes that allow entrance and exit. Piles of items are stacked around haphazardly diminishing the ability to find or use any of the items.
Why Do They Hoard?
Human beings are known for trying to control their environment. People like animals use their immediate environment as a buffer from the rest of the world. Hoarding is a psychological attempt to control something. When we view the person who hoards they are in a state of crisis where they are attempting to control their environment to relieve another situation that they are unable to control.
Hoarders become defensive of their objects as one might be about a child, in an effort to maintain the status quo. Objects in a hoarder’s life are given value that is not realistic. The hoarding environment creates a false sense of belonging to something greater than ones self. As that false sense of security is removed people who hoard go into a panic mode. There fears, insecurities, and tragedies are brought to the front and put on display. With this process comes a range of emotion that hoarders go through.
Most hoarders can recall a life changing event that preceded their hoarding such as a death, divorce, or even environmental events such as a fire or flooding. Traumatic events in a person life are handled in various ways. While many people may be able to pick themselves up and press on through a negative life experience, hoarders are not able to move on. Through hoarding a person sends up a cry for help. More often than not the hoarder lives alone and does not have close personal ties that would lend moral support.
Hoarding develops from unproductive internal dialogue. The person who hoards is trying to validate themselves through hoarding. The internal dialogue goes something like this “If I can buy/keep this item, I will be ok”. In the beginning shopping may even be an escape from there situation, as time progresses that internal dialogue becomes a habit. Another internal dialogue that may be present is “I don’t ever want to need anything again”. This idea of stockpiling to avoid need usually stems from the destruction of personal property such as fire or flood.
Animal hoarding usually starts out very innocently. People begin to take in animals to help the animal, because by helping the animal they feel needed. My uncle raised hunting dogs, he had a kennel license and a facility that had to be maintained. It was a lot of work even though he had the cement kennels and the right type of facility. People who begin hoarding animals do not have the proper facilities to care for more than three animals. While these people mean well, they ultimately hurt the animals. These are people who want to feel needed. They may start hoarding with one animal that they saved as a stray and begin to take in more animals without regard for the animals care. There are also people who breed animals and it gets out of hand when the animals breed on their own. Most animal hoarders have to be reported to the authorities before they get help.
Helping The Hoarder
We would all like a magic wand to fix these issues, it takes a lot of time and effort. Almost every person who is a hoarder once led a relatively normal life. It is for that reason that it is difficult for me to consider hoarding pathological. People who hoard need to learn how to cope with life's unexpected downside. Through counseling and learning new coping skills hoarders can shed the need to hoard and lead productive healthy lives.
To stop hoarding a person must change their internal dialogue and seek outside personal contact. Internal dialogue can be changed by repetitive positive statements that reinforce self-worth. Hoarders need close personal contact with other people to reestablish a healthy life style. This can mean something simple such as going back to school, volunteering at church or other organizations. Hoarding takes the time and place of people in a person’s life, when they do not have close friends or family, that person has their things. Once positive habits and relayionships have been established, a hoarder can start living a productive life.