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Hoarding: the ugly side of collecting

Updated on September 10, 2013
People are finally coming to terms with the disorder, and this makes help easier
People are finally coming to terms with the disorder, and this makes help easier | Source

Hoarding is an obsessive disorder that has really only come to light in recent years. Now, due to the spotlight of the disorder there are a lot of places to get help, and learn about this unfortunate issue.

Compulsive or pathological hoarding is categorized by a pattern of excessive procurement of and inability or unwillingness to discard things. Generally, the collection things fill all the living areas of the home. It is usually a cause of significant distress and hindrance for the person and all the family. It is embarrassing to family members, and dangerous.

The things compulsively collected do not have to be items; there are a lot of cases of animals being hoarded. No matter what it is that is being collected, it is detrimental to the person’s health. It can block escape in case of fire, it could potentially be the cause of fire, and the collection could be the cause of unhealthy “visitors” such as menace insects and fungus’.

Even though we do not have a lot of research in the area, we’ve called it an “off-shoot” of OCD. They say this because it is an inability to stop collecting despite the knowledge of otherwise. According to the Mayo clinic, hoarding is not yet considered an official, distinct disorder. It may seem that this “disease” would be hard to diagnose since a lot of TV programs are making light of it. Shows like “American Pickers” and “Hoarders” survive because of hoarders. Then, the question becomes. How much is too much?


When I was younger, we had a neighbor that would collect things. Things were all over the yard and in his house. He would let us play with all the things he had and was happy to see the things be used. He later died because he tripped over his collection of things and couldn’t get to the phone or through the things to get help in time. While he was alive he enjoyed his things, but they were the cause of his death. It was very sad as the massive collection of everything was sorted through and thrown away. It turns out that his wife left him, and his children disowned him because of his inability to let go. He found a purpose for everything. He always felt that nothing should go to waste. I still have some of his things in his memory.

Now, we should ask ourselves, where do you draw the line? He was happy with his things, and his mind set is something we can all identify with. No one really wants to waste everything. There are a lot of amazing things that can be made out of things people call trash. However, how do we know if we have too much stuff? We all have a relationship with stuff. We acquire stuff for memories, for fun, and for decoration. Some of us like and collect more stuff than others. Media and social websites put a lot of pressure on us to purchase things, to own things.

Studies say that only about 1 to 2 percent of people have the serious form of hoarding compulsion. Most people may have inclinations to keep sentimental items, and may even collect clutter. However, the majority of us are ok. If you can only navigate through your house through narrow paths called “goat paths”, you may want to seek help.

psychologists Randy Frost and Gail Steketee have spend decades categorizing and analyzing the disorder. When they started in 1990 they say that they only expected to find a handful of people suffering. Six million sufferers later, they have offered some compelling traits that identify a hoarder.

Gail Steketee says in her book, “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of things” - "[It's] when it crosses the line from ... collecting things to the point where there's distress — either to the person who has the problem or [for] those around them. And [when there is an] impairment — when they can't do the things that they [would otherwise] do in their ordinary lives, when they can't socialize or have people into the house or work effectively, when they can't spend time with their children and on and on."

Randy Frost also comments from the same book. "One of the questions we get all the time from people is, 'What's the difference between someone who has a hoarding problem and someone who is a collector?' What we've noticed is a couple of major differences between the two. First of all, when people collect things, they typically organize them in a pretty systematic fashion — and that doesn't happen in hoarding. The other thing is, when people collect things, they typically want to display them to other people. ... Hoarders want to keep things hidden because of the shame they have."

If you or someone you know is suffering, it is best to get help because this is a disorder that will take hears to help. There are people everywhere that offer therapy and counseling. The person may agree that they need help while out of their home but inside, they usually can’t see the problem. Only 42% of hoarders thought there was a problem with their collection. Search the internet for the nearest OCD specialist near you and get the help needed for your loved ones.



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    • Greenlily profile image


      6 years ago from Philippines

      Yes indeed this is a disorder. I'm glad I am no hoarder. Thumbs up for this article.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 

      7 years ago from New Jersey

      I must say they were very strong people to endure living without so many comforts we have today. And they all had such large families to feed. I also used to hide stuff when my Mother in law came over, or she would take things I was throwing out. Plus she always brought me bags of awful stuff I didn't want or need. When our son was born, he was their first grandchild. She gave me all my husband's old baby clothes, and it was very touchy because she was so attached to them. It was before Permanent Pressed materials were available, and many of them had formula and food stains on them.

    • Aldric Tinker profile image

      Aldric Tinker 

      7 years ago from Malaysia

      I can closely relate: my grandmother likes to keep things around - even though the items are spoilt or beyond repair! There's always that "what if" and "just in case". For instance torn and worn clothes - including undergarments - could be reused as rags to clean spills or clean the window. Nevermind the countless stacks of aluminum tins!

      Let's not talk about food! You'd find syrup bought in the United States which expired in 2011. We're in Sarawak, on Borneo by the way. The funny thing is the syrup was never opened or used!

      On the opposite end was my mother. If my grandmother gets word that Mom was coming, she would quickly hide whatever she could. From what was thrown away, she would recover what could be salvaged...

      Like Jean's mother-in-law, my grandmother endured the hard life. Went through the Japanese occupation of the 30s and 40s. From the late 60s, this widow had seven young mouths to feed after her husband passed away. Rubber-tapping and manning the farm was all she could to to support the family.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 

      7 years ago from New Jersey

      My Mother in law was one of 9 children, and back in those days her Mom probably had miscarriages too. Being born in the Depression, most of her sisters were hoarders. Remember shoulder pads in women's jackets? She had a whole, 20 gallon hefty bag filled with them. Apparently the brothers knew the family was dysfunctional, they all moved away, most to other states. But all the women stayed in a mile radius of where they were born. When she died, we had to hire a company to empty the house, there was no way to do it. I know expensive things were there too, but nobody had time to go through it all. The sisters had terrible jealousies too, but I guess if you didn't grab food fast, you didn't eat. They would go to ralleys, and stuff pizza slices in their purses, or take anything free. It was mortifying to be out with them.

    • Karmallama profile imageAUTHOR

      Dreen Lucky 

      7 years ago from St. Paul, minnesota

      Thank you both for your comments!

      My mother and father were both hoarders of differnet things, so this is something I could say I'm a bit familiar with. I have seen some terrible cases too.

      Mel Carriere: I can imagine you'll see all sorts of bizarre things as a mail carrier but that has to be an awesome job!

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      7 years ago from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado

      My wife accuses me of being a hoarder, and I can't throw things away fast enough for her taste. I think she has the yet undefined anti-hoarder syndrome, because she wants to throw absolutely everything away, including hoarding hubbies.

      Seriously though, as a letter carrier I see this all the time. The other day I saw a garage so stuffed with junk there was no humanly way to stand in it. Some hoarders don't hide it, they flaunt it. Nice work!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing the interesting information, Karmallama. Hoarding is a sad situation, especially when it causes someone's death!


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