Randy can't throw anything away. His hoard nearly touches the celling in every room of his home. To get around he must crawl atop the overwhelming and unsteady piles.
What is a Hoarder?
A hoarder is anyone who struggles with throwing away or cleaning up their home due to numerous reasons that are usually very personal and painful. Hoarders can collect anything from trash, to dolls, to old books, to cats- typically hoarding impacts ones entire life and well-being.
There are many variations of hoarders
Skip the Secret Clean-Up Party
How would you feel if after returning home from a long vacation, you found all of your things had been cleared out and given away? “But look how clean it is!” Your friends who did this to you say in their own defense.
Just because a hoarder keeps a lot more things in their home than you do doesn't mean the experience is any different for them.
Many attest to spending entire months clearing out the hoarded homes of loved ones, only to return a short time later and find the original damage tripled. This is upsetting to the cleaners, who feel their hard work is unappreciated but no one is more upset than the one who has found all their things gone. A large reason people hoard is because they are afraid of lose and separation; the very feelings a quick, surprise clean up solidifies and perpetuates.
Get into the mind (and homes) of real hoarders
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Why People Hoard
Randy (pictured above) seems easy to blame. Who else could have messed up his home this badly? In fact, he does nothing to deny it: he is sole perpetrator of the mess. He had a bathroom, a bedroom, a living area, and kitchen. He had floor spaces and wall spaces and a safe haven that many can only dream about. But Randy ruined his space, he filled it with so much clutter it’s hardly a home but rather a junkyard.
Randy is easy to blame, sleeping in a corner of the mess, driving to use public restrooms whenever the urge arrives, and bathing in a dirty sink each day. While Randy puts his neighbors and landlord at risk, no one seems to suffer more than him- the same man who accumulated the piles upon piles of junk. When we blame Randy, we assume that he deserves his fate.This will never fix anything, instead we must seek to understand Randy- and the millions of others who are faced with this same disease.
Why Blaming Never Works
Most hoarders are aware they have messed up big. Constantly referenced as a slow process, the mess jumps up and surprises the hoarder one day; how did I let it get this bad? Those with hoarding tendencies usually beat up on themselves enough and by joining in on the name-calling, nothing will ever get cleaned up. In order for progress to happen, the hoarder must find a positive state of mind.
Hoarding is a sad man’s sport, collecting items to fill the voids in life. People assume hoarders are just messy people- people who let their house get out of hand on purpose. While this might be true to a certain degree, start to clean up a hoarder's house and watch them pull their own hair out. The hoard- no matter how stinky or junk-ridden it appears- is full of meaning to the owner, hence how this happens in the first place. What appears to be junk to outsiders is sheer gold to the one that clings.
Why People Hoard
Life changing events or traumatic stress can boot the cleanest of people into hoarders, those with sloppier tendencies are at an even bigger risk. What happens throughout life alters our states of mind, and when in dire straights humans tend to self-medicate. Hoarding is a dangerous medicine, one that only increases the potency of initial issues.
Feeling safe: When Randy (pictured above) was growing up, his siblings and schoolmates picked on him constantly. He never felt safe or well liked; as Randy entered adulthood he was faced with the ever-present task of finding his safe place in the world. With few close confidents, Randy was never taught the proper ways to feel safe. He hoards to compensate for this. Surrounded in clutter, no one can get to him- no one can hurt him. When he sleeps, so much junk shields him, he’d be left unfound say anyone entered his apartment at night.
More Problems: Ironically, hoarders live an extremely unsafe life. With so much clutter- the risk of fire dramatically increases as does the risk of a fall or health issue due to unsanitary and unsteady living conditions. Even if able to call for help, rescuers might be unable to reach the hoarder when faced with all of the clutter. Feelings of safety also come from having friends and family around us, by accumulating years of junk people only get pushed away, keeping hoarders isolated and unsafe.
Looking for that Happy High: Real happiness comes from loving others and being loved, living a life full of passion. But what happens when all of the happiness you ever knew disappears? Shopping triggers the feel good emotions in our brains, when we purchases something we are rewarded by these chemicals in our brain. An easy and artificial high, hoarders are addicted to shopping, finding, and collecting items. This spike in mood is short-lived for everyone, especially a hoarder. Soon as the item comes home, with nowhere to go except atop the piles of other purchased items, the good feeling is gone and depression quickly returns. When days go by and happiness is still nowhere to be found, who wouldn’t feel the pull towards a store, in search of the happiness humans naturally crave?
More Problems: The last thing a hoarder needs to be doing is buying more stuff, yet if that’s one of their only ways to find happiness then the very act of feeling better makes the problem even worse. This is how any addiction can spiral out of control.
Stuck in the Past: The loss of a spouse, a child, a near and dear friend. These are all things that can throw us down in the dumps, knock us off our feet so we forget how to stand. For some, the support systems are in place to push them through the dark clouds. Others are left to fall apart all alone.
Depression can strap on blinders, make us ignore or simply not care about a growing mess. It can also keep us keep us attached to the most benign objects- to the point we simply become unable to toss anything away. For example, say a woman’s daughter dies and prior to the tragic incident a cup was sitting out on the counter. After the incident, it’s possible she will not move the cup; not wanting to disrupt the space as it was when her baby’s heart still beat. This mindset can keep an entire home encased in the past, as the present builds atop it.
More Problems: Keeping items just the way they’ve always been- unable to toss away anything- prevents the grieving process from properly taking place. Because of this, people remain trapped in terrible events ten, twenty, or even fifty years past. Naturally, we must grieve, miss, and let go in order to live the life we are blessed enough to lead.
Finding understanding for others, no matter how strange their condition or circumstance may seem, goes a long way. No one ever thinks it will happen to them and then it does. Show some kindness to people suffering, you never know when you might need that same compassion yourself.