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Compulsive Hoarding Disorder

Updated on June 12, 2014

The Many Names of Hoarding Disorder

Compulsive hoarding disorder goes by several different names. This will be an attempt to describe the unusual behaviors found in the disorder. Syllogomania, Collyer brothers syndrome and disposophobia are a few of the names that have been historically used.

Compulsive hoarding is poorly understood and is thought to be at least in some part an obsessive compulsive disorder(OCD). It progresses over time and manifests mostly in older people even though it is also seen in the young and middle aged. It causes people to be self abusive in how they live. They amass huge amounts of items, junk or even animals.The clutter might be reasonably clean or it can be filthy. It might be one room or the whole house. It may not be noticed until it involves most of the living space.

Sufferers with extreme cases cannot get rid of anything including waste products and obvious filth and garbage. Many of them become isolated and afraid of letting anyone see how they live for fear of ridicule. They are ashamed of their life style and go to great length to hide it. Once found out they usually try to make excuses for the mess or even justify it. They cannot stop themselves without some sort of help and intervention.

People With Disposophobia Fear Throwing Anything Out

Living With Clutter

People might start out buying but end up hoarding. They can hoard anything or everything including animals and even trash.These individuals don't necessarily start off with giant dusty piles. Some in the beginning are organized and do dust and clean their environment. As time goes on and as more things start to accumulate it gets harder to clean and keep things organized.

Sometimes you can't tell if someone has a compulsive hoarding problem because the ones that are still social make a point of hiding it.Their appearance is reasonably neat and clean but their home tells another story. These people still take care of themselves and interact with others outside of their home. They will visit others but probably wont let others reciprocate.

Some consider themselves collectors. They claim that the stuff they collect would be worth something some day. If they have family or friends sometimes they try to store some of their possessions with them. This can cause feuds if the items start taking over living space and if the friends want the things out. If the hoarder has money they may use paid storage facilities. This can eat into finances. They also fill up garages, tool sheds anywhere there is space. They have even filled up vacant apartments or houses that either did or did not belong to them. People are not invited over and are too embarrassed to have repairmen fix anything broken which adds another level to the situation. Deferred maintenance can cause problems like mold and mildew from unfixed leaks. They keep the windows covered so that people can't see inside the living area. It can becomes public if they run out of space and the stuff ends up outside the house in the back or front yard where others can witness the problem.

There comes a time with some of them that they are forced to have their place emptied and cleaned. Sometimes getting physically ill and having to be hospitalized due to the stress of losing some of their possessions. If left to their own devices it doesn't take long for them to fill it up again. Family has to be careful in how they approach this.The hoarder might truly feel devastated at any decluttering attempt and place blame on the well meaning family member who is trying to help. They might try to isolate themselves more or shun that family member while continuing to hoard.

If, due to circumstances they end up living in a nursing home they cannot take many things. Depending on the room, there is only limited space available for what they really need much less to hoard things. Some do start to collect newspapers and items they find. They are monitored by the staff and even if involuntarily they will be made to declutter.

Medication Safety And Hoarding

Medicines Among The Clutter

Health can suffer from living in such an environment. Compulsive hoarders will also hold onto their medications. Being disorganized they may put them in different locations and store them inappropriately. If medication is not stored properly it can lose its potency and not work. Putting medicines in different places means they will be lost or forgotten and maybe become expired. Hoarding them means the expired and badly stored medicines will still be used. It is not safe taking old medicines. The effect is unpredictable, it could be very weak and not helpful or very strong causing a overdose like reaction.

Stockpiling Coupons
Stockpiling Coupons

People With Syllogomania Can Be Artistic And Thrifty

Is It Stockpiling Or Hoarding?

Watching some of the organization shows on TV demonstrates the thinking of hoarders. The bigger the house, the more junk that can fit it it. They are reduced to tears when confronted with throwing things out. A lot of them are artistic with many unfinished projects. The organizers point out that in four lifetimes they will never finish all those projects, so they need to donate their supplies of yarn, material, or scrap booking stuff.

Some hoarders consider themselves frugal or green. This type of person theoretically can find a use for everything. The operative word is "theoretically" because they don't or can't follow through. To them it seems wasteful to discard anything that can be reused. They go to rummage sales, auctions, liquidators or dumpster dive and stock up on things that are pretty much useless.They hoard food products that are way past their expiration date thinking that they are being thrifty.

Buying on sale or with coupons gives them a rush, but overbuying is a problem. Extreme couponing is interesting in that you will see some individuals buying things just because they have a coupon and not because they like the product. Claiming that someone else would want or could use it is just an excuse they use. They also put monetary value to their stockpile. But there is value only if it is used or sold.

One of the issues is a failure to make decisions. Keeping the stuff is a non decision while convincing themselves of their frugality. There are other non hoarders that are able to part with their goods without a problem and give to family, friends and charities. Hoarders have trouble with problem solving and are poor decision makers. It runs in families so it can be both nurture and nature.

A Case of Book Hoarding (Bibliomania)

A Sad Story Of Hoarding To Homeless

While at work in a hospital I was interviewing an patient about his complaint of not breathing well. He started to tell me how he had a new landlord and he wanted to evict him from his apartment of 14 years. This landlord had made an inspection of his apartment and told him it was a fire hazard. He was told that if he didn't get rid of his books he would have to leave. At that time I couldn't imagine books being a safety hazard. I asked him how many books did he have. He said he loved books and picked them up from everywhere and he had many. It seemed like an easy answer, get rid of some of the books to show the landlord that he was cooperating. But he said he couldn't.

It seemed inconceivable that facing eviction from his apartment and facing homelessness or life in a shelter he could not get rid of the books. His options were limited, obviously he couldn't move anywhere with them and he said he didn't have much money to rent a new apartment. It wasn't easy, he was in the clinic because he was having breathing problems from the stress, but he didn't want to get rid of the books. Even though the potential dust and mites from all the books was not helping his breathing. It was unlikely he was able to get to the dust with all the books. He said he had an appointment with the social worker to help him with the situation.

The Shame of Hoarding

Due to shame of their surroundings they do not have people come and fix things. If the house becomes too dangerous due to gas leaks, water leaks, infestation etc, it could become condemned and the person has to move. If they rent they could face eviction. Homelessness is a possibility or they could be placed in a nursing home if they have any health issues. In a nursing home they will be restricted in the amount of personal items they can accumulate.

Holidays and Compulsive Hoarders - It's Not Personal it's Compulsion

Holidays can be hard on the compulsive hoarder by all the temptation. It can be an excuse for over buying while getting things that will be saved and not used. The dumpsters and garbage cans will be filled with things people have discarded to make room for the new stuff. Old decorations get thrown out when the 50% off sale comes around. Plenty of perfectly good boxes and shiny colorful wrapping paper. It seems advertisers are speaking to them about the ease of putting your items into paid storage instead of decluttering.

Family and friends want to visit during the holidays and they have to make excuses for not receiving visitors maybe losing friendships from people who don't understand.

Neighbors Of Extreme Hoarders

Is It A Home Or A Landfill?

Compulsive hoarding can become a problem for neighbors who might be put in danger because of this. There was a complaint recently of a fire that was delayed in being put out because the firefighters had a problem getting into a very cluttered apartment. Also with so much dry rotted papers and stuff blocking most of the exits it was considered a fire hazard. EMT has to try to negotiate these places when they get emergency calls, they might have to wear protective clothing from fleas and dangerous smells and try to prevent from falling and hurting themselves.

Vermin can live in the mess and migrate to neighboring apartments or houses. Bed bugs have now made a resurgent after many years of minimal presence. It can be very hard and expensive to try to eradicate them. If an apartment becomes over run with them they can infest a whole building. Infested furniture and other items on the outside of a house or building can infest a neighborhood. Clutter from hoarding makes it nearly impossible to control the pests. This can go on for years without any resolution.

Recently police and firemen broke down the door of an apartment in a city project because the smell was so putrid they thought there was a dead body in it. The tenant was alive and inside the apartment they described as looking more like a dump site than a home. The other neighboring tenants had complained to no avail and most moved.

The accumulated weight of heavy items and leaks from garbage that accumulates can cause structural damage which might mean eventually the structure has to be condemned. If the hoarder smokes there is the very real danger of fire from the cigarettes and all the flammable materials around. A house full of junk is not the place for flaming embers. The dangers of smoking can affect the neighbors also if there is a fire.

There is also the ugly truth of trying to sell your house when your neighbor has a very visible junk collection in his front yard or a vile odor surrounding it. And of course the property value can decrease because of it

Photo courtesy of photo8.com
Photo courtesy of photo8.com

Cases Of Workplace Hoarders

How Syllogomania Impacts On Other Workers

Those that are still in the workplace can be a bane on the existence of their fellow workers or supervisors. Depending on what their job category is and and space allotment would determine how much hoarding they would be able to do. I remember before inspection at this job, we were cleaning up the office of a high placed employee. Much of what we found were personal items that he brought from home or didn't take home because his wife wouldn't let him hoard there. He had various areas he stashed papers, bills, correspondence, books, plaques, unopened gifts even two old junkers in the overcrowded parking lot taking up coveted spaces. Finally security made him tow the cars out and his new boss downsized his space and made him get rid of his stuff. People said he rented storage space to put it. His immediate subordinate also couldn't get rid of any kind of machine or instruments. They were very similar in that way. Outdated equipment lingered year after year in storerooms and in the basements. After he retired and space was at a premium it was left to his replacement to get rid of the unusable junk.

When employees left the job with their locks still on the locker, after repeated attempts to get them to clear it out the lock would be broken. One locker stays in my mind. It was a tall one filled to the brim with years of things she didn't take home. Papers, pay stubs, memos, cups, eating utensils, personal items, whatever. Some of the things were sent to her the others were thrown out.

Animal Hoarding

Animal hoarding can start with the best of intentions. Some people might want to give an animal or two a home. They convince themselves that they are saving the animals from bad people who will harm them. They think they want to start a business breeding dogs or even starting an animal rescue home. It gets out of hand when there are too many to take care of. They don't take them to the vet and they don't have them spayed or neutered. The animals become sick and die in a place that was supposed to be safe. The hoarder seems oblivious to the obvious. Some animal hoarders will actually pick up animals known to belong to neighbors with ID tags. They feel the real owner is neglectful for letting ther animal roam loose. They have an alternate sense of reality and even though the animals are living in deplorable conditions, they think it's better than if they were someplace else. These people live also in squalor, with filth and feces surrounding them. The animals often sick with disease carrying fleas and ticks are forced to live in these unnatural situations. Real animal rescue people have to come in and save the animals.

Squalor syndrome

A Mixed Bag

Compulsive hoarding also occurs in concert with squalor syndrome which is also called Diogenes syndrome, Plyushkin syndrome, Havisham syndrome or messy house syndrome. One can start as a hoarder and go into squalor or one can start with squalor syndrome and start hoarding. Diogenes or squalor syndrome means their life is self imposed squalor and neglect. They hoard their money not spending it sometimes hiding it around their residence being distrustful of banks.. They might live with meager belongings without much creature comforts or they might hoard mounds of clutter. They isolate themselves from people, live in filth, do not seek medical or any other type of help and look the part. Maybe about 10% of individuals have both. The often mentioned Collyer brothers had both. They collected mass amounts of items that cluttered their Manhattan mansion with tons of garbage. They were self abusive as they did not seek medical care and lived in a self imposed isolation of fear. They were afraid someone would steal their "treasures"

The fictional character Plyushkin in Nikolai Golgol's novel "Dead Souls" lived in squalor and brought junk in from the streets to his home. Dicken's Miss Havisham from "Great Expectation" was noted for also living in squalor as somewhat of a recluse. Many people are familiar with the behaviors from these book characters.

You can find a list and short description of famous people with hoarding disorder and squalor syndrome here .

Is There Recovery From Compulsive Hoarding Disorder?

Since the disorder is poorly understood it makes it harder to treat. Considered by some to be a part of obsessive compulsive disorder, but maybe 30 to 40% of them don't present with OCD. Also there is believed to be a difference in the brain activity of these individuals. Some are not even considered to have a mental disorder. There are those that do have dementia, depression, psychosis and attention deficit disorder. This of course makes it harder to treat. Take for instance dementia, where there is damage to the brain which makes the person act irrational and just gets worse as time goes on.

It would be easier to treat someone who is in the early stages and probably can be reasoned with. They would be better able to monitor their own hoarding behavior. Also if illness is a factor or isolation, then help with activities of daily living and companionship might make the situation some what better. They may never win the good housekeeping seal of approval but the point is to keep some control of the situation.

Unfortunately our society in some way encourages it. Years ago things were not so plentiful. Now it is easy for hoarders to get what they want. They go to department stores, thrift shops, rummage sales, neighbors garbage cans, business dumpsters and anywhere else. Even commercials for storage units tell them to put all their unused items in storage. No need to make decisions on it. Why store things away that you will never use and pay for the privilege? Even thrift stores make a profit from them constantly buying cart loads of things they don't need and will never use.

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can be of some benefit. The first part of treatment is to have them admit that there is a problem. Some do not think they have a problem. And then to try to understand why they cannot throw things out and help them make the appropriate decisions about their lifestyle. The hoarder might not want an intervention and therefor can't be made to change unless an emergency happens like they fall and get hurt or otherwise are a danger to themselves.

It seems to be a disorder that they are always recovering and not recovered because of the temptation to hoard. Some have been able to change their behavior with constant self assessment and help from professionals, friends and family. Others seem unable to. It seems to depend on how long they have been afflicted or how serious it is. If there is a mental illness component or another similar syndrome like squalor syndrome involved then it becomes more complicated.

There is no medication that can stop the behavior. The serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRI's) are beneficial for OCD behaviors, but have mixed results when it comes to compulsive hoarding. Some studies found them helpful others found they did not alter the behavior. It is stated that mixtures of different medications work on an individual basis.

The belief at this time that a combination of both medication and CBT have the best chance of working to some degree. More research and studies are being done to improve the outcome in the future.

infirmity can be a reason for hoarding.

Videos On Compulsive Hoarding

What's Your Opinion Of Compulsive Hoarding Disorder?

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    • profile image

      julieannbrady 3 years ago

      Oh dear! I feel compassion for people who experience this disorder - we have a neighbor down the street who suffers from it. Every day we see the UPS driver stopping at their house with more deliveries to add to the mix. What to do?

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thanks FoR The Article. I Have a HUGE Collection Of Hoarding Articles. Just Kidding.

    • DANCING COWGIRL profile image

      Dancing Cowgirl Design 4 years ago from Texas

      Not sure, but I might have a touch of that. As a crafter that can make something out of anything, I find myself wanted to save everything.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Hi, Demaw! About once a year I read a story in the newspaper about a local government and/or the humane society intervening in a case where someone has twenty or thirty cats in their home. Until reading this lens, I didn't associate it with hoarding. Now I see the connection. This is a super lens. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I was reading this and tripped on some stuff on the floor on the way to the kitchen to get my meds...ha! no...just kidding... I have a LOT of stuff though, just don't keep everything. Everything I have is valuable (have you heard that one before?) Blessed!

    • Dragon 40 profile image

      Ken McVay 5 years ago from Nanaimo, British Columbia

      I have a close friend who is a compulsive hoarder, and have found it increasingly difficult to deal with. Thanks for an informative lens! Blessed.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      On the national news one time, a story about a couple who died in there home was aired. They were hoarders and the mountains of garbage fall on top of them one day. Their adult kids were horrified to find out to see the conditions after the fact.

    • PamelaU profile image

      PamelaU 5 years ago

      Wow! I guess this syndrome just stems from fear and insecurity. I love a good old-fashioned clear out! I have a few treasures I'll never part with, but if something can't justify its presence in my home, it has to go!

      Sad condition these poor people have.

    • yayas profile image

      yayas 5 years ago

      My greatest difficulty is in my office, which is very small. Everyone seems to wanna' gather in here whilst I work an' I love it, but it does get a little chaotic, at times.

      Great page!

    • hessa johnson profile image

      hessa johnson 6 years ago

      This is something I wanted to learn more about. Thank you!

    • peetred lm profile image

      peetred lm 6 years ago

      Hoarding is truly a sad mental disability.

    • profile image

      marsha32 6 years ago

      I'm not a hoarder, but I'm starting to feel like one with all the junk that is out of place in my house. My mother, however, is a hoarder and she drives us all crazy! She needs, desperately, for one of those shows to come in and help her. You can't throw anything away in her house without her taking it back out of the trash as she just knows she will need it one day.

      Blessed by a Squid Angel.

    • sheriangell profile image

      sheriangell 7 years ago

      Well done. This condition just breaks my heart when I read about it or see it on TV. You did a wonderful job here.

    • The-Java-Gal profile image

      The-Java-Gal 7 years ago

      Great coverage of a very real and overwhelming condition. 5 *s, and bookmarked for future reference.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Hi there, I like this 5* and have lens rolled you with my newest Hoarding Issues lens (work-in-progress) Please visit, rate or just say hi.

    • profile image

      NC Shepherd 7 years ago

      I see that hoarding has many facets. It's a sad condition.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      This is such an important issue in society. Its an awful condition and I am pleased that you are raising it as a mental disorder condition which, like alcoholism and drugs, is dependent on individuals owning up to the disorder in order to start healing. Good work 5* and fave + lens rolled.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      You might be interested in a new information website on compulsive hoarding – http://www.compulsive-hoarding.org It is a comprehensive resource of up-to-date information about compulsive hoarding, its diagnosis, research, treatment and the available support. You’ll also find FAQs, tests and the latest views on this disabling illness.

      As declutterers in the UK, Beverly Wade and Chrystine Bennett of Cluttergone have worked with over 200 individual declutter clients, some of whom are hoarders. They have developed the website for sufferers of compulsive hoarding, their friends, families and anyone with an interest in the subject.

      We hope you find the site useful.

    • ClassyGals profile image

      Cynthia Davis 8 years ago from Pittsburgh

      Informational lens that was well written. I didn't know there was such a thing as an animal hoarder. Five stars.

    • ss834 lm profile image

      ss834 lm 8 years ago

      This is exactly what my husband's grandmother is going through. She has managed to fill up her own home, a shed about the size of her home (that was built so that she could empty the house) and another house that is currently an abandoned family home. She also has many animals, but thankfully they are all well-cared for.

      It is so hard to see, especially since she won't let anyone help her and she doesn't really recognize the problem.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 8 years ago

      I've seen stories about this on the news. Very sad... I have a hard time throwing things out too, but can't imagine saving things like old newspapers.

    • profile image

      Tarra99 8 years ago

      I saw the TLC special and have known a couple of hoarders, it's sad really...the people I knew survived the depression and I really think that had something to do with why they kept EVERYTHING...the fear of losing it.

      Great informative lens. Thanks for stopping by my "reuse toothbrushes" lens. I appreciate your comments!

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 8 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      I once knocked on the door of a sweet faced older woman who was happy to let me use her phone since my car was overheating. My 5 year old daughter was with me as we walked down a very tight corridor because on both sides piled all the way to the ceiling were newspapers. In the living room it was the same, and every piece of furniture and most of the floors were covered with books and newspapers.There was no place to sit except one little chair for herself, I guess. She acted as if this was completely normal. Oh yes, there were several cats running around in and out of these tall stacks of newspapers. I've never seen anything like it! My daughter's eyes were like saucers but I gave her the look and she said nothing. LOL