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Help for Hoarding Syndrome

Updated on February 4, 2023
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Writing Nag is a pseudonym of blogger Patricia Biro. She writes about home and garden, finance, creative writing, and vintage collectibles.

My mother is a hoarder...

Or maybe it's your father, brother, sister, cousin, friend or yourself. Hoarding or Compulsive Hoarding Disorder is a real issue in the United States and the rest of the world (the British show Obsessive Compulsive Hoarder on Channel 4 is equally as popular as US hoarding reality shows.)

Are there more compulsive people these days or are we just paying more attention to this type of behavior and getting an intimate look at how others live in squalor?

America is a nation of collectors and it looks like we need a lot of cleanup. We collect, save and stash away our treasures until our houses and storage areas are packed to the ceiling. Clean up or removal has become big business, just ask the owners of the 1-800 Got Junk? Company.

I just watched a neighbor's house get packed away by Code Enforcement. Today the house has a sign on it "Bank Owned." The driveway and the front lawn were littered with boxes, clothes and garbage bags. It took a team of workers, two large dumpsters and family and friends more than a week to clear the house out.

What causes hoarding?

Could the current recession be to blame for this type of behavior? Studies show that when people feel deprived or go through a period of want the result is often this behavior.

With the success of the A & E show and the TLC show Hoarders: Buried Alive, more people are questioning whether their friend or family member might have this mental health issue. This is usually a treatable problem. Hoarding is thought to be related to an obsessive-compulsive disorder. There is help available whether you yourself or your friend has a problem.

While you might have problems with clutter and/or organizing your home; there is a difference between being messy and being a packrat. When the behavior gets out of hand the person is often endangering themselves and the people who live with the individual. For some people clutter is just a procrastination problem, they simply keep putting off cleaning up the mess.

Is there help for obsessive compulsive behaviors?

Yes, professional help is available.

Hoarding is a serious mental health disorder and many people can find it almost impossible to declutter their living space. Some people choose to live in a cluttered, messy room or house. But hoarders takes clutter to an entirely new level. Hoarders will often not let you into their house because of the shame they might feel. Most know that they have a problem but they feel overwhelmed and don't know where to begin. Friends can't do all the work but they can be that support system when the inevitable clean up is addressed.

The compulsion to accumulate food, garbage, clothes and other items can put the hoarder into a dangerous situation. If you have a friend who is in a dangerous situation, you should contact a mental health professional for help on how to help your friend. Children involved in these situations are especially vulnerable.

1. Ask for Help!

Most people hide their disease. This may be a difficult subject to bring up but if it is affecting their health or welfare you may need to broach the subject. This can be an obsessive-compulsive disorder and is usually not a simple fix. Some people have a difficult time letting go because they often associate the things they hoard with their memories and can't separate the two. If you are a hoarder, surround yourself with supportive people and look to join a support group: Joining a support group of people with similar experiences can help you feel less isolated and provide a safe place to discuss your struggles and find support and encouragement.

2. Excessive shopping can result in hoarding.

Researching hoarding, hoarders disease or hoarders syndrome may help you understand your friend but don't claim to be an expert. A therapist, mental health professional and often a professional organizer will be able to help the hoarder, if the hoarder wants help. Remember you are just their support system, don't assume you can fix the hoarders problem by offering to clean up. People have a deep attachment to the stuff they hoard and removing the items can often make the hoarder accelerate their hoarding behavior. Consider asking the family for help if you don't feel that you can bring up the subject directly.

3. Being a supportive friend

If your friend agrees to get professional help try to be supportive, loving and patient. What seems easy to you is often painful and difficult for the hoarder. Because this is often diagnosed as a mental health disorder don't expect that it will be easy to get through. Many people often face a lot of therapy and sometimes will work with a professional organizer for follow up care. It is important for your friend to know that there is help available.

4 Abusing animals

If your friend keeps too many animals including kittens, puppies, cats, dogs or any other type of animal, immediate intervention is suggested. The Humane Society should be contacted or your local animal welfare office. These animals may need to be rescued and put up for adoption. Often these people think they are helping the animals but a rescue is strongly advised. No animal should have to live in the unsafe environment that is often a part of this life. Seek professional help immediately if you know the hoarder is hoarding animals. Animals have no voice. Animal Planet's reality show Confessions: Animal Hoarding, showcases the problems of animal hoarding.

5. Know that you are not alone.

This syndrome is characterized as a "need to acquire" according to psychologists. There are levels of hoarding and help is available for all types of hoarders. For more information on hoarding seek professional help. It's not as simple as organizing your home or asking for help to declutter.

Obsessive Compulsive Hoarder UK

If your friend agrees to get professional help for hoarding try to be supportive, loving and patient. What seems easy to you is often painful and difficult for the hoarder.

Tips and Warnings

  • Ask your friend if they would like help with their problem but don't force it upon them. If they're not ready for help, nothing you can say will change their mind.
  • If your friend agrees to get help don't expect miracles. This is often a long, painful process for the one who has an issue and their families.
  • Children can suffer long term effects from this obsessive compulsive disorder and will often feel overwhelmed by the clutter.
  • To watch television shows that feature people that have hoarding disease look at the A & E show Hoarders or the TLC show Hoarders: Buried Alive but know that this process is often not as simple as it may be portrayed on television.
  • Excessive clutter may be harmful to your health and is often a fire hazard.
  • Because this behavior is often diagnosed as an obsessive compulsive disorder it can't be changed overnight, look for professional help.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Patricia Biro


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