We’re All Guilty

We all do it to some degree. Whether it’s keeping an unusual item as it “may come in handy” or keeping every last picture our child draws because it holds deep sentimental value. We’re all guilty of keeping some items that others may view as trash. But unfortunately for some, this can quickly spiral out of control.

room inside of house filled with objects that have been hoarded

For the vast majority of us, once we accumulate too much “tat”, we are capable of throwing it away and having a good clear out. However, for some, they cannot do this without experiencing significant emotional distress. These are the people who tend to end up acquiring an excessive number of items, resulting in unmanageable amounts of clutter. And this is what most people think of when the term “hoarding” is referred to.

What is Hoarding

Hoarding is the accumulation of an excessive amount of items and not necessarily items of any real monetary value. These items are usually stored in a chaotic manner and go on to cause unmanageable amounts of clutter.

In May 2013, hoarding was officially recognised as a medical diagnosis. And according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-25), hoarding is classified as:

  • Persistent difficulty with discarding objects or possessions, regardless of their actual value
  • The difficulty is due to a perceived need to save the possessions and the person will feel distressed when discarding
  • The accumulation of clutter that congests living areas and compromises the functioning of the living area
  • The presence of clinically significant psychological, emotional distress, impairment to social or work functioning (or any other area)

The NHS states that hoarding is considered a significant problem if:

  • The amount of clutter interferes with everyday living. For example, the person is unable to use their kitchen or bathroom or cannot access certain rooms
  • The clutter is causing significant distress or negatively affecting the person’s quality of life, or that of their family’s. For example, they become upset if somebody tries to clear the clutter and their relationships with others suffer.

Collecting Vs. Hoarding

Don’t confuse hoarding with collecting. Many of us have collections – from stamps and coins to ornaments and antiques, etc. The difference between hoarding and collecting is in how the items are stored.

A collection is usually well organised with the individual items being easily accessible or displayed with pride. Hoarders, however, tend to have trouble organising items. As such, their items become difficult to access and take up large amounts of room, often interfering with everyday life.

Signs of a Hoarding Disorder

Many hoarders hold strong beliefs over the items they are hoarding. Ranging from the genuine belief that one day, they may need the item, to a strong belief that the item is beautiful, to using acquiring new items as a form of therapy (eg. retail therapy without the ability to throw anything out). Other hoarders may experience difficulty discarding items due to struggles with a stressful life event, for example, coming to terms with the loss of a loved one.

While this can happen to any of us at any time, the difference comes with the ability to organise, store and discard clutter. Those with hoarding tendencies often experience very strong emotions that are often overwhelming when attempting to declutter or discard possessions.

Subsequently, they will avoid or put off making decisions about what can be thrown away and when to attempt a clear out. They will also often become upset at the suggestion of throwing things away when made by other people – even when made by family or friends.

It is estimated that between 2% and 5% of adults in the UK have symptoms of a hoarding disorder and the most common symptoms can include:

  • Excessive acquisition of items that hold little or no monetary value, including things like junk mail
  • Excessive acquisition of items that hold little or no monetary value which the person intends to repair or reuse, such as carrier bags
  • Difficulty in organising and categorising items
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Difficulty in managing everyday tasks such as personal hygiene, cooking, paying bills etc.
  • An excessive possessiveness over objects, ie. refusing to allow somebody else to borrow an item
  • Poor relationships with family and friends

Despite the common belief that hoarding begins during middle age, it can actually develop at any time. It can start as young as early teens, however, it doesn’t necessarily become apparent until middle age, when most people start acquiring the amount of items needed for it to show as an obvious problem to those around them.

Why Some People Hoard

Up to 3 million people in the UK are thought to hoard, but the exact reasons behind the disorder are not entirely known. The common held belief that hoarding is linked to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a view which is now being challenged.

We explore further in part two of our blog, which also looks at the different types of hoarding.