Thursday, January 6, 2011

Collecting Treasure...Or Not

Hoarding is the excessive collection of items along with the inability to discard these items.  It is also called compulsive hoarding and often times only pathways remain in homes filled to capacity with unused items.  Hoarding is thought to be a symptom of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and can be very difficult to treat as people who hoard don't see it as a problem.

Signs and symptoms of hoarding can include cluttered living spaces, inability to discard items, moving items from one pile to another without throwing out anything, difficulty organizing, excessive attachment to items, and even perfectionism.  There are more symptoms not listed here.

Hoarding cases can be mild to severe and the longer it takes to receive treatment, the harder it is to treat.  Some hoarders start hoarding in childhood.  Others begin after a stressful life event.

Complications involved with hoarding are fire hazards, unsanitary living conditions, and inability to perform daily tasks such as grooming.  Loneliness and isolation could be another complication.

In order to diagnose a hoarding disorder, mental health professionals would assess the acquisition of items most people would consider useless along with the inability to discard them.  They would assess the home to determine if it is overly cluttered and also assess the patient's distress over their hoarding.

A combination of psychotherapy and medications can be used to treat hoarding but treatment as early as possible is important to get the most benefit from treatment.

Since most hoarders don't see their hoarding as a problem, there are steps to take to care for yourself to prevent it from becoming worse.  First and foremost, bathing and hygiene must be taken care of in order to feel worthwhile.  Next is proper nutrition.  As hoarding can lead to isolation, reach out to others.  Take small steps to declutter (your place didn't get that way overnight after all).  Stay focused on your goals to treatment.  Do what is best for your family and pets by working to keep your home sanitary and free of disease/vermin.

If you have a loved one with a hoarding problem, please remember that hoarding is bigger than you and your loved one.  Like addiction, the person has to be aware and accept that they have a problem in order to change.  Please be the supportive person in the team of people it will take to treat your loved one.