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Is Your Loved One Collecting or Hoarding?

Spring cleaning is an annual tradition. As the sun peeks back out from the clouds and hibernation season ends, we are all looking for a fresh start. Usually this means donating some old clothes, emptying a few boxes from the garage and planting flowers in the garden. If you’re especially ambitious your spring cleaning could mean finally cleaning up the garage or rearranging furniture to open up your living spaces. For most, spring cleaning is a chore we are happy to do. But for your loved one, the prospect of tidying and getting rid of old items could feel like an impossible task.

If you have a loved one that fills shelves and rooms with old trinkets and items you consider to be worthless, you may be wondering if you are witnessing collecting or hoarding. Divya Jot Singh, MD, a staff psychiatrist at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale, AZ offered a few helpful signs you can use to spot the important differences.

“Hoarding disorder is estimated to occur in about 2-6% of the population,” said Dr. Singh. “It can start as early as during teenage years but gets more pronounced with age. Three times as many adults 55-94 years old are affected by hoarding disorder compared to adults 34-44 years old.”

Signs of Hoarding

People who struggle with hoarding feel a strong need to save their possessions. Other symptoms include:

  • Extreme stress about throwing out items
  • Anxiety about needing items in the future
  • Uncertainty about where to put things
  • Distrust of others touching possessions
  • Living in unusable spaces due to clutter
  • Withdrawing from friends and family

Dr. Singh added that “collecting often transitions to hoarding when it starts to cause major distress in social, work or other important aspects of life.”

Offering Help

Broaching the topic of hoarding with your loved one can be tricky. They may not realize how severe their situation has become and could take any discussion as a personal attack. Be gentle when you bring it up and make sure they know that you respect and care for them. Help them feel understood.

It can be very dangerous to live in homes where hoarding takes place. Certain areas of the home can become unsafe or unusable which inevitably leads to pervasive mold and/or mildew, pest infestations and more. These conditions are unsafe for the hoarder and any family or pets that share the space.

Treatment

Over the last few decades, the world has seen hoarding through the lens of reality television. By nature, these shows rarely focus on the underlying medical and mental health conditions that led to hoarding in the first place. When treating someone who struggles with hoarding disorder, there are two main priorities:

  1. Ensure that the hoarder has a safe living environment. If you are unable to help improve the living conditions yourself, if the patient is incapacitated or if they need social rehabilitation, Dr. Singh mentioned that social services organizations can step in to help.
  2. Identify and treat the underlying conditions. This requires a personal commitment from the patient, who may take time to realize they need help. You will need to be supportive and understanding throughout the process. Helping to arrange care is a great place to start.

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