Great Hoarding Myths
People Hoard Because They Grew Up in the Depression
When I tell people that I specialise in working with people who hoard the first thing they say is, “You need to meet my mother/brother/neighbour…” It seems everybody knows someone who they deem to have an unhealthy amount of stuff.
The second thing I often hear is that people hoard because they grew up in the depression.
Beliefs about frugality and waste can contribute to hoarding but only if they are disproportionately held. And certainly not everyone who grew up in the depression or experienced deprivation hoards. The fact that your mother insists on carefully folding and reusing foil can be a little frustrating (as in make you want to snatch it from her hands, wad it in a tight ball and throw it way, frustrating) but it doesn’t make her a hoarder.
However, if your mother is accumulating vast amounts of seemingly random objects has difficulty throwing anything out and is sleeping sitting up in a chair because her home is too cluttered to get to her bed, she may well be a hoarder.
The DSM V (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) recognises hoarding as a diagnosable and treatable behavioural mental health condition.
Hoarding is often associated with other mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and bi-polar disorder. There are also personality traits that put people at risk of hoarding, one of the most surprising being perfectionism. I know a woman whose kitchen is unusable because it is littered with hundreds of empty food containers but she refuses to discard them until she is able to wash and dry them “properly”. She is also concerned that the council may not be sorting and disposing of recycled materials in a responsible manner. As we stood in her squalid kitchen she said to me, “I simply can’t let them go as they are….I’m a perfectionist you know”.
Information processing difficulties such as categorisation, attention and decision making can also contribute to hoarding behaviour.
In short, hoarding is a complex behavioural mental health condition. Growing up in hard times may influence our beliefs about responsibility and waste but to say it is the reason people hoard seriously oversimplifies the causes of this complex disorder.
If you are concerned about someone who hoards the important thing to understand is that the clutter may just be the physical manifestation of a more serious problem. Clearing the symptom doesn’t fix the problem!
Which leads me to the next myth – A Big Clean Out is the Best Way to Help a Hoarder!