Hoarding is an anxiety-based disorder in which people have trouble letting go of possessions because they believe it is necessary to keep them. When the person admits to throwing away items, it fosters immense distress. Hence, leading to an accumulation of objects irrespective of their value. Common things to hoard include newspapers, clothing, cardboard boxes, household items, food, etc. Hoarding can look like a cramped space where functioning within it is difficult, loved ones being hesitant to come over or postponing giving up excess items or having no desire to etc
Forging empathy for the loved one engaging in hoarding can be difficult, but it can be made easier by understanding they are also in distress. Hoarding is often a maladaptive approach to seeking safety and security by fostering an emotional connection to a surplus of items. For some, it’s a coping strategy relating to other mental health diagnoses such as major depressive disorder, social anxiety, and generalized anxiety disorder. Some personality traits found in people who hoard include perfectionism, indecisiveness, difficulty planning, procrastination, etc.
It is essential to understand a loved one’s perceptive when trying to help with hoarding. From a hoarder’s perspective, the items they collect are meaningful. Having a loved one tell them that things have no value only reinforces shame, and criticism might make the hoarder less likely to let go. On the other hand, it is important not to dismiss or belittle the impact of a loved one’s hoarding on your well-being, especially if you live in the same space. Addressing the hoarder from a place of being non argumentative and compassionate is vital in opening up the dialogue about change. Lastly, seeking professional help, such as family therapy, can aid in speeding up the process.
There are many resources to help those who are struggling with hoarding or who have loved ones who struggle with hoarding. Visit https://clutterersanonymous.org/ for zoom and in-person meetings. As mentioned previously, hoarding results from mental health illness, so consider listening to the podcast Struggle Care by theorist KC Davis. Or reading the book How to Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing by KC Davis LPC.
By Chioma Ofodile, MHC Intern