Who Knew - Hidden Secrets of a Hoarder
The Issues and Secret Life of a Compulsive Hoarder
Who Knew - Hidden Secrets of a Hoarder
She had been a tall willowy vibrant caring woman with family and friends. She was a whiz with her sewing machine. One of her hobbies was finding sewing material and treasures at thrift stores and garage sales. When we first met her she was sitting in her easy chair in the retirement residence. Her small sunny studio room held some interesting vintage furniture. Next to her chair was her wheel chair and a walker. Parkinson’s disease had left her spine twisted and she was stooped over. But for most of her life she held a closely guarded secret that she kept from as many people as possible. She was a Compulsive Hoarder.
The door to her studio room opened just wide enough to let someone inside, where they are greeted by piles of stuff, some as tall as three feet high on the floor. Her reclining chair was surrounded by stacks of random stuff, books and papers, cardboard boxes full of assorted knickknacks. The bed had piles of blankets and clothes. The bathroom had soaps, shampoos, bath salts, perfume and cosmetics covering the counters and in piled high in the shower. Leftover food wrappers, plastic cutlery, individual yogurt containers some full & some empty covered every available surface.
As the towers of paper, dust and clothing piles grew; there was an emotional barrier that stopped her from throwing anything away. Hoards of stuff put her and others at risk. Safety and health codes were being violated. Her hoarding was a major health concern as hoarding is a fire hazard, especially in apartment buildings.
Hoarding is the compulsive purchasing, acquiring, searching, and saving of items that have little or no value. People hoard for many reasons, some of them believe that their possessions will be useful or valuable in the future, have sentimental value, are unique and irreplaceable, or because they can’t decide where something goes, it’s better just to keep it. In Canada it is believed that 1%to 2% of the Canadian population hoard!
The dark side of hoarding is the passion to possess things and never lose anything of importance again. Hoarders accumulate newspapers, food, junk, mementos and/or valuable items. Some hoard animals; others money. Things provide comfort: no matter the discomfort and chaos the collecting causes. The overwhelming need to acquire gets out of control, to the point of even endangering lives. A hoarder accumulates and is unwilling to let go of objects that the average person considers worthless.
Hoarders have distorted emotional attachment to items, there’s immense distress about placement, necessity and retrieval of items so they’re often left disorganized. Hoarders generally experience embarrassment about their possessions and feel uncomfortable when others see them.
Overwhelming clutter makes for chaotic living conditions for compulsive hoarders, impairing daily activity, physical and mental health, relationships and living conditions. Hoarding, for the most part, is not just a mental health issue. Underlying emotional issues need to be dealt with as there seems to be an underlying theme of grief and loss. Hoarding is a legal, public health, and safety issue. More publicity around the condition, including reality TV shows, is finally shining a spotlight on the problem
Solutions are not tidy or simple. Unfortunately, hoarders very rarely reach out for help. Hoarders waste away in all the waste, possessions, accumulation and they rarely see it. Many hoarders can look at packed garbage filled home and see no problem.
An organized clean up doesn’t fix it. Hoarders need intense outside intervention since traditional organizing strategies don’t work. The disorder doesn’t disappear just because the stuff does. Helping hoarders is about changing their feelings, attitudes and relationship to their possessions, not cleaning up or organizing. Compulsive Hoarding is a hidden secret and ever growing problem.