Hoarding is not the same thing as having too much clutter. I just watched an interesting
video profiling four hoarders called Possessed by Martin Hampton. The cases
are presented in escalating order of severity and the last one is a little hard
to watch because of the extreme level of dust and dirt.
One of the
more confounding things about hoarding is that hoarders don’t know why they keep
stuff when they know it’s useless trash. Even if they are willing to get rid of
things, in most cases, the problem comes right back. The woman in the film described her own thinking as “warped” (the other three subjects are men).
Four qualities that
all the hoarders in the film shared are:
- On some level, they like
- They have strong emotional
ties to inanimate objects
- They have an overpowering need to
- They are adamant that no one else can touch their things
People who just have too much clutter don’t have these same issues. A comfortable and cozy cluttered room means one with lots of knickknacks and pictures, furniture with throws on it, etc. It doesn’t mean a room with full shopping bags and used food containers on the floor. For most people, ties to inanimate objects refers to souvenirs, old teddy bears and heirlooms. It doesn’t refer to chipped coffee mugs or empty toilet paper tubes.
You may have a shopping problem, but a hoarder will buy 300 mobile phones in a year (that’s an example from the movie). You also may not want others pawing your stuff, but it doesn’t mean you’ll have an anxiety attack if they do, or rummage through the garbage to rescue anything someone else throws away that’s yours.
In case you’re worried that you or someone you know is a hoarder, ask these questions:*
- Are any exits to the home blocked?
- Is the bedroom or bathroom not fully usable due to clutter, i.e., items stored in shower stall?
- Is there large-item clutter outdoors, such as sofas and TV sets?
- Are there poorly maintained pet areas, i.e., pet waste not cleaned up?
- Have hallways been narrowed due to boxes and clutter?
I don’t accept clients with this issue because I don’t have the skills to handle them. (Update 7/2014: I do work with people into Level 3 on the scale. Generally, when people reach out to me and are motivated to get help, I can help them.) To find professionals who do, contact the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (hoarding is an activity associated with chronic disorganization). This site also provides an eye-opening *Clutter Hoarding Scale with specific examples of what the home of a hoarder looks like.