Hoarding is the excessive accumulation of items that others may consider useless. Some preservation of seemingly useless items may not rise to the level of a disorder. But when the accumulation of items begins to make living and work spaces unusable, there may be an indication of hoarding disorder. Individuals with hoarding disorder may also experience extreme emotional attachment to items and severe distress at the idea of disposing items. If a loved one is suffering from hoarding disorder, it may become necessary to seek out professional help. While psychiatric help is in order, professional hoarding cleanup is also a necessary part of the equation. Knowing where to turn when hoarding makes a space unlivable means finding a cleaning company that is trained in dealing with hoarding. These companies can clean out a severely cluttered home with compassion and confidentiality.
How Common is Hoarding
The American Psychiatric Association estimates that hording disorder affects 2 to 6 percent of the population. Hoarding disorder is more common in older adults over the age of 55. In fact, compared to adults in their 30s and 40s, three times as many adults in their 50s and older are affected by hoarding disorder.
However, even among older hoarders, some type of hoarding behavior was often apparent from a young age, sometimes as early at 11 to 15 years old. Like many mental disorders, hoarding behavior most commonly manifests first in the late teen to early adult years. An individual may begin to purchase or acquire items for which they have no current need and that they don’t have the space to store. This behavior may gradually increase, along with the number of belongings, until full hoarding behavior becomes apparent at mid-life or later.
Hoarding has always existed. However, it has recently become more well known. This is due in part to representations of hoarding in the media. A few popular shows on television have had multiple seasons featuring real hoarders and the struggles they face.
What is Considered Hoarding
Sometimes it can seem that hoarding is similar to collecting or being a “packrat”. However, there are some important differences between these two non-disordered behaviors and the more severe case of hoarding disorder.
Collectors tend to collect a single type of items. They may collect a type of toy, stamps, coins, decorative plates, or any number of other items. If you can think of it, someone probably collects it. However, these collections are usually specific. Also, collectors often display their items and maintain them in orderly fashion. Hoarding is usually much less specific. Hoarders may collect all kinds of items, though they do often show a preference for a particular type of item. Also, hoarding generally does not include the desire to display and enjoy the items being collected. Instead, collection is motivated by extreme emotional attachment to items and emotional distress associated with disposing of items.
Being a “packrat” is different than collecting because there may be less order or particular drive involved than with a true collector. Instead, a person may accumulate items that they simply haven’t gotten rid of or still want to hold onto due to some perceived value, either sentimental or useful. However, the main difference between a “packrat” and a hoarder is in the emotional attachment to the items. Also, if a packrat is able to regulate their items to keep them in a way that does not disrupt their living or working space, there is no indication of disordered behavior.
What Causes Hoarding Disorder
There is currently no consensus on a specific cause for hoarding disorder. However, there are certain circumstances, personality traits, and other disorders that seem closely correlated to hoarding.
It is possible that there is a genetic component to hoarding, or at least a predisposition. An individual is more likely to be a hoarder is a parent or sibling is a hoarder. Similarly, other disorders can predispose an individual to hoarding. These include anxiety disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Hoarding is also more common among people who suffer from depression, dementia, and schizophrenia. People with hoarding disorder are more 20% more likely to have experienced trauma, and often some form of trauma precipitates the hoarding behavior. Traumatic or stressful events such as deaths, divorce, or sudden loss of possessions from fire or other disaster can all be triggers for hoarding. Often hoarding becomes a coping mechanism and hoarders feel safer when surrounded by their many possessions.
Concerns Related to Hoarding
There are a number of concerns that arise as a result of hoarding. One concern is the safety of individuals living in the homes of hoarders. Whether a hoarder lives alone or with family, large piles of unorganized possessions can pose risks of accidental injury due to falls, falling items, or even accidental entrapment under piles of belongings. They can also be a fire hazard, both as fuel for a possible fire and inhibiting safe evacuation in case of a fire. Sometimes, hoarders can collect trash, old food, and other biohazards. In these cases, living spaces can become filthy and even toxic, leading to direct negative health results from mold and other environmental toxins.
In addition to the immediate safety concerns that arise from living amongst piles of collected possessions, there are social and psychological dangers. When hoarding becomes severe, an individual may begin to lose social connections. Family relationships can be strained over disagreements that arise from hoarding behavior. Some hoarders will isolate themselves, rarely leaving their homes where they can be surrounding by their amassed belongings. They may also cease to allow people into their home for fear of judgement or due to irrational fears of items being surreptitiously removed. While hoarding can be a coping mechanism for people who suffer anxiety disorders, it can also induce greater anxiety.
How to Handle a Hoarding Situation
To deal with a hoarding situation, two separate issues have to be dealt with. First, the hoarder will need therapeutic or psychiatric treatment to contain and reverse the disordered behavior. Second, spaces that have been buried under hoarded belongings need to be cleared out, cleaned, and put back together.
When it comes to the cleaning part, not just any house cleaner will do. House cleaners who specialize in hoarding have a unique set of skills and training. The most important skill for any hoarding cleanup specialist is compassion. Unless a hoarder has already been completely rehabilitated before the cleaner is called, the hoarder will have strong emotions about the cleanup. Some hoarderes can understand that they have a problem. Others may not see their behavior as disordered and may not want anyone coming into their home, especially for the stated purposes of cleaning out their belongings.
Georgia Clean specializes in cleaning up hoarding situations. They work with compassion, professionalism, and confidentiality. They will remove trash and personal items, ensuring that each item is treated with care. Once an area is cleared they will scrub down floors, ceiling, walls, and surfaces. They are experts at saving homes from demolition, so that they can instead be sold, rented, or restored. TrustDALE trusts the caring professionals at Georgia Clean, and so can you!