Compulsive Hoarding

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COMPULSIVE HOARDING
BY
RACHEL DILLIE
THOMAS EDISON STATE COLLEGE

Hoarding 2
While some people believe it is not, hoarding is a mental disorder that is difficult to treat and is often judged as a personal problem rather than a mental disorder. The new appearance of television shows that are specific to this mental disorder, place this disease in the spotlight. Compulsive hoarding has become something that is looked down upon and that the person whom it is affecting is just messy and disgusting. Everyone has stuff, even if it’s a kitchen drawer filled with old thumbtacks, a spool of thread or old birthday cards tucked aside somewhere. We are genetically programmed to collect, accumulate, and save a variety of things. Our forbearers saved anything that could be materially useful. So, to want more and to keep it is fundamentally human-a common, usually normal, and natural behavior. Compulsive hoarding is the excessive acquisition of possessions and the failure to use or discard them. “People who hoard typically cannot stop acquiring things” (Hartl 2009). Many individuals who hoard do not get rid of things because they want to avoid making a decision about whether to keep it or throw it away. Another central component to compulsive hoarding is cluttered living spaces. Someone who hoards often feels embarrassed; avoid inviting others into the home; can’t find things; and often argues with spouses, family members or both about their hoarding problem. Hoarding is a disease that affects more than just the person suffering from the disorder but the lives surrounding that person as well. “Psychologists estimate that four million Americans do not ever throw anything away. During the last thirty years the size of the average American home has grown 53 percent, from 1,500 square feet to a little over 2,300 square feet” (Tunajek 2009). Hoarding behaviors can begin as early as the Hoarders 3

teenage years, although the average age of a person seeking treatment for hoarding is about 50. Hoarders often endure a lifelong struggle with hoarding. They tend to live alone and may have a family member with the problem. “It seems likely that serious hoarding problems are present in at least 1 in 50 people, but they may be present in as many as 1 in 20” (OCD 2010). Hoarding affects many types of people but is more prevalent in older adults. Many times hoarding is associated with a traumatic event in someone’s life resulting in the need to keep items in order to feel safe. Hoarders often call themselves “thrifty.” They may also think that their behavior is due to having lived through a period of poverty or hardship during their lives. Research to date has not supported this idea. However, experiencing a traumatic event or serious loss, such as death of a spouse or parent, may lead to a worsening of hoarding behavior. “In hoarding, people seldom seek to display their possessions, which are usually kept in disarray. In collecting, people usually proudly display their collections and keep them well organized” (OCD 2010). Most often, people hoard common possessions, such as paper, books, clothing, and containers. Some people hoard garbage or rotten food. More rarely, people hoard animals or human waste products. Often times collected are valuable but far in excess of what can be reasonably used. The definition of OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Compulsive hoarding was commonly considered to be a type of OCD. “Some estimate that as many as one in four people with OCD also have compulsive hoarding” (OCD 2010). People with OCD may be plagued by persistent, unwelcome thoughts or images, or by the urgent need to engage in certain rituals. They may be obsessed with germs or dirt, and wash their hands over and over. They may be filled with doubt and feel the need to check things repeatedly.”In most individuals,...
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