At some point in most of our lives, we’ve been a collector. Whether it was rocks as a young child, baseball cards as a teenager or vintage vinyl records as an adult, collecting can be fun and healthy.
For some, it’s serious business. You may find yourself obsessed with clipping coupons and stocking up on great bargains. You may never pass up a yard sale without checking for antiques or rare books. Or you may have an entire room dedicated to showcasing your prized collections.
But for others, collecting goes well beyond what most consider to be a hobby, or even an obsession. Collecting can turn dangerous - even deadly - when it crosses the line into hoarding.
Hoarding is not collecting.
Hoarding is considered an obsessive compulsive disorder, and can be influenced by a variety of factors, including genetic links, mental health issues and traumatic life events.
Differentiating between a collector and a hoarder can be difficult, especially when the collector considers the set of items as more than a hobby. You’re likely concerned about your loved one’s tendencies to prioritize belongings, especially if the collections have grown out of control.
Understanding whether your loved ones have a hoarding disorder is the first step to getting them the help they need. Below are some of the differences between collecting and hoarding that will help you better determine the next course of action to take.
Hoarders’ Collections Turn To Clutter
Collectors typically keep their items cataloged and well-organized. They take pride in displaying their items and may even be willing to part with them if the price is right. Collectors also may trade their items with other collectors, and prioritize keeping their collections in top condition to maximize the items’ values.
Hoarders, on the other hand, have a strong perceived need to keep the items, despite their condition, believing that they may need them or they will be valuable in the future. Individuals who are compulsive hoarders have difficulty discarding items and become extremely distressed at even the thought of doing so. The result of the hoarding leads to clutter, distress and impairment.
It’s important to note that although hoarders may collect items others see no value in, such as old papers or broken belongings, hoarders may also collect things others would consider useful. Walk through a hoarder’s home and you may find mounds of clothing with price tags still attached or antiques that are of value, for example.
Collecting Does Not Impact Living Areas
Collecting items should not impede or overwhelm active living areas of the home. Every room has a purpose, and as you walk through a collector’s house, you should have no trouble accessing any space.
With hoarding, a person’s belongings blur well-defined areas. Possessions aren’t organized, and become unorganized piles of clutter. Though entrances and exits still may be accessible in less-serious cases of hoarding, as the disorder worsens, they may become blocked. Rooms also typically aren’t used for their intended purpose in more severe cases.
With hoarding, any motivation to display the collected items is gone. Despite this, the collections continue to grow and become more obstructive.
Isolation Takes Hold In Hoarding Situations
Collectors tend to enjoy showing off their collections. They invite you into their home, and are excited to share what they’ve spent years perfecting.
In hoarding situations, on the other hand, a sense of isolation tends to overwhelm the hoarder. If your loved one is embarrassed or feels hopeless concerning the amount of belongings that have been acquired, your loved one is likely experiencing one of the five stages of hoarding.
Hoarders often isolate themselves from family and friends because of the shame they are experiencing, or because they want to avoid a tense environment that may occur if urged to get rid of their belongings.
Extreme Cases Of Hoarding Are Obvious
With extreme cases of hoarding especially, there is no doubt the situation has dangerously gone beyond collecting.
In even the more mild cases of hoarding, there’s evidence that there is an issue. You may notice there is less attention paid to housekeeping, and clutter is beginning to overtake the home.
Other items you may notice include:
- The family member or friend is becoming more withdrawn from interacting with others, and instead finds more comfort in his or her belongings.
- Some plumbing or electrical systems may not be fully functional, or a major appliance may no longer work.
- Odors may be present, such as from dirty dishes that have piled up or diminished sanitation facilities.
- Whether the resident is taking medications properly is questionable.
In more extreme cases, the evidence of hoarding becomes more obvious:
- Broken HVAC systems haven’t worked for longer than a season.
- The home has several non-functional appliances, non-working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and possible structural damage.
- An excessive number of pets, beyond what typical municipalities allow in their codes of ordinance, is present.
- At least one room is not being used for its intended purpose, such as a bedroom or even a bathroom.
- Hazardous substances are present and there are heavily soiled areas and sanitation problems.
It’s important that as soon as you suspect a hoarding issue is present, you intervene in order to prevent the hoarding from escalating to dangerous levels.
How You Can Help
Hoarding disorders are difficult to treat, and sometimes even difficult to identify when in an early stage. Often, professional intervention is required.
Professional hoarder cleaning services can assist the hoarder with cleaning and organizing his or her home so they can begin rebuilding their life. Professional hoarding cleaning services understand that the cleanup process is a difficult time for everyone involved, and perform their work in a way that is compassionate and respectful. They will:
- Assess the situation first to determine safety issues, as well as staff and supplies needed.
- Form a cleaning strategy to designate what work will be done, when it will be done and by whom.
- Arrange for equipment and supplies, including trucks, dumpsters, cleaning supplies and other contractors.
- Implement the cleaning strategy, and restore the home to make it once again safe and livable.
Take a look at our ebook to see what stage of hoarding your loved one may be in and how you can help them with their situation. Seeking professional help can catch the disorder in its early stages, especially when it’s evident that a person’s collecting has transitioned into something more dangerous and unhealthy. The goal for everyone involved should be to create a safer environment, and ultimately help your loved ones regain control of their lives.