Hoarding is generally considered an obsessive compulsive disorder, and can be influenced or associated by a number of factors.
Estimated to affect up to 6 percent of the U.S. population, or 19 million Americans, hoarding is the persistent difficulty of discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. This disorder usually has detrimental effects on the hoarder and family members, including emotional, physical, social, financial and even legal.
Hoarding is different than collecting. Those who hoard experience extreme stress about throwing away items and anxiety about needing them in the future. While collectors take pride in their possessions and often display them, hoarders have unusable spaces in their homes because of the large amounts of clutter and what most would consider trash.
What causes people to live in these conditions is often the first question loved ones want to know. This disorder is difficult to understand, and sometimes, frustrating and hurtful.
Several factors can impact whether a person is a hoarder, and how severe a hoarding situation becomes. However, the cause of hoarding is still unknown. Below, we’ll take a look at some of these risk factors doctors have identified as being associated with the condition, as well as what help is available.
Hoarding is largely known to occur in adulthood, but this disorder can begin as early as pre-teen and teenage years, according to the International OCD Foundation. During this time, you may notice teenagers compulsively saving broken items, school papers they no longer need or even items like pencil nubs or markers that no longer work.
Hoarding is often a lifelong struggle, and according to the Mayo Clinic, it tends to get worse with age. The average age of a person seeking treatment is about 50.
Those who have a hoarding disorder may have a family member who has one as well. Studies have shown a strong association between someone who suffers from this disorder and a family member who also is a hoarder, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Although hoarding is not considered to be an entirely genetic disorder, research has found there is some genetic predisposition involved.
Hoarding can be a coping mechanism for someone who has experienced a traumatic event. This can include a substantial loss of a loved one, such as a spouse or parent, which can worsen hoarding tendencies. Other stressful life events may include divorce, eviction or losing possessions in a fire.
Other Mental Disorders
Many hoarders also experience other mental disorders. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), hoarding can be a disorder that is present on its own or as a symptom of another disorder.
Disorders most often associated with hoarding include obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression. According to the ADAA, less-often associations include eating disorders, Prader-Willi syndrome, psychosis, dementia and pica (eating non-food materials).
The Mayo Clinic also points to anxiety as another mental health disorder that can be associated with hoarding.
How You Can Help
As a family member of a hoarder, you want to help. If your loved one is living in dangerous conditions, it’s important to act now. But knowing what to do can be overwhelming, especially since you’re dealing with an already emotionally-charged situation.
Hoarder Cleaning Services
A specialized hoarder cleaning service can help alleviate the stress in a hoarding situation by forming a plan, coordinating strategies and resources, and providing compassionate support.
Experienced hoarding cleaning services understand that the cleanup process is a difficult time for everyone involved, and that it’s important to perform their work in a compassionate and respectful way. However, they also have no emotional attachment to the belongings in the home, allowing them to advocate for the hoarder’s best interest while at the same time keeping the cleaning process moving.
A hoarding clean-up plan will include:
- Assessing the situation. This includes determining any safety issues, as well as what staff and supplies will be needed.
- Forming a cleaning strategy. This strategy designates what work will be done, when and by whom.
- Coordinating equipment and supplies. A hoarding cleaning service should use its connections with the community to coordinate any needed trucks, dumpsters, cleaning supplies or other contractors.
- Putting the cleaning strategy in motion. The end goal should be to restore the home so that it is once again safe, organized and livable.
When hiring a hoarding cleaning service, make sure the company is trained in hoarding situations. This includes experience dealing with hazardous environments, include unsanitary conditions and blocked walkways.
Mental Health Services
Hoarding is a deeply rooted psychological issue, and can’t be “solved” or “cured” overnight. Professional intervention often is required to help manage it so that your loved one can live in a safe and healthy environment.
Seeking professional help in the early stages or when symptoms first present can help catch the disorder and minimize the negative effects of hoarding on the individual … especially in young adults or when some of the risk factors mentioned above are present.
Although researchers do not yet know what causes hoarding definitively, there are several factors that play a role in whether someone develops hoarding tendencies. Before these tendencies grow into a dangerous environment for your loved one, it’s critical to get help.
However, if a hoarding situation already has caused the home of your loved one to become unsafe and unsanitary, there is help available to ensure a favorable outcome is achieved.