The growth of professional organizing as a job category and the proliferation of television reality shows dealing with the mess and clutter overtaking people's homes have brought the illness of compulsive hoarding into the spotlight. But how do you know if you are a hoarder or simply someone messy and lacking in good housekeeping skills?
Healthcare professionals define hoarding as the excessive accumulation of clutter, combined with the inability to throw anything away. The act of hoarding is often one small part of an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Eventually the obsession to keep acquiring things, collecting things and refusing to part with anything influences the way a person thinks and behaves. Marriages and personal relationships undergo tremendous stress when one party is a hoarder, in addition to the financial strain of continuing to buy and store unneeded items.
Symptoms of hoarding include living in a home where every room is cluttered floor to ceiling with items ranging from clothing and food to newspapers, magazines and junk mail. Hoarders may move piles of things from one room to another, but they refuse to sort through their belongings to get rid of anything, usually becoming very agitated or frightened if urged to do so.
Hoarders will continue to acquire or purchase additional items despite the fact that they don't need another of something they already have or can ill afford to spend money in a wasteful fashion. Hoarders tend to be individuals who have trouble making decisions, are most likely to procrastinate in taking any action, large or small, and they tend to be perfectionists who berate or criticize themselves for their lack of organization, but feel powerless to do anything to improve the situation.
An individual who hoards often defends their decision to keep everything due to extreme emotional attachments to certain items beyond what is emotionally reasonable. Hoarders usually feel that their security is dependent upon their keeping all their clutter and even amassing more. Some hoarders will extend this abnormal behavior to collecting animals, continuing to rescue dogs and cats beyond their means to take care of them, and then living together in squalor with limited social interaction with others.
Hoarding is usually a life-long pattern that starts as a teenager and reaches crisis proportions during middle age. If a person's health or safety is at risk due to collecting and keeping clutter, it's important to talk with a mental health care professional to see how counseling might help the hoarder deal with his feelings and better understand how hoarding is negatively impacting his life and relationships.
Many relatives of hoarders take action by contacting local government authorities such as building and safety, animal regulation or the fire department to take action when a home literally becomes a health hazard or fire trap due to a person's hoarding activities.