When Clutter Becomes Hoarding

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The Mayo Clinic defines hoarding as "... the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them" and states that "compulsive hoarding and compulsive hoarding syndrome, may be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)." We are not talking everyday household mess and clutter here, or collections of specific objects that may, in the opinion of other family members, be taking up too much space in the house.  True hoarding can be a sign of mental and/or physical illness that manifests itself in the obsessive accumulation of things—items that can range from mounds of clothing, unopened shopping bags, stacks of newspapers, magazines and mail, to piles of trash and rotting garbage that are dangerous to the health of an individual or a family.

According to Gail Steketee, author of Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, epidemiology studies show that a range of 6 million to 15 million people in the United States may suffer from some type of hoarding disorder.  However, many of those people don't see their hoarding activities as a problem, making it difficult to convince them to get the help they need to improve their quality of life.

Hoarding is of particular concern for elderly persons living on their own, as it can compromise both their physical safety and overall health.  An additional factor is that hoarding is a disorder that can start from a young age and become progressively more severe with aging.

Are you concerned about yourself, a family member or friend who is exhibiting these symptoms?:

  • Excessive attachment to or inability to discard items
  • Moving things from pile to pile, without throwing anything out
  • Little or no social life or interaction with family or friends
  • Taking home useless or unneeded items, such as trash or restaurant napkins
  • Difficulty managing daily activities
  • Trouble making decisions and procrastination
  • Shame or embarrassment about living conditions
  • Fear of letting others touch or borrow items.

If you recognize these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it's important to talk with a doctor or professional experienced in dealing with hoarding disorders.  Check with local social services, or government or municipal service agencies to find resources in your area.  The International OCD Foundation also offers an online Hoarding Center to provide information and resources at:  http://www.ocfoundation.org/hoarding/

“Speaking of Healthcare” is the official blog of Assured Healthcare Staffing. Please LIKE us on Facebook to receive health and wellness tips and more! Article by Kim Washetas, contributing writer and enthusiastic whole health advocate.