What is hoarding and what is wrong with "these people"?

Most of us have seen or heard about “hoarders”. We just can’t imagine how or why “these people” live like this. There are TV series showing extreme cases and we are just amazed. As an owner of Restoration Services of Michigan, I have experienced these situations first hand and led me to spend a good amount of time researching this topic (sources listed below) and I would like to share a bit of what I have learned. 

These must just be isolated cases. Right? Surprisingly, wrong. 

It is estimated that 1.2 million people in the U.S. suffer from compulsive hoarding. Studies estimate nearly 5 percent of people in the U.S. are hoarders of some kind. Most of us know of at least one: an elderly aunt or uncle or even a neighbor whose strange collection of grocery bags, bottles, old copies of the local paper and magazines pile up. 

Hoarding is a complicated situation not limited by economic factors; it can affect an expensive home, a respectable condo, or a basic rental apartment. Recognized as a mental illness related to OCD, psychologists believe that hoarding begins as a way to cope with other aspects of life which the person feels they are unable to control. 

Age and gender are not believed to be factors in hoarding, though single hoarders living alone are often elderly. In those cases, belongings accumulate over long periods of time, and adult children are rarely present in the home to monitor the situation. Sometimes physical impairment or illness prevent the person from maintaining a healthy home. Sadly, in these cases, the presence of hoarding is likely to go unnoticed until the home owner is either too sick to care for themselves or has passed on, possibly in the home itself. In both situations, family members are left scrambling to take care of their relative as well as the distressed residence.

What is a Hoarding Disorder? 

A Hoarding Disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with Hoarding Disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs. 

Hoarding disorder is different from collecting. People who have collections, such as stamps or model cars, deliberately search out specific items, categorize them and carefully display their collections. Although collections can be large, they aren't usually cluttered, and they don't cause the distress and impairments that are part of hoarding disorder. 

Hoarding Disorder affects emotions, thoughts and behavior. 

Signs and symptoms may include:

· Persistent inability to part with any possession, regardless of its value

· Excessive attachment to possessions, including discomfort letting others touch or borrow them or distress at the idea of letting an item go

· Cluttered living spaces, making areas of the home unusable for the intended purpose, such as not being able to cook in the kitchen or use the bathroom to bathe

· Keeping stacks of newspapers, magazines or junk mail

· Letting food or trash build up to unusually excessive, unsanitary levels

· Acquiring unneeded or seemingly useless items, such as trash or napkins from a restaurant

· Difficulty managing daily activities because of procrastination and trouble making decisions

· Moving items from one pile to another, without discarding anything

· Difficulty organizing items, sometimes losing important items in the clutter

· Shame or embarrassment

· Limited or no social interactions

People with Hoarding Disorder typically save items because:

· They believe these items will be needed or have value in the future

· The items have important emotional significance — serving as a reminder of happier times or representing beloved people or pets

· They feel safer when surrounded by the things they save

Recovery is possible, but treatment for the behavior is just one part of the process. 

Restoring the home to a livable condition is also a major concern. Hiring a company saves time and emotional stress, while also limiting the family’s exposure to potentially dangerous biohazards. An incomplete cleanup can cause further damage to the property, as well as health risks to current or future tenants in the form of illness-causing bacteria left behind in the environment. 

If you or a family member, friend or loved one are experiencing a hoarding situation, you are not alone. We are here to help. 

At Restoration Services of Michigan, our job is not to judge our job is to clean and sanitize in the most efficient and effective way possible. As the owner, I also insist that all our employees attend our proprietary training on Hoarding Disorders, Empathy and Empathetic Listening. We understand the unique qualities and conditions present in hoarded homes. If you would like any further information on Hoarding Disorders or our help, please call or email me: (231) 350-7358 or RestorationServicesMichigan@gmail.com

Sources: Mayo Clinic, American Psychiatric Association, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, National Study Group on Compulsive Disorganization, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Archives of General Psychiatry, Healthcare Environment Resource Center.