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Compulsive keepers may become hoarders

By Deanna Turner

River Valley District Extension Agent

Difficulty making a decision to keep an item or not is characteristic of a hoarder. This indecisiveness results in an excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them. Compulsive hoarding behavior or compulsive hoarding syndrome is found in between 700,000 and 1.4 million people in the United States and may be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Hoarding has only recently been studied and few people seek treatment.

Hoarding creates cramped living conditions and homes filled to capacity with only narrow pathways through the clutter.

Hoarding creates personal complications that include unsanitary living conditions, posing health risks. It can interfere with performing daily tasks such as bathing and cooking. Above all, the clutter is a safety and fire hazard.

Hoarders often accumulate large quantities of objects, documents, papers or possessions beyond apparent necessity or pleasure. They struggle with parting and letting go of possessions. Hoarders may have a wide range of interests and uncompleted projects. A chronically disorganized person gets distracted easily and has weak time-management skills. A hoarder often makes decisions differently than a non-hoarder. People who hoard do not see these characteristics as a problem. That makes it hard to treat the disorder.

According to research from the Mayo Clinic, clutter provides a feeling of safety and comfort to the hoarder. The non-hoarders are trying to get rid of clutter. Hoarders usually have very few relationships. The ones they do, they have had for a long time.

A stressful life event may start people hoarding. The person may have difficulty dealing with it such as the death of a loved one, divorce, eviction or losing possessions in a fire. If a person had not adequately dealt with this trauma, it can trigger a hoarding problem.

Hoarders are no respecters of age, sex or financial status. Hoarding often starts early in adolescence and gets worse with age. People are more likely to hoard if they had family members who did. Hoarders are often withdrawn from society and become isolated or lonely. Compulsive hoarders are perfectionists and have difficulty making decisions resulting in not getting rid of clutter.

The worst thing to do for a hoarder is to go in their house and clean. The hoarder will go back to their old habits or worse. Social support is needed by a hoarder. Be patient with the person. The situation did not happen overnight and takes time for a hoarder to learn new skills and strategies to cope with a hoarding disorder.

Keep the lines of communication open with the hoarder. Listen without making a judgement. Treat the hoarder with respect and dignity. Focus on the person's good qualities, not the mess. Recognize their small steps of progress in eliminating the clutter.

If you or your loved one has symptoms of hoarding, seek help from a doctor or mental health care provider. For more information go to

Date: 2/4/2013


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