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ELAINE BOND: Compulsive hoarding – when clutter becomes a problem

We all collect things or have things that feel precious to us. For me its books.  I have three bookcases full of books and there are plans for more!

These things we collect have meaning for us, whether it is sentimental, financial or emotional, and we are connected to them. When this is reasonable and our collections are part of our lives, not all of it and we can throw things away – we are collecting and not hoarding.

Hoarding is when collecting gets out of hand.  It is now classed as a mental illness and listed with several symptoms. So how do we know the difference?

It’s hard for hoarders to discard, donate, recycle or let go of their possessions. Their possessions have taken on a special meaning for them. They could represent an opportunity, or they could become an old friend. Some people can’t throw away something that is ‘pretty’. For some throwing things away is wasteful, whereas others have developed such a ritual about throwing things away the process is long, elaborate and painful, so it does not happen.

Hoarders keep items regardless of their value, and some have bags of items that have never been unwrapped or used. The items have a value that the hoarder can see that others can’t. So, it’s not about the financial value, it’s more about the amount of possessions and how they are organised that becomes the issue.

The house of the hoarder is beyond messy or untidy. The clutter stops them from using their house fully and certainly creates issues moving around the house easily, and in some cases, safely. As a minimum, hoarders don’t feel they can invite anyone to their house due to the level of clutter and at the other end of the scale, they can’t use a room like a kitchen or bathroom as the clutter has taken over.

Obviously, this level of hoarding has a major negative effect on their lives, as being unable to use some rooms in the house leads to unsanitary conditions, poor nutrition and there is a danger of tripping or falling, rodent infestation, fire and, therefore, house will start to deteriorate very quickly.

Hoarders love to ‘acquire’ more. This is not necessarily from buying more, as it can be bin diving or taking the unsold items from a car boot. They are compelled to do this and stopping is very difficult.

PICTURED: Elaine Bond is a counsellor based in Gedling

To add to all of this, hoarders can’t see they have a problem. They wonder why people are complaining and will resist all offers to help. So, in the end, frustrated family and friends give up on them and they become more isolated with their precious hoard.

So why do people become hoarders? This condition is often found alongside Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – https://www.gedlingeye.co.uk/columns/elaine-bond/elaine-bond-dont-let-ocd-take-over-your-life/.  The ritual and repetitive behaviours are an important part of having a hoard. Hoarders are often found to have depression, and the low energy associated with depression can often be the reason the hoard remains untouched for years.

It’s hard for hoarders to discard, donate, recycle or let go of their possessions. Their possessions have taken on a special meaning for them.

ADHD is also a common condition for hoarders, as the chronic inability to remain focused and attentive means the hoard grows without being sorted or organised. Perfectionism is often part of the belief system of a hoarder. What would happen if they threw away something useful? This becomes an anxiety and worrying thought so it’s better to not make a decision unless they are absolutely sure they are right, which is often impossible.

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Most hoarders feel unhappy, but not necessarily with the hoard and often they can’t tell us why they feel this way. They often have grief issues, are lonely, long for something or someone, and along with anxiety they sometimes even feel terror. Some feel guilty or have major regrets in life as they feel responsible for objects or people who may need them.

For some the hoard is their identity, and they are defined by what they own or as it’s known ’object fusion’. Some think of themselves as artists who need new art supplies but never paint, or they feel they are gift givers and objects will be the right gift for the right person.

Usually all hoarders get a feeling of safety and security from their hoard, as it protects them from people and a hostile world. This can be a physical feeling of security and an emotional one. For some it makes anyone trying to deal with hoard unbearable.

So how do we help ourselves if we may be a hoarder?

Firstly, we have to acknowledge we have an issue and we need a reality check. Look at the clutter ratings to see just what kind of hoard we have – https://hoardinguk.org/about-hoarding/clutter-index-rating/

We need to tell people we have an issue and that we need help. Then we need to make a very small start, such as pick a box, case or even a room and decide every day you will give this area 15 minutes to an hour of our time and clear it.

We need to make the key decision of keep or throw within 20 seconds, so we don’t ruminate on the object and go with our initial decision.

We should set rules in advance for people who help us, e.g. the final decision about all objects is ours. If we set rules for ourselves, we will get to our target quickly without making the process too difficult.

Make sure someone takes away everything we throw out immediately so we can’t go back and change our mind. Remember we do not have to be responsible for the fate of the objects we throw away – we don’t need to know where it went!

Finally, some good questions to ask ourselves are

  • When was the last time I used this?
  • Do I need it?
  • How of many of these do I already have?
  • How likely is it I will use this within the next two weeks?
  • What’s the impact of keeping this on my efforts to reduce my hoard?

If this feels too difficult there are de-cluttering companies or house clearance companies who can help, however they may not allow us to have the level of control we need. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is often successful with hoarders as it works on the thought process and rituals in place for the hoarder.

If the house is impacted by our hoard often the local authority or the Fire Service can help us stabilise the building and give us advice on making it safe.

Elaine Bond Counselling – 07769 152 951

http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counsellors/elaine-bond https://www.facebook.com/ElaineTerryCounsellingServcies/


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