The Compulsive Hoarding Center
Offering Hope and Inspiration for Change
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About Compulsive Hoarding

Compulsive Hoarding (Disposophobia) is considered to be a clinical syndrome reported to affect approximately 3 million Americans across the United States. We believe however, that these statistics are highly underrepresented due to the difficulty that those who experience this condition have in asking for help.  While some may not know or acknowledge that this is a problem for them, others who do fear asking for help due to a variety of factors.  Depending on the degree of hoard in the environment, many worry that if they allow others into their home that they will begin to throw away, or take items without their permission.  In more extreme cases, individuals suffering form this condition may have created environments that have health and safety violations, fearing that they, or others in their home, may be removed.  While these fears are understandable, with help, these harmful conditions can be improved and ultimately eliminated.

 

Compulsive Hoarding is a syndrome that refers to individuals who acquire items or objects to an excessive degree, which may or may not be of use to them.  While this behavior in and of itself may not be a problem, when the items begin to clutter the area so much so that the spaces in which they are intended are not able to be used, that is when this behavior becomes a problem.   It is also common that health and safety issues come into play, such as air that becomes contaminated due to elements including feces from animals, or mildew and mold build up.

 

While Compulsive Hoarding is impacted by several factors, the reluctance to either throw away, give up, or return the objects or items collected are some of the key features of this condition.  Often times there can be an over-interpretation of the value of the objects, and/or an emotional attachment to them, making it extremely difficult to let go of them.  The anxiety that is either anticipated or experienced can be so overwhelming that in the moment it “feels” as if the easier route is to simply keep them.  This however is a trap, and, a distortion. The reality is that “the easiest route is not always the quickest route,” and ultimately, these thinking errors only serve to worsen the problem.  Consequently, there is a trend in which these behaviors will begin to create interference in several different areas of one’s life, including but not limited to social, occupational, and educational endeavors.

Additional factors influencing Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome include:

 

  • Too much shopping or compulsive shopping
  • Disorganization
  • Indecisiveness
  • Fear of waste
  • Difficulty processing information
  • Fear of losing important information

Needless to say, Compulsive Hoarding can have devastating consequences for the individual struggling with this condition and likewise, those close to them.  Often times as the hoarder is struggling with trying to just keep up with the daily challenges that the environment brings them, family and friends can get forgotten. For those living with the compulsive hoarder, their lives become limited as they too will experience the effects of limited space and the isolative lifestyle that is often times brought on by this condition. This is typically caused by the shame and embarrassment that they feel if someone was to come over to the home and see what their home life actually looks like.

 

There is no question that Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome doesn’t make any sense.  As such, it’s important to note that no one chooses to become a compulsive hoarder, no more than someone chooses to have high blood pressure.  People don’t decide in grammar or high school that one day they are going to grow up to become a compulsive hoarder. They don’t make plans to compulsively spend and go into debt, or to live in so much “stuff” that they can’t eat with their family or sleep in their bed.

 

Compulsive Hoarding is a condition that is caused by both biological and psychological factors.  Because of this, it is critical that individuals facing this condition receive specialized treatment services, which include Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Exposure and Response Prevention Techniques.  While this process does involving talking, traditional “talk therapy” or psychotherapy are not prescribed treatment protocols for Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome.  And, the idea is not to try to ‘talk” someone into letting go of their possessions, or engage in a "clean out process."  The key is to start identifying the thinking errors that are leading to the excessive acquiring (whether it be shopping, bringing home free items, or even going through trash cans), and the difficulty organizing and purging what is in the home or other hoarded environment.  Basically, when there is too much incoming, and not enough outgoing, problems begin to emerge.  So, the Cognitive Behavior Therapy will help an individual to begin to change thinking patterns leading to the acquiring, and the Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy will help them to begin resisting bringing in more items, and learn to let go and tolerate the anxiety that they may experience.

In addition to helping the person struggling with Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome, it will be equally important to include any family members, or other support who are impacted by the condition. Often times there is incredible frustration built up, even anger.  As these emotions intensify, arguments ensue that only serve to create a more tense and uncomfortable environment. As such, we have a few tips to help guide family members:

  • Educate yourself about Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome.
  • Participate in the treatment process.
  • Be open to understanding, compassion, and patience.
  • Do not get into arguments.  It will not help the situation
  • Be aware of non-verbal expressions (For example, sighing, rolling of the eyes).
  • Don’t suggest what they should or should not do.  This condition requires professional therapy.
  • Encourage your loved one in the therapy process.
  • Acknowledge accomplishments for the steps that are taken.
  • Remember that the hoarded environment didn’t happen over night, therefore, it won’t be fixed over night.
  • Do not attempt to purge or remove items without permission.  It will only make things worse.
  • Telling them to stop bringing items into the home, to clean up, or throw away items will not be effective.  If they could, they would!!

 

 

 

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