What’s hoarding disorder?

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Hoarding disorder is an uncontrollable urge to acquire and save items, often triggered by a traumatic event. It can be treated with therapy to identify the root cause and gradually clear clutter. Saving items for a specific purpose is not hoarding.

Also known as compulsive hoarding, a hoarding disorder is an uncontrollable urge to pick up and save all kinds of items, even when there’s no apparent use to them. A disorder of this type can develop as a result of some sort of traumatic life event that mutates the desire to acquire objects that are useful into an obsession that blinds the individual to the harms caused by hoarding. Fortunately, such an ailment can be treated, allowing people suffering from the condition to enjoy life once again.

It’s important to note that people who store items for future use don’t necessarily have hoarding disorder. Typically, saving items for a specific purpose that is expected to occur within a reasonable amount of time is not considered a sign of any type of emotional or compulsive behavior. For example, someone buying extra linens or appliances in preparation for moving a child and starting their own family in the next year or two would be considered a saver, but not a hoarder.

Conversely, a hoarding disorder is characterized by a relentless belief that it is wrong to throw anything away and that everything can be used sooner or later. Sometimes, hoarders may focus on a particular type of item, such as boxes. More often than not, a hoarder will buy a wide range of items with the justification that the price was good and that the items will be used someday. The problem is that when hoarding takes up all the available space inside the house, it is impossible to find those items should the need arise.

People who develop hoarding disorder often have experienced some sort of traumatic event in their life. For some, the disorder is triggered by poverty, either as a child or at some point during adulthood, and is grounded in a fear of impoverishment again. Others develop hoarding disorder after going through a divorce, the death of a loved one, or some other event that leaves an emotional void in their lives. The obsessive gathering of all kinds of tangible possessions often brings momentary comfort, but eventually begins to limit social interaction as hoarders refrain from having friends and relatives in the house, simply because every available space is taken up with useless items.

To treat a hoarding disorder, therapy that helps identify the root cause of the activity is essential. Only when the hoarder begins to understand the underlying motivation is it generally advisable to start attempting to clear the house of clutter and rubbish. Even then, the process is usually managed in stages or segments, allowing the hoarder to grieve the loss of possessions even as they regain a sense of control over their homes and lives. The length of treatment varies according to the severity of the disorder, taking anywhere from a few months to a few years to completely overcome the hoarding compulsion.

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