Q. Sometimes I watch those TV shows on hoarding, and I wonder if I might be a hoarder. How can you determine if you just have a lot of clutter or you’re an actual hoarder?
A. Due the popularity of several cable TV shows depicting compulsive hoarding, many people wonder with great trepidation if they — or someone they love — are a hoarder or on their way to becoming one. Lord knows, I’ve watched those shows before going to bed and then have felt compelled to make sure I didn’t leave the toothpaste out on my bathroom counter, out of fear I could become a hoarder!
According to the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD; www.challengingdisorganization.org; I bet you didn’t know such an organization existed), approximately 2% to 4% of adults in the United States (that’s 6 million to 12 million Americans) suffer from compulsive hoarding, which is generally considered to be a form of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The good news is that 96% to 98% of adults are NOT hoarders. But for those who ARE, the negative effects of compulsive hoarding are experienced by not only the hoarders themselves, but also their spouses, loved ones, friends and neighbors.
So what exactly is the definition of compulsive hoarding? According to the ICD, compulsive hoarding is characterized by the following:
- The acquisition of (and failure to discard) possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value. Hoarders shop online, via TV shopping networks and in stores, as well as thrift shops and yard sales. Some also engage in “Dumpster diving” and taking items intended for trash pickup from curbs of strangers. Hoarders also have extreme difficulty letting go of objects, sometimes for sentimental reasons, because the item might serve a useful purpose or because they feel the item, no matter how dirty, has intrinsic beauty.
- Living spaces that are sufficiently cluttered as to preclude their intended use. Clutter eventually spreads onto tables, desks, chairs, sofas and beds. Then piles get larger and eventually topple over. Stairways and hallways get narrower, doorways get blocked and rooms get filled up, so that they are no longer usable.
- The clutter creates significant distress or impairment. Clutter in hoarders’ homes not only inhibits the everyday functioning of the homes, but also limits people’s social activities and often poses health and safety risks, as well.
Many people will be relieved to realize that they are not a compulsive hoarder. However, if you do meet the above criteria and would like help, resources are available. One resource is the International Obsessive Compulsive Foundation (www.ocfoundation.org), which educates the public and sufferers about OCD and related disorders; the site also lets you search by state and/or ZIP code for therapists who specialize in treating OCD. Another resource is the Anxiety Disorders Center at Hartford (CT) Hospital (http://www.harthosp.org/InstituteOfLiving/AnxietyDisordersCenter/CompulsiveHoarding/default.aspx), whose web site offers an online self-assessment tool as well as helpful resources for overcoming compulsive hoarding.
Although there’s no cure at present for hoarding, there are treatments to help hoarders manage their symptoms. The use of prescribed antidepressants and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) have been found to be most effective.
If you’re motivated to reduce your clutter and need the help of a professional organizer, consider contacting New Leaf Organizing Service at www.newleaforganizingservice.com or at (203) 450-1099. We organize things big and small — once and for all.
Have an organizing question you’d like me to answer? Feel free to submit it on Patch.com, via the Comments function, or e-mail it to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. The more specific the question, the better.
Coming next time: How can I teach my young children the basics of being organized?
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