It's one thing to like your shoes, handbags or watches, but what happens when you can't give them up
Many people collect things—newspapers, clothes, cookware, shoes—but what happens when your collecting becomes an obsession? You don’t become a hoarder overnight; it happens gradually, and one day you or someone else sees the truth; that your home has become a storage bin, and there is little room to sit, walk or sometimes even stand. Hoarding means to collect items excessively with the inability to get rid of them (visualizing getting rid of these items causes an overwhelming, unbearable panic). Hoarding may become life threatening when the collection includes collecting animals, making living conditions unsanitary and harmful to one’s health. Hoarding can be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but many people who hoard don't have other OCD-related symptoms. People who hoard also have a healthy dose of denial. Many times they don’t see it as a problem (until their partner leaves them), which can complicate the treatment. People who hoard usually end up alone because they don’t have room in their homes or life for a partner.
Not sure if you are a hoarder, living with a hoarder, or are simply a packrat? According to Dr. Jeff Szymanski PH.D, who has done extensive research in this area, a hoarder is spending money on lockers, additional storage space, and has a hard time finding room to live in their house. They also fill their cars with possessions because they run out of room in their home. Another distinct point Szymanski makes is that packrats aren’t keeping people out of their house because of their clutter. Hoarders, on the other hand, love all of their stuff and they have no plans to get rid of it. Packrats don’t usually need treatment; it’s more of a personal preference. Hoarders are usually isolated and alone due to their hoarding. They are drawn to newspapers, magazines, books, clothing, receipts, bills, emails, and junk mail. The amount of junk a hoarder can accumulate is limitless.
Hoarders experience intense anxiety or distress when attempting to get rid of or even think about throwing something away. The reason they hoard is to combat the anxiety provoking thoughts of, “What if I run out?” or “What if I need to know something and I don’t have the source anymore?” The disorder doesn’t make sense to someone who doesn’t suffer from it and, therefore, you must understand the craving to hoard will never go away. It is a compulsion with a lot of anxiety fueling the thoughts. Below are some tips on getting help for the hoarder in your life:
1. Counseling. Psychotherapy is going to focus on helping the hoarder feel the intense anxiety without saving anything. Many times this is done through a process called Exposure therapy. This means practicing new ways (instead of hoarding) of responding to worrisome thoughts, intense feelings, as well as other triggers.
2. Medications. A psychiatrist or primary care doctor may prescribe medications that can help the hoarder manage the anxiety and depression so they can focus more effectively and work with the counselor.
3. Seek assistance or another opinion. Hoarders often have a difficult time determining what is important vs. unimportant, just enough vs. excessive, or necessary vs. inconsequential. They have a tendency to be isolated because very few people can tolerate the way they live. Hoarders ask for constant reassurance by asking, “How did this happen?” or “Why do I hoard?” A trusting friend can gently urge them to let go of the questioning and instead focus on what the objective is, and how they are going to achieve that without accumulating more stuff.
Hoarding has its underlying anxiety in the fear of not being prepared, not knowing when good enough is good enough, or when too much is too much. Their anxiety may not be realistic, but it is very real to them. If you are a hoarder or married to one, it is important you embrace the concept of making small changes and understanding their fear. This disorder never goes away, but can be managed with help. Focusing on clearing one space such as a kitchen or bathroom will be more successful than expecting to throw everything in the whole house away. Most hoarders feel isolated, depressed and anxious; realizing that their need for an abundance of stuff is the cause of their inability to engage in a healthy relationship. –Mary Jo Rapini
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