On Hoarding

From USA Today:

The Mayo Clinic defines hoarding as the excessive collection of things, along with the inability to discard them.

Such behavior creates unsanitary conditions and, in severe cases, the inability to function normally.

Although hoarding has become more recognized in recent years thanks to television reality shows, it is a psychological disease that experts say is often related to or a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The major issue, they say, is that many people who have the disorder fail to recognize it as a problem, making treatment extremely challenging.

Although hoarding carries both denial and shame for many people, there is hope for change in the form of therapy and anti-clutter strategies.

Dr. Amy Austin has encountered only one case of hoarding at her Palm Desert practice. “Unfortunately, she stopped coming,” said Austin. “She was not ready for treatment.”

Austin, who is an addiction specialist, says hoarding is more of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, but, like addiction, those with hoarding disorders are resistant to change. “What we are talking about is an anxiety disorder. People decrease levels of anxiety by hoarding.”


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  • Not quite the take on hoarding I had in mind when I read the headline, but worth exploring.

    I was thinking more along the lines of economic activity, and how there really is enough money to go around, but it’s all concentrated too much in the hands of a few (I’m not here advocating for any specific policy to “tax the rich” or to “encourage spending” or other types of government action. I’m just saying that money has to circulate to be effective, and it really isn’t doing so enough these days).

  • DRT

    Mark Baker-Wright, sounds like they could be the same to me. I would contend that a Donald Trump is hoarding.

    People try to eliminate stress by hoarding money, but it is clear that there are also other reasons one could hoard money (need for approval, power etc)

  • Joe Canner

    I have some close family members who are hoarders and while there are probably some OCD-related factors, it seems there is also some fear based on poverty in younger years. They are too young to have lived through the depression, but for those who did not benefit from the post-war economic boom, the hoarding instinct is still strong.

  • OCD’er

    I have OCD, but am not a hoarder (OCD exhibits itself in different ways in different people). The part of this article that suggests hoarders with OCD don’t realize it is a problem is generally untrue. OCD’ers usually realize there is something wrong with their compulsions – they just have a very hard time dong anything to stop them.

  • OCD’er

    In support of what I’m saying, see the Physicians Desk Reference: http://www.pdrhealth.com/diseases/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/symptoms

  • I have done some literature research on this subject, which I can summarize assuming someone else might be interested.

    Many of us have compulsions, and many times they help a person be successful. A writer, a composer, an artist, etc. A person who is a little compulsion for detail and perfection can made a good dentist, but not if it an obsession and an 8am appointment takes all day. A lot of people save things; a lot of people say that have too much clutter. But hoarding as a clinical disorder is when the problem interferes with family, marriage, job, social behavior, etc. And there are other manifestations that block the person from getting out of the behavior. So everyone affected is stuck with them.

    People have classically associated Tourette’s disease with an adolescent male uncontrollably screaming profanities in public because that’s what is depicted in the media. Obviously, that does get people’s attention. But there now are estimates of 1000’s of times more people with Tourette’s than previously thought, and maybe about 1% act like the above. Tourette’s is thought to be co-expression of a number of genes (allele) so there is a statistical correlation between phenotypic behaviors being in the same person. There is considerable variation between people in what is expressed; and it has been suggested that the expression/inhibition of certain of the genes may depend on early environment. The behaviors that tend to be found together (again, to different extents in different people) are: hyperactivity, attention deficit (ADD and ADHD), tics, depression, and OCB or OCD, depending on the severity. Some people may have one of these behaviors; some may have two, some more. Some may have one disorder really bad and the others less so. Some may have a little bit of all of them. Obviously, it is a problem to accurately diagnose. Some of the most difficult cases of OCD, such as hoarding, will have one or more of the other behaviors. Some people “outgrow” their symptoms, some get better about 21 or so but retain some into adulthood, some don’t get better.

    There is overlap between OCD and addiction; both probably involve brain dopamine. Most of the OCD behaviors are not anything that you want to have. Sexual addiction – from a mild problem to porn to harassment to the bad go to jail stuff; gambling addiction, movement disorders including tics of face and extremities, compulsive cleanliness, handwashing, bathing (I knew one person who wore a gas mask to the lab), and other things including hoarding. Various forms of tics include movement disorders, stuttering, writer’s block (not just “I have trouble getting started” but more like thought seizure). Dependency on exogenously administered chemicals – drug or alcohol dependency or addiction – may or may not be related to the etiology of the “internal chemical dependency.”

    There are clinical criteria for a diagnosis of Tourette’s syndrome, several must be present in the clinical history. The most is movement tics by or before about the age of 6 years, usually present with facial and hand or arm repetitive movements that cannot be consciously suppressed, usually associated with hyperactivity and often at least one other social or educational difficulty, such as drawing or doodling in class instead of completing assignments. Other behavior will usually develop, such as stuttering, which can produce social stigma, shyness, withdrawal, and depression. Add into that mix some ADD and ADHD and things get tougher.

    Fortunately, many of the these behaviors are “outgrown” or at least socially camouflaged by learned compensatory behaviors by 21 years or so. Some extend into adulthood and the problems take on new social consequences. Sometimes ADD and ADHD extend into adulthood, sometimes other OCD’s do also, and some get worse as time passes and the results of the behavior build up — hoarding syndrome is one of them.

    There are classic signs of hoarding that are common enough that any hoarder will nod agreement when they are mentioned. Just a few examples – a hoarder will go into a depression when faced forcefully with the reality of having to throw things away, but a hoarder will almost have an anxiety attack if someone else comes and “helps” them. “Here, you don’t need this. You can throw this away.” Not. A hoarder will go out and buy some things to help organize and clean up – boxes, files, cabinets, book shelves, etc., but rather than helping, these item become part of the problem, the cabinets become stuffed, the boxes get piled up, the book shelves get filled so the books are inaccessible, etc. A hoarder cannot throw any of his own stuff away, but he an be ruthless if going through somebody else’s “trash.” Until he discovers something he “needs.”

    Hoarding, as in just about other imperfect behavior that has a genetic explanation, is part of the spiritual battle. Hoarding is a spiritual problem the same as gluttony or tendency to be alcoholic or anger/violence or anything else. All these behaviors are works of the flesh and of the genes of Adam and they must be overcome by submitting to the work of the Holy Spirit. I have ready sobering reports from psychologists who have said hoarding is such a strong OCD that it is incurable; they have seen people improve but not cured. People who claim to have recovered may not have been really clinical hoarders. There is a national hoarding society, like for other addictions; there are meeting of family members as supporters of hoarders.

    These are some areas where Christians can come along side of one another. In some cases, it could at least help a person to improve. You may know people who suffer from these problems which can be socially or maritally disabling – they could be threatened with job loss of divorce. I give this information for that reason – that we can all be more understanding and less judgmental. If you don’t have the problem, just be thankful.

    To those who don’t have the problem, it is a useless, stupid, “why can’t you just get over it,” type of behavior. Although I think these thoughts as well, it is probably obvious from this writing that I have a problem with hoarding. My wife of 47 years has shown me what the grace of God looks like.

  • Allen Browne

    Whew! You’re not talking about my collection of books, Scot? 🙂

  • Ann F-R

    OCD’er, the hoarder I know best is married to someone I’ve known a long time. Although her husband and children went to therapy because of her hoarding, and her husband separated from her, she refused to recognize it as a problem, much less a psychological disorder. Getting her into therapy was only achieved by her adult children making it a precondition of ongoing contact.

    Mark Baker-Wright, I agree. There seems to be a similar false belief harbored by those hoarding money and materials. (Prov. 18:11)