Is a house extremely cluttered or is the occupant a hoarder? The line between collecting/stock piling and hoarding can be a matter of opinion but there are times when the situation is out of control and has become a major problem, sometimes referred to as extreme or compulsive hoarding. Most of us have seen programs about hoarders on television. Now and then there is an item on the news about someone who has hoarded so much stuff that the authorities have stepped in because of health and safety concerns.
However, people with extreme hoarding habits sometimes don’t consider it a problem. They may see it as collecting, insurance against financial or other disaster, avoiding waste or something else which seems reasonable to them.
Extreme hoarders may have health problems such as mental health issues, which may make it difficult for them to recognise dangers associated with hoarding. Some hoarders have physical health problems, perhaps including severe pain, which makes it challenging/impossible for them to sort things and dispose of unnecessary items. Month by month, year by year the situation worsens.
What are the signs of a hoarder? Signs and symptoms could include -
Accumulating items that are not needed
Holding onto excessive amounts of something which does have a use, but not inexcessive amounts
Accumulating things for which there is no space
Difficulty culling items which are broken, useless or no longer needed
Filling rooms or sheds to the extent they can not be used
Having to hire storage for excess items
Stacking hallways, walkways and any other bit of space with items such as newspapers, clothes, books, boxes or paperwork
Not throwing away empty food containers, tags from bread bags, broken toys, junk mail, notes, lists and garbage
An extreme hoarder may keep everything that enters the house Courtesy of Pixabay
Why can hoarding be considered a problem by other people? Compulsive hoarding may pose a health and safety hazard to those living in the house, visitors and neighbours -
Piles of newspapers and similar may be a fire hazard
Garbage is likely to stink and also attract mice, cockroaches and other vermin
Likely to be a tripping hazard especially if any of the occupants are elderly or have a mobility disability
Beds may be piled with items, preventing occupants from getting a good night's sleep
Couches, armchairs and tables may be covered in so much stuff that they can't be used
Situation may overwhelm the occupant/s but they may refuse assistance with sorting and disposing of excess items
Extreme hoarders often withdraw from the community
May be difficult for others to get into the house if an occupant needs medical care or if there is an electrical or plumbing job that needs doing
What may result from extreme hoarding? In extreme situations -
Children may be deemed 'at risk' and removed from the house by authorities
Relationships may break up
Situation may lead to financial ruin
If the occupant is renting they may be evicted
The state of the dwelling may mean its resale value and that of neighbouring houses decreases.
Help is available for a person who is an extreme hoarder. However, they may not recognise the situation as a problem. They may fear being judged by others, resent interference or suspect others are 'stealing' their possessions and refuse to accept support. This may be an even bigger problem than the task of actually cleaning up the house.