Piling up stuff for “future purpose” was one of my grandma’s areas of specialty. T reported as she walked into our apartment. Whenever we went visiting, I would see piles of neatly folded nylon and stacks of plastic take out bowls almost occupying the top of the kitchen counter. I ignored until I noticed she had her foodstuff containers sitting in a corner of the kitchen. In an attempt to replace them in their proper spaces, I discovered that a whole cupboard space where foodstuff bowls are meant to be placed were filled up with piles of plastic take out bowls. I attempted to take them out and she flared up. I asked why she was hoarding these items because I felt it was unnecessary and she responded, ‘you cannot understand, just wait until the need arises’ as she carefully replaced these items. Well, I’m still waiting for the day the need would arise. T’s recount of this story prompted the need to educate her on something new.
Hoarding is not uncommon amongst people and it is likely that we may have encountered some persons like T’s grandma. It is described as the act of collecting and accumulating stuff for reasons best known to them. However, in the field of psychology, Hoarding is considered a disorder when these items are considered worthless by others and the individual is unable to part with such items in order to avoid the distress that comes with letting go. This disorder can be traced back to the story of the Collyer’s brothers. The Collyer’s brother born to Dr. Collyer and Susie Collyer were reported to have been found dead beneath stock pile of garbage in their Parent’s New York mansion. The mansion was reported to have been stacked with debris and garbage that sealed off all possible entrances. The brothers were also reported to have been dead for several days before it came to the notice of outsiders. The police had to search through layers of debris for several days before they could gain access to the bodies.
Hoarding disorder is a disorder which recently got classified separately from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as a distinct disorder on its own. It is characterized by the following;
1) Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value and it is usually due to a need to save the items and also to avoid distress associated with discarding them.
2) Difficulty discarding possessions which results in the accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromises their intended use. If living areas are uncluttered, it is only because of the interventions of third parties (e.g., family members, cleaners, authorities).
3) The hoarding causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others).
4) Also, an important thing to note is that the hoarding is not attributable to another medical condition (e.g., brain injury, cerebrovascular disease, Prader-Willi syndrome) and is also not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder (e.g., obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder, decreased energy in major depressive disorder, delusions in schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder, cognitive deficits in major neurocognitive disorder, restricted interests in autism spectrum disorder).
There is no established clear cause of this disorder however, some risk factors have been established which includes; stressful/traumatic events such as the loss of a loved one. Persons may try to find comfort in these items and also stack up in order to protect them from evils unseen, as in the case of the Collyer’s brothers. Also, other disorders such as depression, OCD, makes an individual pre-disposed to having hoarding disorder. Family history also stands as a risk factor.
Increased risk of falls; Poor physical health; Fire hazard; Impairment in basic activities such as cooking and cleaning; Family conflicts; Legal issues such as eviction; Loneliness and social isolation.
Hoarding disorder cannot be prevented but can be properly managed. In the case of T’s Grandma, her husband had died a few months back. For such a person, it is advisable she comes in for a comprehensive psychological evaluation so a proper diagnosis can be made and followed with appropriate treatment plan, inclusive of the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which is one of the areas of specialization of seasoned clinical psychologists in Diamondmoor psychological consults and services.