In a previous blog, we talked about the difference between collecting and hoarding, and the fine line between the two. As a general rule of thumb, collectors tend to organize and display their collections whereas hoarders do not usually organize or intentionally display their collected items. Some people may describe themselves as “pack rats” i.e., people who like to collect certain items or don’t like to throw them away. Many self-confessed pack rats do not have a mental health disorder and lead more or less normal lives, but then there are many subtypes of hoarder disorders and we dive into that below.
From Pack Rat to Hoarder
If there is a behavior of acquiring and failing to throw out items that have little or no value, such as old magazines, containers, clothes, books, junk mail, notes or lists, this could very well be a sign of a mental illness called hoarding disorder, a condition related to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Three main aspects of obsessive hoarding include:
- Difficulty discarding
- Excessive acquisition
Sub-types of Hoarding Disorders
There are different types of obsessive hoarding. These include:
- Object Hoarding – This involves hoarding specific items such as paper, books, clothing, or even garbage. The huge number of hoarded items take up all of the rooms of the house, including stairways and exits. In some extreme cases, the hoarded items are even stored outside the house, within the view of neighbors. The amount of clutter in the house makes it impossible to keep clean – therefore presents both a health and safety hazard.
- Animal Hoarding – For some people, the desire to keep animals as pets crosses the line into a compulsive behavior called animal hoarding. Animal hoarding occurs when a person is housing more animals than they can properly care for. It is a complex issue that encompasses mental health, animal welfare, and public safety concerns. Animal hoarding is defined by an inability to provide even basic standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care—often resulting in animal starvation, illness, and death. In the majority of cases, animal hoarders really believe they are helping their animals and deny their inability to provide basic care.
- Compulsive Shopping Disorder – Compulsive shopping happens when the accumulation turns into a mental disorder. It is also known as compulsive buying disorder. The characteristics of compulsive shopping disorder include preoccupation with shopping for unneeded items; spending a great deal of time doing research on coveted items and/or shopping for unneeded items. People with this disorder have difficulty resisting the purchase of unneeded items. Once purchased, they are unable to organize the items which leads to hoarding and clutter. They may also experience financial difficulties caused by uncontrolled spending.
Dealing with Hoarding Disorders
Although the clutter and squalor caused by hoarding often do not usually bother the hoarders themselves, it can be very frustrating and distressing for family members or neighbors. Among the most worrying aspects of hoarding for friends and family members is the lack of insight the hoarder often has into the consequences of their hoarding – even when threatened with legal action, eviction, or losing custody of their children. If a family member or someone you know has a hoarding disorder that impacts their day-to-day functioning, their health, and safety or the health and safety of others, then it is important to seek the help of a social worker or mental health professional. Treatment for hoarding and its subtypes is available.