Some of us may be collectors of certain things such as art, antiques, cups, mugs, stamps, or coins. What gets someone started on deciding to collect certain items could be tied to a family tradition or simply a love for or great interest in the items they collect. Most people who collect things are fascinated by the history around their collections, which they love to organize, display and talk about the first chance they get. This differs a lot from people who collect things due to unhealthy attachment or obsession, which brings us to the topic of this post. When does the love – or attachment to – certain things become too much? When does collecting become an obsession? When does loving something become too much? At what point does collecting turn into hoarding, which could get so out of hand that it even becomes a health hazard?
The Difference Between Collecting and Hoarding
As Randy Frost, a Professor of Psychology at Smith College and author of “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things” so perfectly describes it:
“When collecting is healthy, the display or storage of these things does not impede the use of active living areas of the home. When a collector expands acquisitions beyond well-defined collections and loses the ability to keep these possessions organized, it becomes a hoarding problem. For the person whose collecting has become hoarding, possessions become unorganized piles of clutter that are so large that they prevent rooms from being used for normal activities. When collecting becomes hoarding, motivation to display items is lost, and people become fearful of others seeing, touching or even commenting on their belongings. Yet the drive to add more to the collection still leads them to acquire things that only end up in the pile, and once in the pile, objects are seldom looked at again.”
Why and What People Hoard
Now that we know the difference between collecting and hoarding, let’s go over some of the reasons why people hoard:
- They really believe the things they collect are unique and that they will need them at some point in the future.
- The things they hoard have some kind of emotional value — or may serve as a comforting reminder of the past, lost loved ones, or pets.
- They feel a sense of security when surrounded by the things that they hoard.
- They are afraid to waste things.
Some examples of common items people hoard include newspapers and magazines, photos, books, clothes, letters, bills and receipts, containers (including grocery bags and boxes), fasteners (ties and rubber bands), bottles or jars, hardware, and household supplies. Some people also hoard animals, even when they can no longer take care of them.
Why Hoarding Presents a Physical and Emotional Health Hazard
When a person has a home full of hoarded items, making it difficult to move around the space and even function, there should be great cause for concern. At this point, their behavior presents a health hazard to themselves, to anyone else living in the home, and even to neighbors. Here are just a few reasons why a hoarding issue needs to be addressed as soon as possible- especially if the hoarder is elderly or disabled:
- An Increased Fall Risk – Having many items stacked around the house and blocking hallways and entryways increased the risk of falls when the occupant walks from one room to another.
- A Higher Risk of Injury – In addition to falls, the hoarder could be seriously injured by hoarded items falling on them.
- Unsanitary Conditions – Not being able to access a bathroom, kitchen, or running water due to the accumulation of items will create very unsanitary conditions that could present a high health risk to the occupants.
- Fire Hazards – Items stacked near gas or electrical appliances present a serious fire hazard. Since large stacks of paper items have probably been hoarded over many years, they are likely to be old and dry therefore highly flammable.
- Poor Performance at Work– Living under extremely cluttered and unhygienic conditions is bound to affect all aspects of life, including performance at work.
- Family Conflict – Since hoarders do not respond well to the interference of family members, disputes and conflicts can arise.
- Evictions or Legal Problems – If the hoarder is renting the home, they face the risk of eviction due to not taking proper care of the property and/or causing a problem with neighbors. If animals or minors are under the hoarder’s care, social workers, child protective workers, or animal protection workers could get involved and other legal issues could arise.
- Social Isolation – As the hoarding behavior gets worse and worse, so does the level of loneliness and social isolation, which could lead to other problems such as anxiety, depression, addiction – even suicide.
If you or someone you know is dealing with a hoarding situation, don’t try to tackle this alone! Emotions can run high and the behavior and actions of people with a Hoarding Disorder can be unpredictable. It’s best to seek the help of professionals who can know how to address all aspects of the problem – from psychological support to biohazard clean-up services – with expertise, tact, and compassion.