Why is “hoarding” a curse? Simply stated, it weighs heavily upon the person who is emotionally attached to their belongings. The accumulation of “stuff” provides a sense of meaning and fulfillment to the hoarder. In many cases, each possession carries a memory of a different time, place or person. For the hoarder, disposing of the clutter means losing a part of themselves.
Even the thought of getting rid of old, unused items can cause emotional angst and stress for the hoarder. At the suggestion to “get organized” or “clean out the attic”, he or she may get angry or lapse into social withdrawal. The hoarder’s personal space includes their “stuff”.
If the individual remains unable to change habits or adjust their behavior, their continued accumulation of things may become all-consuming. Whether or not clinically diagnosed with Hoarding Disorder, someone who obsessively and/or compulsively hoards possessions can often be identified by the following tendencies:
- Rationalized excuses that they may need (the item) someday, so they’ll keep it just-in-case.
- Purchasing entire sets or collections (as in the case of furniture or kitchen ware), rather than just the pieces needed.
- Keeping broken items to salvage spare parts to repair similar/identical items that have not yet broken.
- Moving old items (like appliances and furniture) outside the normal living space (to the porch or back yard) when replaced by new items, then deferring disposal to “someday” in procrastination.
Habits aren’t contagious, but they can be passed on to close friends and family by way of learned-behavior. In other words, the expression “birds of a feather flock together” applies, as does “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
The curse is an emotional one for both the afflicted individual (the hoarder) and the family who must someday clean out their estate.
Triggers for Hoarding
Hoarding is commonly attributed to stressful life events, such as loss of a loved one, a catastrophic fire where all possessions were destroyed, and even genetics. It’s identified as a disorder, not a disease, so correcting behavior involves a change of mindset rather than a medical cure. A few noteworthy but not all-inclusive triggers are as follows:
- Hardship: Many survivors of The Great Depression of the 1930’s developed hoarding tendencies. They lived through a time when they often didn’t know where their next meal might come from. Inflation and unemployment were high, and the average household had to stretch dollars and conserve. They collected old household articles to barter, improvise or repair, because the cost of purchasing new items was often cost-prohibitive.
- Loss: In cases where someone loses a spouse or child, they may tend to cling onto the loved one’s possessions as a way of remaining close to them (mentally and emotionally). When someone suffers a loss of their home (due to a disaster like a fire, or financial loss such as foreclosure), they may tend to collect possessions thereafter out of fear-of-loss.
- Sentimentality: If a person lacks a sense of roots because they’ve relocated from place to place throughout their lifetime, they may associate belongings with meaningful memories of times, places, events and people from various points in their lives. Much like certain songs or smells can often “bring people back” to a point in their earlier years, the same is true for things for the hoarder. Physical possessions become an anchor point to give them a sense of roots.
Hoarder (and their loved ones) often find themselves dealing with unpleasant consequences. Their living environment is oftentimes dirty and unhygienic due to clutter, dust, and debris. In worst-cases, significant accumulation of junk may result in rodent or bug infestations. Additionally, the excessive clutter poses trip hazards and fire hazards.
Aside from the physical complications of hoarding, relationships are impacted as well. The resulting stress and tension can create family conflicts, isolation, and depression.
Recovery and Paring Down
There’s no easy way to convince someone to part with their prized possessions. It’s even more difficult when everything is a “prized” possession. Bringing a dumpster to the home and disposing of everything against the hoarder’s will is not a good option. They’ll feel violated and demeaned, and it would be interpreted as a hostile action.
Start small. Take baby steps. And communicate throughout the process. If you can agree upon specific items (or types of items) that are “allowed to go away”, create a written list as an informal contract. Don’t overreach. Instead, take a conservative approach and be patient. Bit by bit, call it progress.
In all likelihood, the hoarder will have second thoughts along the way, especially if they are involved in the disposal process. Consider having a third-party like a junk removal company take care of the physical pickup and hauling away. Make the process as painless as possible for the individual.
If you have adhered to the list of agreed-upon items, your “informal contract” can keep the peace if there’s ever a disagreement upon what was removed and whether it should have been. Over time, the process gets easier as the hoarder begins to realize (perhaps with some reassurance) that they really don’t miss the items that went away.
The Hoarding Curse can be broken. However, it’s a slow and deliberate process requiring patience. You can’t push too hard, too fast. After a successful decluttering, though, you and your loved ones can look forward to a calmer future with lower stress lifestyle.