Hoarding: What’s the Big Deal??

Hoarding and hoarders are not new to our society, but in 2009 the issue took the spotlight with a show produced by A&E titled “Hoarders.” People all over the country tuned in to watch the lives of those dwelling in beautiful homes stuffed to the rafters on the inside with so much junk, trash, and even dead animals or human waste that the residents wouldn’t even open the door to allow visitors to enter.

In the course of providing homecare in my community, I have been in the homes of hoarders many times. In some of these homes, I found rooms stacked with high piles of newspapers, magazines, boxes and various items, leaving narrow walkways to move about and creating a dangerous environment that invited vermin and insects as well as a risk of fire. Usually, the homeowner wouldn’t admit that their living environment was unsafe or even unusual, although they were fiercely protective of their possessions and their privacy.

Even my mother had some minor hoarding tendencies. I realized this when I found many small plastic cookie containers while cleaning out her kitchen. She must have two hundred when I discovered her “hoard.” I quickly discarded all but ten, thinking that if she came up with a purpose, she would still have a few. She also kept every card anyone ever sent her. I sorted through hundreds of these after her death and found Mother’s Day cards drawn by my own 6-year old hands. These habits did not endanger my mother in her later years, but they did create quite a mess to sort through after her death.

Hobbies that involve collecting specific items are activities that include family members and enhance relationships. Hoarding tendencies can tear families apart because, for the person that hoards, the hoarded items are their relationships, and the hoarding behavior inhibits healthy social relationships. Hoarding disorder can destroy families, friendships, health and quality of life if left untreated, but as with any mental illness, there are right ways and wrong ways to address the subject.

If you have a loved one that you feel might be exhibiting hoarding behaviors that could endanger them or others, here’s a list of symptoms.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for helping someone with Hoarding Disorder.

Matt Paxton, one of the hosts of A&E’s “Hoarders,” shares tips for how to declutter a Hoarder’s home here.

Finally, remember that prayer, patience, and love are your most valuable tools when helping a hoarding loved one. True hoarding is a mental illness frequently associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and is not simply or quickly treated. Ask your local Area Agency on Aging for resources or check with your church or local social service agencies for help with your loved one’s situation.

Chris and I hope you will join the conversation and share your stories about finding a light at the end of the hoarding tunnel.

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