July 16, 2018
Do you have a friend who will not let you inside his or her home? That person may not be trying to keep a distance, so much as trying to keep a guilty secret about what is lurking behind the front door—belongings and trash piled from floor to ceiling.
Before that, many people had heard of the Collyer brothers, Homer and Langley, who lived like hermits in a Harlem, New York, brownstone, where the obsessively collected books and newspapers. The brothers were found dead in the home in 1947, surrounded by over 140 tons of hoarded items that eventually had trapped them and killed them.
It is not surprising that the brothers took to hoarding together: Compulsive hoarding is can be an extreme form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which often is inherited among family members, according to Psych Central.
Today there are an estimated 700,000 to 1.4 million U.S. residents who hoard, based on findings by Gerald Nestadt, M.D., director of the OCD Clinic at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Between 18% and 42% of people with OCD experience some sort of compulsion to hoard, Netstadt says. Typically, the condition starts in childhood or adolescence, but does not advance to a severe state until adulthood.
However, there are other hoarders who do not have OCD. They may be affected by depression, bipolar disorder, or social anxiety that exhibits itself in symptoms of hoarding.
People who have the disorder typically become extremely anxious when they must discard anything, from trash to treasures. They also continue to acquire home goods, collectibles, and clothing, even when there is no room left to put them. Before long, every space inside the home—including the shower, the bed, the kitchen and the bathroom—is clogged and covered by belongings. Bugs and vermin flourish in this mess.
The Johns Hopkins researcher believes that many hoarders are perfectionists. They fear making the wrong decision about what to keep and what to throw out, so they keep everything.
Indeed, according to the website, Clutter Hoarding Cleanup, “Trust is key when approaching a hoarder about [his or her] condition. It is important to remember that majority of those in need of hoarding cleanup services have suffered from a trauma [ … or psychological distress] that triggered the condition.Often, the services of a psychologist who specializes in hoarding can help the sufferer to accept the cleanup process.
Finally, animal hoarding is a specific version of the problem that involves collecting dozens, if not hundreds, of cats or dogs to “save them” from shelters. While the hoarder loves the animals, it becomes impossible for him or her to clean up around them—leading to progressively deteriorating conditions in the home and rampant illness among the animals. About 1,500 new cases are discovered nationwide each year, according to Tufts University Professor Gary Patronek.
Research contact: @GeraldNestadt