Hoarding: Myths vs. Facts

I would like to dispel some of the myths around hoarding. I work with hoarders and most of you or the people you know and love are not hoarders. Worldwide an estimated 1 to 2.5 percent of the population is hoarders.

Not many considering our planet is home to approximately 7.1 Billion people.

Until recently, little was known about hoarding, even though most of us knew of someone who struggled with it. Despite being reported all over the world and throughout time, compulsive hoarding has been under-researched. Today, researchers and mental health professionals are rethinking some long-held views.

Here are 10 commonly held beliefs about hoarding and what researchers are now saying about those beliefs. Posted on LinkedIn January 9, 2012 by Stacey Feil, National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO).

Myth #1. People who hoard are uneducated. People who hoard are often quite intelligent, articulate and engaging. Some hold advanced degrees and most are aware of, and often tormented by, their conditions.

Myth #2. Hoarding is a response to deprivation. While it was initially believed that living through periods of deprivation was a reason for hoarding, researchers have found that, in fact, most people who hoard grew up in a household where there was plenty to eat and never faced periods of material deprivation. Researchers aren’t as certain about the role of emotional deprivation.

Myth #3. People who hoard are poor. Studies have shown that most hoarders have good, stable jobs and make a decent, if not a good living. Hoarding often causes financial hardship because of the associated spending habits.

These habits can lead to lost income,
bankruptcy and even homelessness.

Myth #4. I’m just a “pack-rat.” It is possible to be a pack-rat and not be a hoarder. Excessive clutter, inability to use rooms and furniture for their intended function, interference with everyday living, and/or substantial distress are all symptoms of hoarding. Collecting and saving things does not make one a hoarder.

Myth #5. Collectors are hoarders. Having a collection does not make you a hoarder. Most collectors take pride in the objects they collect. About their collection they: take care of it (dust, polish, etc.), take steps to keep it from harm or decay, enjoy showing it to others, maintain a system of organization such that when a new item is added it is not just tossed in willy-nilly. Hoarders rarely exhibit these tendencies with their treasures.

Hoarding Fact:
As long as you have the space, it does not cause financial, emotional, or physical distress to you or anyone else, and is not a safety hazard, saving and storing things for later use, “just in case,” is common and within the range of “NORMAL” behavior.

Myth #6. You can tell a person is a hoarder by the way they look. This is completely false. People burdened with hoarding are often well dressed and put-together. Outside of their living environment they are often fully functioning.

Myth #7. Just haul it all off, that’ll fix it. This may seem like the quick and easy answer, but the reality is that this can do more harm than good. Deep emotional attachments exist for each item in a person’s hoard. Consequently, even items that appear to be nothing but a piece of trash can hold great significance in the mind of its owner. Experience shows that this approach can leave the person damaged, scarred, and even more resistant to treatment.  As a result, in most cases the clutter returns quickly and worse than before.

Removing or destroying this item can
stir up reactions similar to losing a loved one.

Myth #8. I was just born messy. Researchers are not certain about the underlying cause of hoarding. It’s possible that something in the brain is not operating properly in those who hoard. Furthermore it’s also possible that those who hoard have an extraordinary ability to see things that others overlook. Traumatic events could have caused a disruption or structural change in brain function. Scientists are working to uncover the mysteries of the mind of a hoarder.

Myth #9. I just need more space. While lack of space can be a legitimate issue in some situations, research has shown that those with the propensity to hoard will fill up any space, no matter how large.

Myth #10. There’s nothing we can do about it. If you or someone you know is struggling with maintaining their living space, cannot control their impulse to acquire, or is inhibited by their conditions, know that there is help out there. Contact a mental health professional in your area. The good news is that with proper treatment hoarding problems can be resolved.

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