A Mental Health Disorder or just Being Untidy and Disorganised?

With all the TV programmes on at the moment about “Hoarding” it’s very easy to see that people do get emotionally attached to their possessions isn’t it? However, I wonder where that line is that people cross between being a bit untidy and disorganised and hoarding? As a clinical hypnotherapist I have treated a lot of hoarders and the reasons for their hoarding have all been so different. The causes are so complex, and it’s still not fully understood WHY people become hoarders, but some say it’s genetic – if your parents were hoarders, you may become one too! That’s easy to understand isn’t it? Spending your childhood surrounded by “stuff” whether it’s yours, your parents or your sibling’s stuff, is going to carry a lot of weight isn’t it!

I had a patient once who told me that her parents had both been hoarders. They had been children of the “depression” born in 1926 in a working – class town. Her mother was a very depressed woman and her father just worked hard and tried to keep everything up and running.

She said they were always tripping over things (and nothing of any value) just…things! Stuff! Rubbish! They never sat at the dining table to eat – they couldn’t as it was piled high with “things”. When they went to the bathroom it was full of “things” – hundreds of half empty shampoo bottles, soaps, flannels, old towels, magazines and newspapers, dirty washing, again… just things. She said to me “it wasn’t even as if it was anything of value, but it seemed like that both my mother and father could never bring themselves to throw anything away.”

I know that many of us call ourselves hoarders, it’s become a generalised term now, but the truth of the matter is – real “Hoarding” is a serious mental health condition that can destroy families, and can cause people to commit suicide.

I know, personally I have been tempted to keep things for no real reason – a plate that has several chips in it because it was my favourite plate!! A settee that was so old and so damn uncomfortable it should have been thrown out years ago! So WHY do people get into such a serious state about…..things?

To start with, people with a hoarding disorder excessively save and collect items that others may view as totally worthless. They have difficulty in throwing things away – maybe because of their upbringing if they were constantly told “Don’t throw that away it may be worth something”. This all leads to a whole load of clutter which then affects their living or work – spaces. Hoarding is totally different from collecting. Collectors keep specific items like stamps or model cars and they usually keep it in good order and tidy. Hoarders collect what we would call rubbish – old newspapers, old and new clothes, books and ornaments toys and even just empty boxes!

They usually say: “I might need it one day”.

Hoarding disorder affects around 5% of the population and can lead to serious distress among the family. It’s more common in men than women and usually affects the older age group. It causes problems in relationships, work and social activities as some hoarders won’t want to let people into their house out of shame and embarrassment.

The safety aspect will worry the hoarder’s family members as hoarders have been known to die in a fire that has gone out of control due to the amount of rubbish in the house. It will lead to family arguments, strain and conflict and the hoarder will become lonely and isolated

So – what help is there for hoarders?

There are many forms of help for people with a hoarding disorder, but the main ones are Clinical hypnosis, which is how I work in my two clinics, Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and in some cases people do need medication. Hypnosis is good because it gets into that subconscious mind where all the memories are kept, so if we change the memory, we can change the behaviour. It’s also about teaching the patient to become more organised and perhaps teaching them about simple safety and health techniques.

How do I know if I am a hoarder?

If you have the following symptoms you may be a hoarder:

  • Have disorganised items all over the house in piles on the floor – things like clothes, paperwork, newspapers from ten years ago, books or sentimental items.
  • Things that clutter your halls and stairways
  • Build up of old stale food in the fridge which hasn’t been cleaned for months on end.
  • Conflict with family members who try to help you remove clutter from the house for your own health and safety.
  • Not being able to cook in the kitchen as there is too much clutter over every surface including the gas stove!
  • Not being able to take a bath or shower due to “things” being stored in the bath!

Many people, after losing a loved one, become hoarders as it starts with not wanting to get rid of their “things”. They become so obsessed and attached that it’s impossible for them to throw anything away. It takes great patience to help someone get over this disorder but when they do it is so satisfying.

If you or someone you know needs help – do contact me. I know it’s a big deal for that person to come forward and admit they are a hoarder but once they do and they can start to see “the wood for the trees” they become so much better!


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