Hoarding: 4 Warning Signs + What to Do About It
by Martha Li
published August 27, 2012
rating: (13 Ratings)
How to identify if you have a problem
Many of us have a tendency to hang on to certain belongings for nostalgia’s sake, or collect specific items as a hobby, but when does it become more than just quirky pack rat behaviour? Here are four warning signs that may indicate a more serious hoarding problem.
What to look out for
Eileen Birchall worked as a registered social worker in the public health sector for several years, counselling individuals afflicted with hoarding. In 1997, she went into private practice and started Birchall Consulting, a counselling and decluttering service based in Ottawa, Ontario.
Birchall says there are certain factors that are common among hoarders, four of the most significant ones being:
1. A compelling need to save things
This may sound obvious, and sure, a lot of us can’t part with items that hold special meaning for us (like old essays from university or a stuffed animal collection), but Birchall emphasizes that a hoarder will feel a strong, unwavering urge to accumulate things.
2. Having a first-degree relative who is a hoarder
In a formal study done on the subject of hoarding, which Birchall was involved in, the research findings showed that 84% of hoarders had a close relative (such as their mother, father, or sibling) who is/was also a hoarder. This evidence suggests that modelling behaviour plays a large role in whether a person will develop a hoarding condition.
3. Comorbid factor
This refers to the presence of one or more disorders in addition to a primary disorder. For example, it is not uncommon for someone who has/had depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or severe anxiety to develop a hoarding tendency as well. However, it is not to say that such a person will most certainly become a hoarder, but rather that the potential to become one is slightly greater
4. Being genetically predisposed to hoarding
Scientific research has shown that hoarders have three chromosomes in common, which may possibly suggest that hoarding is a genetically-based condition.
Where to go for help
“Unless people have a very severe comorbid factor, most people [who are hoarders] can make a significant improvement [on their own],” says Birchall. “The thing is to remain committed to what you as an individual need to avoid, and to avoid the triggers.”
Birchall, whose therapy treatment involves going into the homes of her clients, stresses that if helping yourself is not working, ask a trusted family member or friend for help. “It’s important that the person you reach out to will respect your wishes about things and go at your pace [in discarding items], and they genuinely respect the attachment you have for each item.”
After treatment, Birchall believes hoarders will then have the tools they need to identify their triggers. “With professional help, they will remember the importance of physical and emotional self-care, know how to avoid the physical and mental stresses, and be able to recognize when it’s starting to get out of control.”