Hoarding Facts: The Psychology Behind the Clutter

“There is a real difference between actual hoarding disorder and mere cluttering or chronic disorganization.” This statement by Terrence S. Shulman, founder and director of The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending and Hoarding in metro-Detroit is an important distinction to keep in mind for any discussion on hoarding.

Shulman goes on to say, “Hoarding Disorder is a real mental illness that affects approximately 5% of Americans or about 15 million of us. While not all cases of hoarding are as extreme as on the popular cable TV shows, even mild to moderate hoarding and cluttering can wreak havoc on relationships and one’s own self-esteem and peace of mind. In this uber-consumerist culture of ours, it’s becoming easier to accumulate too much stuff and not have enough time and energy to get rid of it.”

Reality television has shed light on a disorder that has been hidden behind the walls of many homes in our country. We have seen that hoarding has a broad effect on families and that the issue is not confined to male or female or a particular economic circle.

What distinguishes the disorder from others with issues related to clutter and an abundance of possessions is the extreme nature. According to the American Psychiatric Association, hoarding disorder presents is defined by the fact that a person’s possessions have accumulated to such an extent that their living areas can no longer be used for their proper intent – a kitchen or bathroom that is no longer functional due to the amount of items filling the space, floors that are completely covered and no longer visible.

Increasing Awareness – Offering Help

Matt Paxton, noted expert and television personality from “Hoarders: Family Secrets,” provides the following statistics related to this disorder:

“Compulsive hoarding starts early: The median age of onset is between 11 and 15 years, with most respondents reporting symptom onset before age 20. There’s more than meets the eye: Many patients with compulsive hoarding report little distress or recognition of the problem. There may be a person you know suffering from hoarding disorder, but can’t identify it!”

Paxton has begun working with people dealing with hoarding disorder for decades and feels it is important to educate the public about the psychological health impact the disorder has on the individual and the people who care about them. He has recently partnered with ServiceMaster Restore to further his efforts in providing compassionate cleaning services to hoarders.

The Hoarding Project

In 2010, two marriage and family therapists, Jennifer Sampson and Janet Yeats, attending the University of Minnesota as doctoral students, joined forces to study and develop resources to help family members of those suffering from hoarding disorder. They established what is now known as The Hoarding Project.

The Hoarding Project, now operating out of Tacoma, WA and St. Paul, MN, operates in three distinct areas: research, education and clinical work. The research is helping therapist better understand how hoarding affects families and communities, as well as the issues that contribute to development of hoarding disorder. The findings from the research is being distributed to better educate families and communities on how best to show compassion and provide assistance to individuals with hoarding disorder. Reduced fee therapy services are also offered to individuals suffering with hoarding disorder and to family members of those with the disorder. The therapy focuses on bringing understanding of the underlying reasons behind the hoarding, in order for healing to begin.

What therapists and those familiar with hoarding disorder would like others to understand is that cleaning up the ‘mess’ does not truly address the issue behind the disorder, which is psychological in nature.

Kathleen Krueger

Kathleen is a full-time freelance writer and owner of Crafter of Words LLC. She specializes in providing high-quality blogs, website copy and email campaigns for businesses. She frequently writes on topics of interest to home owners such as remodeling, storage and moving.

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