What Is Hoarding Disorder?

I’ve been asked a few times recently what’s hoarding disorder? 

Many people band around the term hoarding when they’re talking about general clutter. They may have seen programs on the TV, and “I’m a bit of a hoarder” is quite a common thing that people say to me when I tell them what I do for my work. 

Hoarding disorder is a mental disorder on its own. It’s classified by the World Health Organisation, it used to be very linked and lumped in with OCD, but it’s actually been recognised as a separate thing. 

Studies show that it can affect between 2 and 5 percent of the population. That’s as many as 1 in 20 people, who could be affected by this disorder. Which would make it one of the biggest mental health disorders that we have. 

It’s very difficult because it’s behind closed doors, people don’t talk about it. You may know people who have serious problems but you would never know about it. It is quite a secretive thing sometimes. And it impacts not only just the person who has the disorder, but the family around them and even neighbours.

So what distinguishes it from just general clutter? 

Hoarding disorder is about when you have excessive acquiring. There’s lots of need to bring things into the home all the time. But then having real difficulty discarding those possessions. So it might be because they are attaching a real emotion to those items and a real worth and a real value to those items that there might not have value to somebody else. 

Many times it’s things that other people consider as waste that people hoard, empty bottles and toilet roll tubes and things like that, which other people might think you know that’s got no value, but to someone with hoarding disorder it has got value. 

The distinction really is that hoarding disorder is when the line is crossed when rooms within the home can’t be used for their intended purposes. So for example somebody might not be able to cook in their kitchen anymore because there’s just too much stuff in there. They might be cooking on a camp stove in the living room, that kind of thing. Or using a microwave somewhere else. Or that they can’t sleep in their bed anymore or wash in their bathroom you know. 

It’s where the levels have got to a point where the rooms can’t be used for their intended purpose. But also it’s affecting the people involved emotionally or socially. There may be a huge isolation because people can’t come around anymore, and if that’s somebody with a disability, then you know that makes them hugely isolated. Things like that. 

So it is a little bit different to having a bit of clutter, so maybe try to be a bit thoughtful before you band round I’m a bit of a hoarder, because it is a real problem that a lot of the population have. And we’re becoming more and more aware of it and getting to know more about it.

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