Dealing with a loved one who is a hoarder can be an extremely challenging situation, especially if they don’t realise that it’s become a problem. Why do people hoard and what causes hoarding in adults? Many people aren’t aware that hoarding disorder can vary from mild to severe, and it may be a bigger issue than simply not wanting to throw items away. Here, we discuss what causes hoarding disorder, including the psychological reasons for hoarding personal belongings and common signs and symptoms to recognise.
What is Hoarding?
Hoarding is a complex, psychological disorder involving the difficulty in parting with personal items and possessions. People who hoard collect an excessive number of items and experience feelings of distress at the thought of getting rid of them.
The problems with hoarding usually include inhabitable living conditions as living spaces become filled with clutter. This results in difficulty in accessing rooms and hallways, with doors often becoming blocked.
Some people may only have a mild form of hoarding disorder while others deal with compulsive hoarding. In its most severe form, hoarding behaviour affects day-to-day functioning, such as eating and bathing. In this case, the health and safety of the hoarder is likely to be at risk from storing severe amounts of clutter within the home.
It’s important to understand that a hoarder may not realise that they have a problem. However, if you’re worried about a family member or loved one, here are some common symptoms of hoarding to look out for:
- Obsessively collecting items, even when there’s no space to store them
- Continual difficulty in throwing things away or parting with them
- Becoming upset at the thought of parting with belongings
- Areas of the home becoming unusable due to excessive items
- Struggling with organisation and planning
- Exhibiting avoidance or indecisiveness
- Disorganised piles of newspapers, paperwork, clothing, etc
- A build-up of waste, such as food or empty food packaging
- Exhibiting distress if someone outside the home attempts to enter
- Unsanitary living conditions
- Showing signs of conflict when others try to intervene with the removal of items
- Hoarding animals as pets
Typically, hoarders collect items as they believe they’re important or will be important in the future. They may also have an emotional attachment to clutter and feel safe by the presence of their extensive belongings. While there is no significant cure for hoarding disorder, cognitive behavioural therapy or prescribed medication can help. If you’re worried about someone, ensure you seek specialist help from a doctor or registered psychologist.
- Risk of falls or injury within the home
- Conflicts with loved ones
- Isolation from social situations
- Unsanitary conditions
- Fire hazards
- Struggling with work
- Potential legal problems, such as the threat of eviction
Reasons for Hoarding
There are several reasons behind hoarding disorder. People who hoard are not to be confused with collectors. People who collect items tend to do so in an organised manner. For example, someone who collects stamps will likely place them in a book to display. Even those who have large collections will organise them and won’t become distressed at the thought of their removal. While there is no direct cause of hoarding, here are a few reasons why some people display hoarding tendencies.
1. Mental Disorders
People with hoarding disorder often show signs of mental illness, such as anxiety and depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In a study on OCD and hoarding, the change in serotonin levels appeared to play a role.
While mental health conditions may or may not be the trigger for hoarding behaviour, getting help for these conditions may prevent hoarding disorder from occurring. Additionally, it’s also important to receive help for hoarding too, particularly if there are severe symptoms.
2. Stressful Life Events
3. Loss and Trauma
Experiencing loss or trauma, such as the death of a loved one, breaking up with a romantic partner or dealing with abuse, can result in hoarding behaviours. Traumatic situations can also increase existing hoarding behaviour.
4. Childhood Experiences
Hoarding has been associated with childhood experiences. Growing up without money or many material possessions, not being cared for correctly, being neglected or having your possessions taken away in childhood could contribute to the occurrence of hoarding disorder in adult life.
5. Challenging Feelings
Hoarding can sometimes be a distraction from processing existing feelings that may be difficult to express or face, including loneliness and isolation. People who suffer from alcoholism or drug dependency may also show symptoms of hoarding.
Perfectionism manifests itself as feeling anxious about making mistakes. People who struggle with perfectionism may find it hard to organise things or plan. For instance, people with hoarding disorder may worry that they’ll make a mistake by throwing something away so rather than face this situation, they would rather not deal with it.
7. Family History
8. Brain Activity
People who have abnormal brain development or lesions may suffer from hoarding disorder in adult life. Studies have shown hoarding habits to develop following brain damage as a result of infection, stroke or injury. Those with autism may also be prone to hoarding.
People who hoard tend to display certain personality traits like being indecisive and chaotic particularly when it comes to organising.
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