The Nature of Hoarding or Compulsive Collecting

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In order for us to assist a Hoarder, it is necessary to understand what a collector is and what the motives are behind the behavior.

hoarding is the persistent difficulty of discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. The behavior usually has deleterious effects—emotional, physical, social, financial, and even legal—for a hoarder and family members. For those who hoard, the quantity of their collected items sets them apart from other people. Commonly collected items may be newspapers, magazines, paper and plastic bags, cardboard boxes, photographs, household supplies, food, and clothing.

Hoarding can be related to compulsive buying (such as never passing up a bargain), the compulsive acquisition of free items (such as collecting flyers), or the compulsive search for perfect or unique items (which may not appear to others as unique, such as an old container).

Some behavior is generated by events while other reasons may include the feeling of fear of not having enough. For example: My dad was a young boy when the great depression hit during the late 1920's, I remember the stories he told of having nothing, sometimes not even food. This feeling of want and need evolved him into a special kind of hoarding. Because of the shortage of rubber, He would never throw a rubber band in the trash. He would take the two ends and tie them together and reuse it.

He also, used to collect every scrap of tin foil, no matter how small. From left over scraps to gum and cigarette wrappers he would meticulously make them wrinkle free then roll them into a ball. When it was the size of a softball he would start a new one. He did that for many years, storing them in a 50 pound mesh onion sack. When he passed away, my brother and I found 11 of these sacks loaded with foil balls in his barn. I surmised, this was caused by his memory of the depression when everything was so scarce, rubber and aluminum. What are the classic symptoms? At Veterans Connections to a New Life, we have done much research on the subject and this is what we found.

Someone who hoards may exhibit the following:

  • Inability to throw away possessions
  • Severe anxiety when attempting to discard items
  • Great difficulty categorizing or organizing possessions
  • Indecision about what to keep or where to put things
  • Distress, such as feeling overwhelmed or embarrassed by possessions
  • Suspicion of other people touching items
  • Obsessive thoughts and actions: fear of running out of an item or of needing it in the future; checking the trash for accidentally discarded objects
  • Functional impairments, including loss of living space, social isolation, family or marital discord, financial difficulties, health hazards

There may be several other reasons people hoard because they believe that an item will be useful or valuable in the future, or they feel it has sentimental value, is unique and irreplaceable, or too big a bargain to throw away. They may also consider an item a reminder that will jog their memory, thinking that without it they won’t remember an important person or event. Or because they can’t decide where something belongs, it’s better just to keep it.

It does cause a diminished lifestyle and lack of functional living space is common among hoarders who may also live in unhealthy or dangerous conditions. Hoarders often live with broken appliances and without heat or other necessary comforts. They cope with malfunctioning systems rather than allow a qualified person into their home to fix a problem. Hoarding also causes anger, resentment, and depression among family members, and it can affect the social development of children. Unlivable conditions may lead to separation or divorce, eviction, and even loss of child custody. collecting may lead to serious financial problems, as well.

There is a difference between hoarding and collecting. Hoarding is a behavior pattern, where collecting maybe just a hobby. In general, collectors have a sense of pride about their possessions and they experience joy in displaying and talking about them.

They usually keep their collection organized, feel satisfaction when adding to it, and budget their time and money. Those who are hoarding usually experience embarrassment about their possessions and feel uncomfortable when others see them. They have clutter, often at the expense of livable space, feel sad or ashamed after acquiring additional items and they are often in debt.

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