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Compulsive hoarding is understood as the compelling urge to hold on tightly to personal possessions, especially when a level of personal value and usefulness is placed upon them. This behaviour often leads to the detriment of the physical health and safety of the individual and can gradually devolve into a chaotic and cluttered living environment.
Hoarding items to the degree where it takes up the majority of space in the home can impact the individual’s daily life, movement and functionality. Any attempt to remove the clutter may cause unease and distress.
Compulsive hoarding is also associated with other mental conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Hoarders tend to believe in the usefulness of an item, which they may be emotionally connected to, making it difficult to part with.
Therefore, it is advised to steadily approach someone with compulsive hoarding as they may not perceive their behaviour as a problem.
However, there is a difference between collecting an item and hoarding one. Collectors value specific things and are more intentional in their acquisition. They are more organised and willing to part items, whereas hoarders are the opposite.
Umi Muhammed, a member of the South African Institute of Islamically Integrated Wellness, said, “People do have a tendency to collect things … It’s normal … We wouldn’t class that as a disorder. However, it becomes a disorder when there’s stacks of clutter and now hampering a person’s movement … [And they’re] tripping and falling over things. So, we have to understand that this person does not have the mental or physical capacity to clear out the clutter.”
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What Are the Symptoms of Hoarding?
Some of the symptoms of compulsive hoarding include possessing items which the individual may not need or have the space to store, difficulty in parting with the items and having feelings of distress at the thought of parting with them.
Compulsive Hoarders tend to show symptoms at a young age that gradually worsen. However, hoarding is more likely to affect people of advanced age.
Muhammed believes an individual should adequately identify the difference between a messy teenager and a potential hoarder. Regardless of both, people should not enable hoarding tendencies.
“Sometimes a child may develop a hoarding disorder [when a child is denied a certain thing]. The parents [then will feel pity] and say let them have it because the child will be screaming and throwing a tantrum. In that way, the family enables this behaviour, and it’s something we should be mindful of.”
Although there is no definitive reason as to what exactly causes compulsive hoarding. Muhammed states there are triggers which can affect the individual, knowingly or unknowingly, compelling them into hoarding.
“There are some triggers that can cause hoarding … Sometimes it could be … Anxiety, some type of trauma and sometimes when someone loses [a person] and they’re afraid of letting go … [Moreover] if somebody’s circumstances drastically change and they feel they have no control, they [tend to] hold onto what they can.”
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Are There Any Treatments for Hoarding?
Compulsive hoarding can affect the individual’s home, social and work life. They are rarely aware of the problem, and even more rarely do they seek help.
However, as their symptoms become more apparent, concerned loved ones should refrain from enabling the behaviour and seek professional assistance.
Muhammed urges people not to take extreme measures when trying to help individuals by clearing their clutter, as they may adversely affect their mental health.
“The first step to solving any problem is admitting that it exists. If the person themselves doesn’t see it as a problem, it will be very difficult to convince them. In fact, if someone goes ahead and just starts clearing out the clutter for them, it may actually cause very real pain and anxiety … So, we have to approach [the situation] with wisdom, patience and empathy.”
Treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy is an established and effective way an individual can overcome their hoarding tendencies. Muhammed added that journaling under the supervision of professionals and giving diminishes the urge to keep. This can be in the form of money, clothing, and household.
However, any treatment’s efficacy depends on the individual and their desire to remedy their behaviour.