A favourite book of fairy tales from childhood, a pair of jeans from college days, a gift from a dear one, all deserve a special place in the closet. With time, these simple reminders from the past become a special, albeit forgotten, part of life.
But what if the tendency to store such things outgrows the storage space at home? Imagine the clutter it creates. That is not all. In severe cases, it can cause major hindrances to living conditions. American Psychiatric Association defines this tendency as ‘hoarding’. People who have persistent difficulty in clearing unnecessary possessions that cause extreme clutter are called ‘hoarders’.
However, defining hoarding is not that simple, especially when it is often confused with collecting. Collectors have an agenda behind their collection and are quite organised. They often display their collectibles with great pride. Hoarders, on the other hand, preserve random stuff and store them haphazardly.
I once asked a friend why she collects old clothes. She told me she uses them as dusters. Clearly, my friend was aware of her habit and she had a valid use for it too. However, that is not the case with hoarders. Firstly, habitual hoarders need not have any specific use for the things they hoard. Secondly, according to experts, they struggle with anxiety, aggression, and restlessness when they cannot collect things for some reason or the other.
According to the International OCD Foundation, one in every 50 people struggles with severe hoarding disorder. Studies suggest that physical clutter could be an indication of the hoarder’s chaotic state of mind. In fact, some experts believe that hoarding is an offshoot of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), although, it is subject to medical investigations.
No wonder the consequences of hoarding have become a topic of interest for shows on television. An Oprah Winfrey Show episode aired the story of a mother who had been hoarding clutter for 10 years. Interestingly, the woman was unaware of when and how the habit started. In fact, she was defensive when confronted about it. It was a classic case of hoarding, with typical symptoms—unawareness of the habit and self-denial.
In 2016, Huffington Post published a story of a 14-year old boy Josh, who slept in a small corner of the house, because his mother could not spare his bedroom from turning into her hoarding zone. Needless to say, such chronic hoarding habits not only adversely affect a person’s living space but also those sharing it.
Unfortunately, such instances are growing at an alarming rate. According to a study conducted jointly by the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Mental Health, hoarding causes a substantial health risk. In six percent of the reported cases, it led to death from a house fire.
It need not be so severe if the hoarder makes conscious efforts to let go of the chronic habit. Hoarding tendencies can be effectively addressed by seeking therapy. However, nothing can be achieved without the individual’s willingness to accept that they have a problem.