What is compulsive hoarding?

May 8, 2012

Did you see last weeks Channel 4 documentary: The hoarder next door? It’s a brand new de-cluttering series about the growing numbers of ‘hoarders’ in Britain. Last weeks opener started with poor 55-year-old Liverpudlian hoarder Nigel. Nigel's house has become so crowded with personal belongings that he can only sit down in one place: a single mattress. Apparently, Nigel has so much stuff packed into his house that he hasn’t seen some of the rooms for over seven years! Over this episode and the rest of the series, Psychotherapist Stelios Kiosses and his team of professional ‘De-clutters’ will attempt to help extreme hoarders by emptying their properties a little; helping the hoarders to let go of some of the unwanted belongings; creating a little more space.

Wikipedia describes compulsive hoarding (or pathological collecting) as: ‘characterized by the excessive acquisition of and inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects that would seemingly qualify as useless or without value.’ Hoarding is something that I have had the experience of myself in the past. Many years ago, I worked one summer for a painter and decorator. One of his regular customers was a lovely old lady, who lived on her own in a bungalow. The first time we arrived at her property to commence work, I remember it looking very respectable and tidy on the outside, in a very well-to-do neighbourhood. Once inside, however, it was a different story. Nearly every room was full, floor to ceilings, with old newspapers. Each room had a little path through it with just enough space to turn around in amongst the old copies of The Telegraph and The Times. We had to gradually move her collection of newspapers around each room as we decorated the walls and ceilings of her bungalow. Don’t though, for one minute think that this is an isolated case because research suggests that hoarding is highly prevalent – approximately 2-5% of the population: that is potentially over 1.2 million people in the UK alone. This particular old ladies hoarding habit isn’t actually an uncommon one, with the keeping of junk mail; old catalogues, clothes that ‘might’ be worn one day, freebies, generally broken things and the rubbish being the most common. Many hoarders’ end up with homes so cluttered and inaccessible that they:

  • Can no longer sleep in a bed.
  • Have unhygienic kitchens that cannot be cooked in. This can also include refrigerators full of rotting food.
  • The dining room and kitchen tables that can’t be used or sat at.
  • Chairs or sofas that cannot be used for seating.
  • Filthy insanitary conditions in bathrooms; piles of human faeces collected in areas of the home. Sometimes there are animal faeces over the floors of the home, or giant bags of dirty nappies hoarded for many years.
  • Hoarders are also known to keep too many animals, that cannot be even marginally cared for in their cluttered home.

The clutter and mess are often so bad that it causes the hoarder illness, distress and impairment. Examples of this can be the hoarder not allowing friends or family into the property, because of embarrassment; curtains being kept closed so that neighbours can’t see inside, and a general feeling of depression or anxiousness because of the clutter. Also add to this, the risk to the hoarder's health from infestation by rats or mice, and even the chance of fire in a property with little space to escape!

Posted in: Storage Miscellany , Storage World