Identifying the issue of too much stuff – Is it hoarding or clutter?
Have you ever noticed how much “stuff” Americans tend to have? Post-World War II, American affluence climbed at amazing speed during the latter 20th Century; and today we live in one of the most affluent countries in the world. What to do with all that extra cash and credit? The answer seems to be to buy stuff. This often causes us to have to deal with excess clutter, but increasingly some folks are becoming what we call “hoarders.”
Collecting clutter becomes hoarding when unnatural attachments develop over seemingly useless or unnecessary items that prevent us from discarding them.
According to Wikipedia, compulsive hoarding (more accurately described as “hoarding disorder”) is a pattern of behavior that is characterized by the excessive acquisition of, and inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects that cover the living areas of the home and cause significant distress or impairment. Clutter seems to be a lesser form of hoarding and may not be associated with the compulsive need to accumulate or hold onto particular items. While clutter may be unsightly to some or most, it usually does not cause the home to be unsafe or unlivable for those living there or caregivers.
Clutter and hoarding may become a source of great tension for the elderly and their families when these behaviors begin to affect the health and well being of the elders.
These behaviors of collecting excess items may contribute to increased health risks, impaired functioning, and economic burdens for the elderly. As well, the behavior of accumulation of things may contribute to resistance to downsize and/or move to older adult communities when the task of sorting and discarding seems to be overwhelming.
Hoarding and collecting clutter can be attributed to a variety of factors. The collector may have lived through a period of extreme deprivation, such as the Great Depression, or they may suffer from a mental disorder such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). One study (Skteketee, Frost, Hyo-Jin, Kim, Hoarding by Elderly People) found a disproportionate number of study subjects were female, never married & lived alone, suggesting that relationships with people may be supplanted by relationships with things. Other studies have associated hoarding/clutter accumulation with some forms of dementia, including pre-Alzheimer’s. In general, it seems that clutter is more a lifestyle choice, while hoarding may be related to compulsions that may require professional assistance from a counselor or a medical doctor.
Some symptoms of Hoarding may include:
• Holding onto useless or worn out items
• Collecting a particular item such as paper, containers, trash
• Parts of or all of the home are inaccessible
• Health and sanitation issues are present that may cause illness or distress
Interestingly, two common forms of hoarding are Book Hoarding (Bibliomaniac) and Animal Hoarding. Contact us in Charlotte, North Carolina, if you or someone you know needs assistance with their clutter. Sometimes it just requires a second opinion to make decisions whether to keep or toss!