It starts small. Perhaps your mother collected years of newspapers and craft supplies only to hide them in the breakfast nook. Or maybe you grew up in a pristine home with absolutely no clutter, but the pressure to perform to everyone’s standards was suffocating. First, you found yourself collecting items; then, you wanted to save things that others were throwing away.
Suddenly, boxes, knick-knacks, and trash fill your home to the brim. You have more pets than you should. You are so embarrassed by the clutter that you will not invite anyone inside, especially repairmen. Thus, the hole in the roof enlarges, and the water pipes burst. You live in daily fear that someone might find out how you survive.
What is Hoarding?Hoarding is a mental health disorder that is indicative of another condition or because of extreme anxiety, a coping mechanism. Unfortunately, hoarding increases those anxious feelings. The clutter steals your confidence and joy.
It makes you fearful of strangers, friends, and family. Perhaps the sound of a car door terrifies you, and you scramble to get outside before the guest has a chance to step onto your front porch. Or maybe you just pretend you are not home.
There is help. No matter how far gone you feel, with the right type of counseling and support, you can regain your confidence, courage, and Christ-like fulfillment.
How Anxiety Can Lead to Hoarding and Other Disorders
Hoarding goes beyond the typical practice of collecting items. People who tend to collect proudly display their things for others to see. Whether that is glassware, figurines, train models, or baseball cards. These items are meticulously organized and taken care of to increase value. Things do not lower the quality of the collector’s life.
Hoarding is the inability to throw things away to the detriment of the hoarder and their family. People living within the walls of the home can no longer use rooms as intended due to items stuffed into boxes or corners. Attics, basements, and garages are filled in some cases. In other situations, entire bedrooms, bathrooms, and other rooms become unusable and possibly dangerous.
The anxiety experienced from living through a traumatic event, being raised by a hoarder, or the consequences of out-of-control spending can trigger hoarding tendencies. The feelings of loneliness and unfulfillment can lead to gathering as much around you as possible.
Think of hoarding as a cocoon of items that make you feel temporarily safe and secure. However, these same items expose your insecurities and deep longing for something within – something that only God can help you fill.
Hoarding can also be the outward manifestation of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and depression. If you have ever seen a loved one with a hoarding disorder, you may have noticed items that seem strange to you to keep.
Hoarders will sometimes keep used paper plates or plastic straws. They cannot seem to pass up free or discounted items without collecting them in bulk. For example, if they find a sale on peanut butter, they may purchase cases instead of just one or two individual jars.
The love for pets tends to be extreme for a hoarder. They find themselves attached and unable to let go of animals even if they cannot possibly care for them properly. In some cases, this can lead to homes overrun with dogs and cats with no spaying or neutering, as well as in the resulting pet feces, dander, and odor.
Although the hoarder may have accepted a pet as a way to manage their anxiety and loneliness in the beginning, the increase in animals creates a negative effect that causes more tension. The hoarder becomes worried about being charged with neglect or animal cruelty due to their living situation.
Levels of Hoarding
The following are recognized levels of compulsive hoarding, according to the National Study Group in Compulsive Disorganization:
Level One: Includes a small amount of clutter, but none of the items block any exits. The house does not have any unpleasant odors.
Level Two: Includes dirty counters in the kitchen and the evidence of pests like mice or roaches. There may be pet feces on the floor or furniture. The house might have a strong pet or trash odor from feces and overflowing garbage.
Level Three: Includes overflowing trash and strong odors throughout the house. There is at least one unusable bathroom. However, there may be other rooms that the family can no longer use due to clutter.
Level Four: Includes blocked exits and the inability to clean dishes and utensils. The furnace or air conditioning system no longer works. There may be issues with running water and sewer.
Level Five: Includes blocked exits that leave narrow passageways through rooms in the house. The hoarder may be using one place for all activities, such as a den for sleeping and eating. They may have an abundance of appliances that no longer work and too many animals in the home. Due to the water and sewer situation, the hoarder may use bottles or cans to relieve themselves.
Not everyone living in these circumstances are hoarders. Spouses and children can become the victims of a loved one’s hoarding disorder. If you feel that you or someone you love is living this way because of someone’s habits, reach out to us. We are here to help, and your situation is kept confidential.
Emotional and Physical Symptoms
The emotional symptoms of hoarding can leave the person feeling anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed with their living circumstances. However, the feelings of extreme joy at collecting something new, whether it is another inanimate object or a little of kittens, outweighs (temporarily) those negative sensations.
When faced with parting from their items, the hoarder may feel guilt or separation anxiety. When parted with animals due to excesses, such as several dogs or dozens of cats, the hoarder may cry and insist that they love their pets and that no one understands. Although the hoarder knows that they cannot afford groceries, pet food, utilities, shelter, or medical and vet bills, they will still demonstrate an obsession with keeping too many animals.
In extreme cases of hoarding, when the person cannot afford repairs or is too embarrassed to host maintenance specialists in their home, black mold and mildew can form in and on walls, the roof can lead to weakened structures and electrical fires. With blocked exits and clutter, the hoarder and their family can die quickly in a rapidly spreading fire.
Pet dander and ammonia can also contribute to respiratory illnesses. Without proper sanitation and running water, a hoarder can fall victim to viruses and bacterial infections.
When to Seek Treatment
If you notice a loved one demonstrating hoarding tendencies, you may want to help them seek treatment options. A hoarder may keep their car piled with trash and other items or run errands in dirty or shabby apparel. They may have a lingering stench from their home that clings to their clothes.
You need to keep in mind that hoarding disorder is a mental health condition, and your loved one is struggling with their habits, but the situation may be beyond their control at this point. Their house may need significant emptying and remodeling, but they are too embarrassed to have anyone help. Although a close family may be aware of the situation, the hoarder might refuse to move or allow anyone to discard items.
If you realize that your habits have created a lower quality of life, reach out to our confidential counselors. We are a team of professionals that want to see you not only overcome hoarding and anxiety but experience freedom in the life God gave you. Faith-based therapy can draw you closer to your faith through Jesus Christ while filling your heart and mind with the right things – things that will not isolate you from the world.
“Chain Linked Fence,” courtesy of David Ohmer, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Boxes,” courtesy of chuttersnap, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Full shelves,” courtesy of Pau Casals, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hope Sign in Oakland Hills,” courtesy of Cary Bass-Deschenes, Flickr CreativeCommons, (CC BY-SA 2.0)