Yesterday I met a delightful client with a problem that is becoming more prevalent all the time. The lady described her issue as the inability to let go of anything. Her husband said more bluntly, "She is a hoarder."
As they described the problem together, it became clear that she evidenced many signs of hoarding. She kept hundreds of magazines and newspapers and had multiples of many tools such as spatulas and rolls of tape. This issue had developed into some of the problems associated with hoarding. They had not had friends over to their home in years because they were embarrassed about showing anyone the inside. The clutter was blocking doors, hallways and other traffic flow patterns. And the mess was worrying and frustrating her family.
This is not an uncommon problem. An estimated six million to 18 million people suffer from this excessive collecting and clutter in the United States alone. This has become so prevalent that some communities have set up hoarding task forces to raise awareness of this issue. In my home area of Northern Virginia, the task force is called the Fairfax County Hoarding Task Force (703) 324-1300. In other areas it may be called a Neighborhood Service or Crisis Center.
Before you get worried about the mess in your family room, let me reassure you. Hoarding is much more than just not having picked up the papers or being a "pack rat." And being a slob is not necessarily being a hoarder. A hoarder's home is likely to be dangerous from the "stuff" taking over. If doors and halls are blocked, a person may not be able to escape a fire. If stacks and piles of magazines, books and papers fall on someone, they may be injured. Insects and rodents may infest the clutter.
Like many problems, the hoarder may not recognize they have an issue till other people complain or give an ultimatum. Often that comes when someone in the family threatens to come in and clean everything up. This will rarely solve the underlying problem and can cause great emotional turmoil for the hoarder. Taking away their "stuff' can cause negative effects like grief and depression. Instead, seek help from profesionals - ask your medical doctor for a referral who may recommend a therapist or psychiatrist or the task forces and crisis centers. Hypnotherapy may be another tool a hoarder finds useful in getting the help they need.