For many years, there have been studies and debates over what hoarding actually is. Is it an extreme form of OCD? Is it just someone who collects items and clutter? Or is it a mental illness on its own? Defining hoarding is an important part of understanding a hoarder and what they are going through. It is not simply a want to collect items. No hoarder enjoys being surrounded by waste and trash or have their standard of living impaired because of all these items, but they all feel that they have to. Understanding hoarding is an important part of helping a hoarder seek help.
Since 2013, hoarding has been classified as its own mental disorder. Hoarding is a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorder (DSM) classified disorder. In 2013 when the latest DSM was released, DSM-V, for the first-time hoarding was classified. In DSM-V it is defined as a person who, “excessively save items that others may view as worthless. They have persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions, leading to clutter that disrupts their ability to use their living or work spaces,” and occurs in approximately 4% of the population.
Though at its core, hoarding is the collection of these items, it grows to so much more. Hoarding can be defined further by symptoms that come with it such as obsessive thoughts, embarrassment, anxiety, and depression. Hoarding can cause obsessive thoughts about all things, not just the items they hoard. This makes any decision a tough one for them, including discarding items. Their obsessive thoughts can lead to everyday hardships. Making even the smallest choices becomes a chore for them and often leads to stress and anxiety about the decisions they have to make.
Hoarders often understand the situation they are in and are embarrassed by it. This leads to them behaving in a reclusive manner, not leaving their home and not having people over. Their life can become focused on pretending the problem does not exist. This can put stress on friends and family. Furthermore, their seclusion and anti-social behavior can lead to anxiety and depression. Both anxiety and depression can lead to a hoarder seeking comfort in collecting more items which worsen the situation and continues the cycle of hoarding.
Many hoarders also begin hoarding for different reasons and what is hoarded can vary greatly. Some cases are trauma related while others just begin hoarding. There is also a multitude of items that can be hoarded. For some people, they hoard animals; living in an abundance of cats, dogs, or other animals and living in that filth, while others will just hoard papers. For some people, it is a combination of many factors.
Defining hoarding is not simple. Each situation differs from why they hoard to what they hoard and it makes seeking help that more specialized. It is important to understand what hoarding is before you begin trying to tackle it. Each case is special, each person unique, and each case of hoarding is defined by the circumstances that foster it.