Extreme Hoarding: Peril of Possessions

Some have tons of trash in their home. Some have no bed on which to sleep or no kitchen in which to prepare decent meals. They are extreme hoarders.

Imagine a home so loaded with possessions and trash that rescue workers can’t make their way in without drilling a hole in the roof. Or having to crawl through self-made tunnels to move around your own house.

That is the grim reality for hoarders — people who accumulate possessions and/or trash and cannot bring themselves to part with anything. Exact numbers are unknown, but it is estimated that up to 1.2 million people in the U.S suffer from compulsive hoarding.

Hoarding takes many forms, from the collection of newspapers and magazines to what most of us would consider to be garbage, with piles of boxes, bags, collectibles, trash, and stuff… accumulating and spreading throughout the home and property.

Hoarding can result in health problems as well as family tension and estrangement.

Animal Hoarding
The Humane Society reports that each year, almost 250,000 animals are victims of animal hoarding. The Society differentiates animal hoarding from other types of animal abuse by the fact that the perpetrators don’t always recognize the cruelty they are inflicting on the animals — they usually believe they are rescuing or saving the animals and are unaware of the filth and odor.

Unfortunately, these animals suffer from neglect, starvation, and unsanitary conditions. Often, deceased animals are found among the living animals, encouraging insect and rodent infestations. These conditions also threaten the health of the human occupants of the home. It is not uncommon for these homes to be condemned by the health department.

Next: Hoarders on Reality TV… teachable moments or exploitation?

Hoarders on Reality TV… teachable moments or exploitation?

The first time I ever happened upon a show about hoarders, I was riveted to the screen. It was a mixture of horror, sympathy, and fascination for the hoarders and their loved ones. How did it all begin and how did it get so far? Would these folks change their ways after the cameras and counselors made their exit?

Then I caught a few more episodes and began to feel like an intruder into a very personal psychological drama.

A & E describes Hoarders as a “fascinating look inside the lives of people whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis. Whether they’re facing eviction, the loss of their children, jail time, or divorce, they are all desperately in need of help. In a fly-on-the-wall style, we’ll capture the drama as experts work to put each on the road to recovery.” The show provides professional help and the guidance of an organizer.

Hoarding: Buried Alive
TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive takes a look at the homes of “extreme hoarders to explore the psychology behind their compulsion to accumulate and store large quantities of nonessential things. Each episode tells the stories of hoarders struggling with behavior that has made every day existence unbearable for both them and their loved ones. With the help of expert therapists and organizers, the hoarders will attempt to unlock the key to their obsessions in hope of reclaiming their lives.”

Clean House
Style’s Clean House takes a somewhat lighter approach in that many of the people profiled fall into a category more along the lines of “pack rat” or simply temporarily grossly disorganized. Host Niecy Nash even manages to inject a bit of levity into the situation, along with a few tears. The show’s search for the “messiest home in the country” delves into the more serious territory of extreme hoarders.

As for reality television, a case could be made for spreading awareness. Many people would know nothing about the condition otherwise, and it is impossible to know how many viewers saw themselves in their television counterparts and gained the courage to seek help upon learning, at last, that they are not alone in their prison of possessions.

While a certain amount of fascination is understandable, one is left to wonder about the long-term psychological effects for those involved after their most vulnerable moments and deepest traumas are laid bare for all the world to see.

Image Credit: fairfaxcounty.gov

Next: Risk Factors and Treatment for Hoarding

Risk factors and Treatment for Hoarding

The Mayo Clinic defines hoarding as, “The excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them. Hoarding often creates such cramped living conditions that homes may be filled to capacity, with only narrow pathways winding through stacks of clutter. Some people also collect animals, keeping dozens or hundreds of pets in unsanitary conditions.

Hoarding, also called compulsive hoarding and compulsive hoarding syndrome, can be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). But many people who hoard don’t have other OCD-related symptoms, and researchers are working to better understand hoarding as a distinct mental health problem.”

Risk Factors

  • Age: Hoarding usually begins in early adolescence and gets worse with age.
  • Family History: People are more likely to hard of they have a close relative who is a compulsive hoarder.
  • Stress: Some people develop hoarding after a stressful life event that they had difficulty coping with.
  • Social Isolation: People who hoard are generally socially withdrawn and isolated, although there is some question as to which came first.
  • Perfectionism: People who compulsively hoard are often perfectionist.

Treatment depends on hoarders realizing the need for help. Hoarders should seek out advice from a physician or mental health provider who has experience in treating hoarding. Medication for antidepressants or obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) may also be prescribed.

The Mayo Clinic also offers these steps for the compulsive hoarder:

  • Stick to your treatment plan if you’re receiving treatment.
  • Try to keep up personal hygiene and bathing.
  • Make sure you’re getting proper nutrition.
  • Reach out to others.
  • Remind yourself that you don’t have to live in squalor and chaos — that you deserve better.
  • If you feel overwhelmed by the volume of your possessions and the decluttering task that lies ahead, remember that you can take small steps.
  • To keep motivated to declutter, focus on your goals — living a healthier and more enjoyable life.
  • Do what’s best for your pets. If the number of pets you have has grown beyond your ability to care for them properly, remind yourself that you aren’t doing them any favors.

Writer Ann Pietrangelo embraces the concept of personal responsibility for health and wellness. As a person living with multiple sclerosis, she combines a healthy lifestyle and education with modern medicine, and seeks to provide information and support to others. She is a regular contributor to Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo


Angela P.
Angie P3 years ago

I lived with a hoarder who I took in as a roommate. Most stressful time in my life and the damage to my house which I paid for was costly. He did not want to get help. Sad because he has now lost everything and is starting all over again with the hoarding. This man is in his 70s.

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper3 years ago

not good

Oleg Kobetz
Oleg Kobets4 years ago

Thank you

Tanya Selth
Tanya Selth4 years ago

This would be such a horrible condition to have.

I remember when I was a child of a lady who rented from my grandfather who kept the house piled with boxes and boxes of stuff .. leaving very little room to walk any where throu it.

LMj Sunshine
James merritt jr5 years ago

Thank you.

LMj Sunshine
James merritt jr5 years ago

Thank you.

LMj Sunshine
James merritt jr5 years ago

Thank you.

LMj Sunshine
James merritt jr5 years ago

Thank you.

Mary McGovern
Mary McGovern5 years ago

if i could give away 100 plus boxes of books and things ive collected over 30 years, you can to.

Irma Paulme
Irma Paulme5 years ago

Hoarding must be a different kind of mania, if you will...