Hoarding- How to Approach the Disorder with Compassion

Hoarding is a disorder that that has long been misunderstood, but it is important that as a society, we make the effort to show compassion and understanding to those who suffer from it. Definitions of hoarding have changed over the years, and attitudes toward the disorder have evolved as well. Still, we have a long way to go when it comes to treating this condition, and it is important that we do so in a gentle manner.

What is Hoarding?    

For years, many people thought that hoarding was merely a symptom of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. However, while some OCD patients may exhibit hoarding behavior, the two disorders are not necessarily linked.

Today, hoarding may or not be linked to personality or anxiety disorders. While there is no consensus on a clear definition of hoarding, the American Psychological Association considers a hoarding diagnosis under specific symptoms and circumstances. These include:

  • Heavy emotional attachments to seemingly trivial items.
  • The inability to discard of these items and/or emotional outbursts when such an action is suggested
  • Strained relationships with friends and family due to the disorder
  • Dangerous living conditions that make one more susceptible to falls, fire hazards, or illness
  • Living in a home with rooms that have been rendered incapable of use due to the build-up of items to which the patient is emotionally attached

The APA estimates that up to 5% of Americans suffer from hoarding, but this inevitably affects their friends, families, and even communities in which they live.

How to face a loved one who hoards 

Facing the problem of hoarding is a difficult process for any family, but it is important to realize that this is a disorder and that getting angry can cause even more emotional distress. You should not scold someone for hoarding, but rather attempt to understand what value they see in certain items that you might consider to be garbage. In some cases, you might find that your friend or relative has a detailed, well-thought-out answer, and you may even learn something about him or her. 

The last thing you want to do is stage some sort of “intervention” with a cleaning team who comes in and rips the house apart. This will only traumatize the patient and may cause increased hoarding behavior in the subsequent days and weeks. When it comes to fixing the disorder, everything should be done gently and with the patient’s consent.

All hands on deck with hoarding

Ultimately, fixing the problem of hoarding should be looked at as a team effort. Friends and family members should do their best to encourage their loved ones to seek help, but also to remain aware of their condition. If therapy is involved, it is just one step in the process, and the individual will need positive reinforcement from the people around them. There is no quick fix for this, and trying one is likely to lead to even more extreme behavior. Patience, compassion, and understanding are all key parts of the healing process.