Compulsive hoarding syndrome is a mental disorder of rather benign nature. No one usually gets hurt, the authorities couldn’t care less and the media grants hoarder’s houses limited exposure. Though it is an issue nonetheless, a psychological tormentor endlessly terrorizing those afflicted. They keep on piling often redundant stuff and refuse to deal with their issue or order partial house clearance. The compassionate team at Rubbish Please has seen a lot in it’s travels in and around people’s properties and is willing to further investigate the roots of this problem. Firstly, we are to take a look at standard definitions to gain a concrete idea what this disorder is all about. Then we’ll establish socio-economical connections between hoarding and poverty. In the end, we’ll offer personal stories about family members who exhibit strong hoarding symptoms.
Defining Compulsive Hoarding
According to mayoclinic.org: “Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.”
Adaa.org offers further insights on the matter: “Hoarding is the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. The behavior usually has deleterious effects—emotional, physical, social, financial, and even legal—for a hoarder and family members.
For those who hoard, the quantity of their collected items sets them apart from other people. Commonly hoarded items may be newspapers, magazines, paper and plastic bags, cardboard boxes, photographs, household supplies, food, and clothing.”
We observe society’s blissful ignorance towards hoarding as if it’s just ‘collecting items’. Nothing seems wrong on face value. We should, therefore, point out the differences between ‘collecting’ and ‘hoarding’.
Childrenofhoarders.com offers a very good summary on the subject:
- Feel proud of their possessions
- Keep their possessions organized and well maintained
- Find joy in their possessions and willingly display them to others
- Attend meetings or conferences with others who share their interest
- Enjoy conversations about their possessions
- Budget their time and money around their possessions
- Feel embarrassed by their possessions
- Have their possessions scattered randomly, often without any functional organization
- Have clutter, often resulting in the loss of functional living space
- Feel uncomfortable with others seeing their possessions, or outright refuse to let others view their possessions
- Often have debt, sometimes extreme
- Feel ashamed, sad, or depressed after acquiring additional items.
Connecting Domestic Hoarding & Poverty
Let’s wind the clock back to the turn of the 20th century. There were no fridges and freezers. Most people lived in the countryside working the land and taking care of cattle, essentially producing their own food. Scarcity (poverty in that sense) was a fact only on the money side of things. But people rarely needed any money to begin with. They had enough food to go by. Though since they couldn’t buy lunch minutes before eating, food stockpiles had to be maintained. Especially in winter when there’s less fresh produce around.
Other materials such as heavy-duty blankets, mats and carpets were kept around indefinitely, even passed from one generation to another simply because it wasn’t easy to get those to begin with. Wool and leather were stored for prolonged periods with great caution because they were needed for making clothes, bed and table covers, etc. Poverty (or not having plenty) forced people to keep food and supplies for the long haul and to pass them through generations. Now we live in times of plenty and storing insurmountable quantities of (say) newspapers, magazines, old toys, clothes of deceased relatives is logically redundant. Not for hoarders it isn’t. What’s stopping them to conduct a full house clearance is rooted in old habits, logical misconceptions and irrational fear. All of those relate to poverty of the fear of such horrid times in the future.
Personal Story of a Hoarder’s Home
One of our former associates – Mike – agreed to give us an interview regarding his household situation when he was growing up. Much appreciative to his openness and readiness, we hand it over to him to tell us what he knows from personal experience about a hoarder’s house.
“I grew up in a family of hoarders. Hard to say how severe their condition was but the piles spoke for themselves. In an apartment of 42 square meters, my grandma managed to stash a pretty ridiculous amount of stuff. She bought two 2-wing wardrobes and a 4-wing one, in addition to two large coffers in order to store a large collection of gifted silverware, plates and glasses from her wedding times. Also, tons of old clothes nobody wears and that includes all clothes from my grandfather who passed away more than 10 years ago. The list goes on: mats, carpets, blankets, pillows and table covers, plastic bags, wooden crates and God knows what else. She grew up in poverty and lived a simple life. In a way, I understand why she does it. Maybe she feels one needs to be prepared for whatever adversity life has to offer.
The basement is a complete mess. It’s one fairly large room in which a person can only take a single step. The rest is mountains of stuff all the way to the ceiling. Many of those are even remotely recognisable. Some several hundred glass jars, broken metal containers, rusty barrels, crates and floorboards, old rubber things…it’s unbelievable. Although I feel somewhat guilty thinking in those terms but one day when she’s no longer around, I am going to clear the heck of that place. There will be no remorse.”
Mike’s story is unfortunately just one of many. Psychologists and analysers are describing the issue very well, although not providing a wealth of proof why does it occur. In Rubbish Please` experience, compulsive hoarding has it’s roots in poverty and simply not having enough. People are therefore more inclined to save stuff as well as money because of the uncertainty they are surrounded with. If they end up needing something they previously tossed, it may be a problem. If they end up keeping something they may never need – it seems less of a problem.
So, it stands to reason why poverty-based hoarders choose the lesser of two evils.