Hoarding is anxiety disorder; items offer a sense of security

  • Posted: Monday, August 19, 2013 8:29 a.m.
Submitted photo
One sign of hoarding is a large amount of clutter in the office, at home, in the car, or in other spaces (i.e. storage units) that makes it difficult to use furniture or appliances or move around easily.
Submitted photo One sign of hoarding is a large amount of clutter in the office, at home, in the car, or in other spaces (i.e. storage units) that makes it difficult to use furniture or appliances or move around easily.

You might get anxious when your house becomes cluttered over a week. However, there are some people who live in clutter for months and, even, years.

Accumulating items that have little or no value is defined as hoarding, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

“For those who hoard, the quantity of their collected items sets them apart from other people,” the organization stated on its website.

Hoarding is not the same as collecting. Hoarding is identified as an anxiety disorder – better classified as an obsessive-compulsive disorder, said Lynn Rutland-Addy, a counselor at Southern Counseling Associates.

Those who have trouble throwing away or organizing items or develop emotional feelings over the items such as embarrassment over the amount, suspicion of others touching them or fear of running out are seen as hoarders, according to the association.

Collectors, on the other hand, “have a sense of pride about their possessions, and they experience joy in displaying and talking about them. They usually keep their collection organized, feel satisfaction when adding to it and budget their time and money,” the organization states.

The source of a hoarder’s problem is often linked to a trauma of some kind, either physical or emotional.

“If I, the hoarder, fill the emotional hole with all this material stuff then I do not have to address my emotional needs,” Addy explained.

The process of this obsessive collecting starts small. Then it grows, sometimes to the point where it takes up the whole house.

“People will often have trails through their homes to each room as they have so much stuff,” Addy said.

This “stuff” can really be anything – newspapers, magazines, food product containers, plates, napkins, etc.

And it is all collected through compulsive buying, compulsive gaining of free items or compulsive searching for stand out items, according to the health organization.

Addy said hoarders usually will retain items that are similar.

Having so many items that one can barely move creates a fire hazard. Bugs become attracted to the homes and their mountains of trash.

Appliances get broken, and inhabitants start to care less about comforts like air conditioning.

“They cope with malfunctioning systems rather than allow a qualified person into their home to fix a problem,” the health organization’s website stated.

Emotions like anger, resentment and depression can arise from relatives and friends, and they start to drift away, according to the health organization.

“Hoarders will choose dysfunction over others, even their jobs at times,” Addy said. “This ‘mess’ has more value to them than friendships and relationships because they view it as safety.”

Children who live in this environment might have social developments affected or be separated from their homes.

Because the person living in the clutter feels so secure, it’s often someone from the outside who identifies that the person needs help, Addy said.

It’s not easy for the hoarder to admit to the problem, either. The person will often just keep covering it up with excuses, Addy said.

There is professional help like cognitive behavior therapy available to help treat the hoarder.

Counseling centers, such as Southern Counseling Associates, is a place to start. The center is located at 5210 Woodside Executive Park.

For more information, call 803-226-0275.

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