One minute, you’re shaking your head at the ridiculous emotional displays of a hoarder on TV, and the next, a wave of cold recognition washes over you. Could you be a hoarder some day? Are you already? A few years ago, hoarding was getting a ton of attention. Hoarding Disorder became a separate, diagnosable condition in 2013, but not before a parade of overwhelmed, mentally ill reality show participants allowed cameras into their homes in exchange for help.
Episodes of Hoarders were often so depressingly similar:
- mentally ill person is about to lose kids/house/animals
- hoarding disorder “specialist” (usually a psychologist) is brought in to assess and guide
- it is a tense race against the clock to save the home/kids/animals
- multiple instances of sobbing over literal garbage
All of this makes for a frustrating watch. Even though most shows don’t revisit former hoarders, the commonalities in cases harden viewers to their plight. It feels hopeless.
Eventually you realize that these people are living in more than clutter – they’re living in filth. Or worse, they are unknowingly living in an indoor pet cemetery, tearing up upon the revelation that their missing pets are buried beneath the mountain of army surplus MREs and empty “craft” projects.
Although you want to just shake those poor people, two things are clear:
- They are deeply disturbed in some way and need real help for their mental illness; and
- You have had rooms that looked a little like theirs at one time or another (hopefully minus the cat carcasses).
Most of us can reassure ourselves at this point: our homes are not at that level. We can walk through our homes, we throw away or recycle trash, and CPS is not coming for our kids.
So you look around and say to yourself that it’s okay, it’s just been really busy lately. Or, you’ve been sick, or you’re getting ready to move.
Hey, life happens.
But those people on TV didn’t start out living in a virtual nest of refuse. Often, the death of a close loved one triggers the desire to keep everything even remotely related to that person. PTSD, depression, OCD, ADHD, and other disorders contribute to the inability to stay on top of the clutter, too.
Hoarding Disorder Begins with Emotional Turmoil
The main difference between clutter and hoarding is the emotional state of the subject.
With clutter, there is often some external situation, or a more temporary emotional one. Even neat freaks can let a few things go while planning a wedding, or when they first become parents. Students walk around like unwashed zombies come exam time. This is all normal, temporary messiness that will right itself once the stressful period has passed.
Hoarders have consistent anxiety around what have become a stack of comfort objects. They find it extremely stressful to discard items, keeping things that seemingly have no purpose. Hoarders may keep expired, dangerous food because they do not want to “waste” it. They keep old bills because they were addressed to a loved one who has passed on.
Having a need to accumulate new items in the face of mountains for trash, or refusing to get rid of things and feeling highly anxious at the thought of throwing things away, are sound indications of Hoarding Disorder.
- Have unusable spaces in their homes. For e.g., bathtubs and showers, kitchen counters, and vehicle cabins used for storage of unrelated items.
- Continue accumulating objects even though they have no room for them.
- Insist on keeping objects even though they are broken, do not fit, or are expired.
- Refuse to declutter, even though the environment is unhealthy for themselves and their families.
- Navigate the home through narrow paths surrounded by piles or stacks.
- Purchase the same objects multiple times because they cannot find them OR out of a fear of running out.
- Misplace necessary items because of the mess.
- Sometimes live among filth, including human and animal waste dead animals, and expired food.
- Have pets that urinate or defecate inappropriately due to improper training, no suitable place to relieve themselves, or as a reaction to the stress from clutter.
- Rebound back into Hoarding if their underlying issue is not treated.
- Often collect and treasure seemingly unremarkable objects, like empty bottles or condiment packets.
- Bring home fliers, pamphlets, or roadside objects because they were free.
- React angrily when people touch their “stuff.”
- Have extreme anxiety over the removal or suggestion of removal of items.
There is more, and you can find lists on the Mayo clinic website, OCD website iodcf.org, and others that help people in clutter or hoarding situations. If you have experienced even just one or two of these, take a look at potential causes. Maybe you have a trauma that you haven’t dealt with, or an undiagnosed disorder.
Have you been ill, or suffering from the inability to declutter, but been too embarrassed to ask for help? Don’t be. If you had a loved one who had lost the ability to fully care for him or herself, you would think it ridiculous if he or she didn’t call you for help, right? Maybe you would even feel hurt. People care about you and want you to be healthy and safe.
Clutter Causes Anxiety and Depression, Even if not Hoarding Disorder
Yes, clutter and mental disorders often go hand-in-hand, but clutter will make you anxious and depressed, too. Environmental stressors bring about these disorders, and they will literally damage your brain. If you have children, their brain and emotional development will certainly – and you really need to understand this – will CERTAINLY and LITERALLY be damaged by the clutter as well. They’re under stress the entire time that they are in this cluttered home, and stress degrades the brain and body. Period.
Clutter is not harmless or funny. We know that you’re embarrassed. Get help. Reach out. For your health, and that of those you love, get rid of the junk.
Find a therapist. searching for hoarding specialty therapists. Enlist friends and family who will be honest and objective with you. Learn about the reasons for your cluttered life.
It feels shameful to admit that you can’t keep your home clean for some reason, but you deserve better. You. Deserve. Better.
Imagine the first day that you saw your home. It was empty, or staged by a realty company. Remember how easy it was to walk through? Thinking, breathing, imagining possibilities…all were easy to do, and it was exciting. Empty space, full of promise.
Give yourself the gift of a comfortable place to live where you feel calm and peaceful.
We can help! If you’re ready to clear out the clutter and live in the San Francisco area, consider using West Coast Junk!
Our headquarters are in Dublin, CA, but we cover a sizable stretch of the Bay Area and adjoining neighborhoods.