By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Compulsive hoarding is a mental health condition where the patient is unable to get rid of often meaningless and useless stuff so much so that it starts to encroach on his or her living space.
The commonest manifestation is a house over full with stuff.
Characteristic symptoms of hoarding
The characteristics of compulsive hoarding behavior include compulsive collection of items, scatter hoarding, excessive buying and so forth. (1-4)
Compulsive collection of items
When hoarding begins there may be logic to the collection and the hoarder usually collects items of use and of importance.
As the condition progresses the hoarder losing the ability to distinguish between useless and useful items.
He or she may collect free items, newspapers, food wrappers cartons etc.
Compulsive hoarding can range from seemingly innocuous to harmful, rotten and vermin infested substances as well. The hoarder may panic if any of the stuff is removed or even moved.
A compulsive hoarder often creates hidden pockets in their homes to save the items they feel may be of use. These are called scatter hoarders.
Hoarding also means buying or acquiring unnecessary or excessive stuff.
A least three quarters of all compulsive hoarders may shop too much.
Around half hoarders report excessively collecting free things.
Inability to let things go
The characteristic behavior of hoarding is not collection but inability to let go of things. Hoarders find it difficult to throw, sell or give away stuff.
They find logics to preserve such as to prevent waste, informational content, emotional attachment to the stuff, comfort etc.
There are many hoarders who believe they would get rid of the stuff “later” but as time progresses they find this difficult.
Lack of organization of collected material
Most compulsive hoarders cannot organize their possessions.
With time they lose sense of what is important and may misplace important documents and medicines for examples giving priorities to useless items like old newspapers etc.
Hoarders may have difficulty processing information, attention problems, and problems with categorization, and decision-making.
This disorganization also leads to inaccessibility to other rooms, bathrooms, living space, kitchen and even the bed.
Avoidance of decision making
Avoidance of making decisions and putting possessions in appropriate storage areas.
There may be a slowness or lateness in completing tasks.
Some patients show other traits like perfectionism, procrastination and social and other avoidance behaviors.
Age of onset of hoarding
The age of onset is usually over middle age and older.
Commonly this condition is seen in those over 50.
The onset may follow a brain damage, a traumatic life event or episode of depression.
Anxiety and depression
More severe anxiety and depression symptoms may be seen in compulsive hoarders than in patients with other forms of obsessive compulsive disorders.
Most hoarders are unaware of their condition and do not feel they have a problem.
Edited by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
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