Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hoarding: Background and Link

I was doing some research on hoarding when I came across Obsessive Compulsive Foundation's (OCF) hoarding site. It provides background as well as research articles. What I've written below (not including discussion of A&E's Hoarders) is drawn from this site.

An important aspect in the definition of a hoarder is a person who acquires and doesn't throw away items which appear to be useless or have little value (italics added). Now, while I was researching this topic I initially had a problem with the last part of this definition. Items that appears useless to whom? I'm using my own bias to say I'm not talking about hoarding empty cardboard boxes or 50 copies of one newspaper. Rather, in cases of folks who strictly collect hundreds of books or troll dolls, well, what’s the difference between that and stars who collect items in the hundreds but those items happen to be more commonly accepted as luxurious or rare items? 

There’s another aspect to hoarding, however. And that is that hoarding takes over one's life to such a degree that it interrupts daily life. Items engulf every free space and take over rooms to a degree that it's not possible to use them for their original purposes. Due to stuff taking over, folks aren't able to sleep in their beds anymore or be able to cook in their kitchens. It may cause them to quit their work and stop interacting with other people. Just managing hoarding may consume peoples' days. Significantly, hoarders start to have relationships with their belongings.

Since we’re humans we like to ask why. Where did this behavior come from? A&E's Hoarders’ participants sometimes talked about a family member, often a parent who hoarded. So maybe modeling took part in it for some folks. However, many children of hoarders don't necessarily hoard themselves. a person going through deprivation is not more likely to hoard.

In A&E's second episode, the psychologist talked about the significance of the hoarder to be the one who goes through her belongings and makes the decision of what to throw away. Just throwing away everything is traumatic and doesn't solve the problem. Hopefully through the process of discard and decision making a person is able to improve these skills. As seen on the show, though, this process is painfully arduous.

A hoarder has little intrinsic reason to change his hoarding behavior. Usually it's an outside influence, like a spouse threating to leave or eviction that causes a person to want to take action. In case of eviction a client may be under a tight time constraint to clean out his apartment. So, as case manager advocating for a client, what should happen? From my experience I would argue that if a person faces eviction it's more important to do what I can to make the process go faster and make sure my client understand that she's in danger of losing her housing if she doesn't take action. Truthfully, though, my one experience with hoarding was fairly easy to tackle compared to most of the situations I saw on Hoarders. One reason was because it was a studio apartment but another was that the client I worked with was open and very cooperative. That made a huge difference.

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