One day, I received an email from a prospective client who is troubled by her mother’s hoarding problem.  She said she wanted to help her mother, but she has no idea what is going on with her and what she is supposed to do.

Source: flickr.com

“I have to get used to living in a house which I can literally describe as disgusting.  With the pile of stuff scattered around and the terrible smell, I cannot blame my other siblings for leaving our home.

 

My dad and mom separated about a year ago, and it was the time when we noticed that my mom started buying stuff which she or we do not really need.  At first, she asked my brother to move out of his room so he can put her things in there, so he was forced to sleep on the couch and sometimes in our bedroom.  She stopped inviting friends over the house and did not even want us to take our friends home, too.  Now, she is also starting to lose her kids, because my siblings cannot stand the chaos seeing her stuff all over the place and cannot enjoy the privacy of their own room.”

 

That was just part of the letter I received, and I answered her back thinking her mother is suffering from a hoarding disorder.

For people with hoarding behaviors, there is no differentiation between instrumental and sentimental saving because all items have utility and all items are meaningful, making it difficult to discard them. People experiencing hoarding behaviors tend to obsessively worry about losing items that may be needed in the future. — Erica Zadakis, MFTC

Hoarding Disorder And Possible Causes

Hoarding disorder is a DSM-5 diagnosis and is found to have affected an estimated 2% to 5% of the general population.

 

It is obvious when she said that her mother started to accumulate unnecessary stuff that leads to clutter and she seemed to be attached to those things to the point of sacrificing her children’s space, making her kids feel uncomfortable.

Source: flickr.com

 

As for how she described it in her letter, her mother could be dealing with psychological issues such as anxiety and depression from the separation, and it caused her to hoard things.  Buying stuff seems to be a stress reliever for her, like that of a shopaholic, and after finding comfort and attachment in her stuff (valuable or not), she won’t just let go.  She is not taking into consideration the consequences of having all those things in the house, sacrificing social relations or interactions.

The more hoarders accumulate, the more insulated they feel from the world and its dangers. But of course, the more they accumulate, the more isolated they become from the outside world, including family and friends. — Gregory L. Jantz Ph.D.

Negative Effect Of Hoarding Disorder

Accumulating excessive objects creates a cramped living condition.  It increases the risk of falls and injury or getting trapped by falling piled items.  It can also be the cause of a fire, an unsanitary living condition that can pose a health risk to all family members.

 

In the case of my client, it even caused family conflicts wherein her siblings just decided to leave home.

 

Her mother, who stopped inviting friends in their home, must have been aware that if her friends find out their living condition, they might report her to social workers or CPS.   It will cause her legal issues like eviction, and her other children could be taken away from her because the house can be a fire hazard and contaminants, insects, and rodents can infiltrate their home, putting the children’s health at risk and can even put their neighbors in danger.

 

Very few people are aware that compulsive buying and difficulty discarding stuff thinking that they will need it in the future is an illness, and therefore, they do not see it as a problem.   Some may be aware but have poor insight into the issue and underestimate the danger it brings to herself, the family, and the whole neighborhood.

Source: flickr.com

People with hoarding behavior have high instances of poor insight, refusal of treatment, lack of cooperation, and inability to recognize hoarding as a problem, all contributing to difficulty in effective treatment. — Becki A. Hein, MS, LPC

Hoarding disorder can happen to both sexes, whether male or female, and it can get worse as time goes by without the proper treatment.

 

Do not allow objects to invade your home and take away the comfortable life you and your family should be enjoying.  Stop sacrificing your relationships in exchange for the stuff which you think gives you satisfaction.

 

For my client, I advised her to have her mom undergo therapy to address the issue by treating first the anxiety and depression from the separation.  In that case, her mom will have a realization of what her hoarding has done to her family, and the treatment will be easier as she recognizes her illness.