On Hoarding Cleanup: Connecting OCD and Hoarding

It’s a topic many of us are familiar with. We’ve all seen images of hoarded homes on TV or heard stories of city officials evicting residents from their property because they’ve allowed too much junk to accumulate. The easy thing to do is to dismiss hoarding behavior as pure laziness; people should know better than to allow their lives to be taken over by possessions, much of which is no more than junk. Yet to do so dismisses the possibility that such behavior may be beyond a person’s ability to control.

For the longest time, those who hoarded were classified as people who chose to live on the fringes of society, using their overgrown collections to keep people away. What wasn’t understood was the possible psychological cause behind such behavior. Only recently has it been discovered that many of those who hoard also display the classic symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

What is OCD?

OCD is an anxiety disorder that is estimated to affect 1% to 2% of the American population. As the name implies, those who suffer from OCD have issues in dealing with both obsession and compulsions, which are defined as follows:

Obsessions: Thoughts, images, or impulses that can cause anxiety or stress.
Compulsions: Deliberate behaviors aimed at controlling one’s anxieties.

Many who suffer from OCD will repeat tasks over and over long after the objective is done. The repetition should serve as a comfort to them, yet in many cases, it has the opposite effect: it serves to convince them of the futility of their pursuit, causing them to experience depression. They then feel as though the only way to solve that depression is to keep repeating the task to excess.

Why OCD Can Cause Hoarding

In the case of hoarding, the hoarder feels as though their depression can only be solved through the accumulation of more “stuff.” That “stuff” can include:

• Clothing
• Toys
• Collectibles
• Books
• Artwork

Yet, as with others who suffer from OCD, the more “stuff” a hoarder collects, the further away he or she feels from completing his or her objective. Thus, the collecting goes into overdrive, reaching a point where the “stuff” fills all corners of their homes and lives, making it almost impossible to function.

In other cases, hoarders obsess over losing items, and thus choose to never discard them. In such cases, these people are often found to be living in trash piles. In these cases, hoarders may fight to keep their treasures from being thrown out.

How to Help a Hoarder

Hoarding is no laughing matter, and hoarders should not be subjected to mocking and ridicule. In many of the hoarding cleanup cases we’ve assisted with over the years, a gentle hand extended in caring and friendship is all that’s needed to help hoarders move on with their lives and begin recovery. Once the casual issues have been identified and dealt with, many hoarders are able to move with their lives, leaving the stigma of hoarding behind them. Learn more about how Aftermath can assist you or a family member who is struggling with hoarding by visiting our Hoarding Services webpage.