Hoarding: The First Steps to Recovery

posted Oct 13, 2012, 6:04 PM by Andrea Umbach, Psy.D.   [ updated Nov 19, 2012, 8:06 AM ]
During the 2011 holiday season, a Charlotte, North Carolina resident, Thomas Burgess, was killed in an apartment fire.  Police described Burgess as a hoarder and speculated that the amount of stuff in his apartment not only provided additional kindle for the electrical fire but may have kept him from making it out alive. A tragedy such as this often makes us wonder if there is anything we could have done to help, make an impact, or change the outcome.  Although we cannot go back or alter the past, we might be able to make changes in our own lives to prevent similar devastation or support others who may need our help.

1) Identify there is a problem. The first step is to recognize when clutter has become excessive and a significant problem for ourselves or our loved ones. This is oftentimes difficult since acquiring and saving items can elicit positive feelings in the moment. However, when looking at the bigger picture, it is often clear that hoarders are not living the life they want to be living. Instead, they have found themselves stuck in a hoarding
cycle and do not know how to get out. The following points can be considered to help determine if clutter has become a problem:
          • Excessive acquisition and/or failure to discard a large number of objects
          • Difficulty financially, spatially, or organizationally handling the amount of items
          • The clutter prevents or seriously limits the use of living spaces
          • There are high risks including fire, falling, respiratory problems, or other health risks
          • The clutter, acquiring, or difficulty discarding causes significant impairment, distress, or poor quality of life

2) Recognize consequences if no changes are made. Oftentimes we tend to think of the reasons to keep all of our possessions rather than the reasons to make changes. However, hoarding can result in a variety of serious consequences:
    • Difficulty finding important objects (keys, glasses, bills), creating more stress
    • Unable to perform basic activities (cooking, bathing, sleeping)
    • Inability to maintain and repair home
    • Significant financial debt
    • Relationship conflict or isolation
    • Eviction or children removed from home
    • Health risks, injury, fire hazard, or death
If you or someone you know may be caught in a hoarding cycle, know that there is help out there!  Watch Southeast Psych’s blog next week for suggestions about what to do when clutter is becoming a problem in your life, or the life of a friend or family member.