Hoarding can be a financial burden to landlords and home-buyers who have to clean up the mounds of collected items left behind. But the mental illness also has a personal cost — not just to patients with the disorder, but also the loved ones who surround them.
For “Sally,” who requested anonymity, hoarding cost her everything — her home, her husband and her family. Her world fractured in an environment she could not control.
“When I confronted my husband on his hoarding, he acknowledged he had a problem but felt powerless to do anything about it. He said his stuff was too valuable. He might need it someday,” she said. “He would have extreme anxiety over getting rid of stuff. Eventually, he chose his stuff over our marriage.”
Psychotherapist Margaret Grant of Professional Counseling Service of Copperas Cove said what Sally described is the commonality that runs through the mental disorder that was not studied by researchers until 2013.
“Usually, the issue stems from childhood. Some people are actually raised by hoarders and they become hoarders themselves because that is all that they know. They have trouble letting go of things that you and I would never keep,” Grant said. “While you and I might keep the program from our prom, a hoarder would also keep the gas receipt, the tux rental receipt, and things not even related to the event because he just can’t bear to throw anything away thinking, ‘that could be worth something.’”
Before long, hoarders have a houseful of things and cannot get through the living room.
Grant said shop hoarders who compulsively purchase items they do not need and then keep them have additional problems because of the hoarding itself and then the excessive amount of money spent that can put a strain on the household budget.
“It’s so hard for them to let go of things because it has become their safety blanket,” Grant said. “They are usually loners with no friends. Their self-esteem is so low. You can’t think much of yourself to lie in garbage every night.”
In addition to mental illness, hoarders become physically ill when surrounded for long periods of time by unsanitary conditions, Grant said.
“You can’t keep your house that dirty without getting mold, bacteria and varmints. You can’t continually breathe all that without getting sick,” she said.
Landlords who check their properties regularly can discover hoarding more quickly. But a homeowner who is a hoarder is much harder to help. For family members or friends considering an intervention with a hoarder, Grant recommends bringing the entire family to discuss concerns.
“I can tell you that it probably won’t work, and then family members should seek help from a mental health professional,” said Grant, a licensed social worker with 30 years of experience.
“As a last resort, call your local health department and describe the situation because hoarding can also be a health issue for neighbors. If the hoarder is elderly, contact your local elder abuse and neglect agency and request assistance.”