Walking up to your front door should be a relief after a long day at the office or school. Traveling for the holidays should be a time filled with family memories versus hard conversations.
An area of debate can start because of the severity of hoarding at a loved one’s home. Adding insult to injury, emotions run high due to a hoarders inability to relax in their own environment.
It was not until 2013 that hoarding was separated as only a symptom from obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). Hoarding is completely different characterized by "the urge to acquire and save objects, while being unable to discard objects that have no apparent value."
One study in 2015 from the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health found insomnia as a significant predictor of increased hoarding severity. Another study found several factors present in the link between hoarding and insomnia.
“Hoarders typically have problems with decision making and executive function; poor sleep is known to compromise cognition generally, so if hoarders have cluttered/unusable bedrooms (and less comfortable, functional beds), any existing risk for cognitive dysfunction, depression and stress may increase as sleep quality worsens,” said lead author Pamela Thatcher, assistant professor of psychology at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.
For many, hoarding is an unclear line between laziness and clutter. Noticing the signs and understanding why hoarding starts can help.
What are the signs of hoarding?
- Difficulty establishing between needed and wanted items.
- Large amounts of clutter in the home that makes it difficult to walk room-to-room.
- Easily losing items, sometimes for years, due to clutter.
- Losing large items that normally should be easy to see in an uncluttered environment.
- Depression or anxiety consuming the individual due to the volume of possessions that have taken over the living space.
- Taking free items like paper napkins and straws or collecting magazines, advertising flyers, or used wrapping paper and bags.
- Buying or stocking up on items you already have in bulk because they are a bargain.
- Not inviting family or friends into the home due to shame or embarrassment.
- Unable to clean the home as necessary causing excessive dust or mold spores to appear.
- Refusing to let people into the home to make repairs
What makes getting rid of clutter difficult for individuals who hoard?
- Unable to organize the possessions that they collect.
- Unusually strong positive feelings when shopping or collecting items no matter the size or importance.
- Unusually strong negative feelings when going through items to de-clutter.
- Strong beliefs that people will want the items due to their value even if no monetary or significant connection is established.
- Feeling responsible for objects and sometimes thinking of inanimate objects as having feelings.
- Denial of a problem even when the clutter or acquiring clearly interferes with a person’s life.
What are the effects of hoarding?
- Severe clutter threatens the health and safety of those living in or near the home, causing health problems, structural damage, fire, and even death.
- Expensive and emotionally devastating evictions or other court actions can lead to hospitalizations or homelessness.
- Conflict with family members and friends who are frustrated and concerned about the state of the home and the hoarding behaviors.
How can I help a hoarding friend or family member declutter?
- Realize that motivating a hoarder cannot be forced and relapses occur often.
- Do not clean or throw out items without their consent. The situation is dependent on each person, but it could relapse the individual if you go in and clean.
- People who hoard are often ambivalent about accepting help and throwing away objects.
- The choice is up to the hoarder and sometimes counseling is the best way to start to find out why hoarding is occurring.
When helping a family member or friend with their hoarding problem, have sympathy for their attachment and know there is an underlying reason. Whether we understand the situation or not, hoarding does not start on its own.
Encourage them to come up with solutions to de-clutter to make their home safer. Respect the process they make even in the small victories of de-cluttering. Develop trust as your relationship grows through this process. Never push.
If you are in the process of helping a loved one de-clutter their homes and believe a sleep study would be beneficial, connect with the Alaska Sleep Clinic for a free consultation by phone.