The Reality of Hoarding

kitchen 3You don’t have to watch the reality show to experience the horror of hoarding. It is alive and growing right here in PDX. And cases aren’t limited to low income, uneducated welfare recipients. Most people are shocked to learn that their sweet neighbor, elderly aunt or retired college professor lived in floor to ceiling filth – sad but true. It happens much more than you realize.  I completed a project last month that required two 2.5 ton dumpsters of garbage, eight loads of scrap metal and five trips to the recycle center. This woman had been a scientist, artist and world traveler.  After a fall prompted her move to assisted living, the family called for HELP!

It seems ironic that hoarders are often articulate, well educated people who offer sophisticated reasons for saving and acquiring. Recent studies on the brain activity of hoarders show an inability to deal with focus, attention and decision making. The pattern of behavior generally increases with age. Hoarding is a disorder and it’s important to understand its symptoms and warning signs. There is no medical cure at this time. Originally thought to be treatable with drugs used for OCD, medical science has found patients do not respond to the same therapy and/or medication. This calls for compassion and understanding.

Common symptoms of hoarding:

  • assigning value to worthless items such as: food cartons, scraps of paper, junk mail, soiled clothing

  • rooms filled with clutter, boxes, etc. with only a trail to walk through

  • defensive or “keep out” behavior

  • fearful of anyone touching their things

Dealing with a friend or family member who has a hoarding issue can feel like a frustrating battle. It is. The best thing to do is remember that you cannot reason or argue your case. The person will only become hostile. If possible, get outside help to intervene on your behalf. Someone detached from the emotional setting will be more effective in attending to the safety and health of the individual which should always come first. For more information on hoarding visit the OCD Foundation.

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