If you’ve watched television in the last few years, you’ve likely come across a reality show about hoarding. Rather than truly educating the public on the condition, reality TV tends to dramatize the issue, spread misinformation, and increase stigma.
Hoarding reality shows can be misleading, as they often showcase only the most extreme cases of hoarding. Hoarding is a broad term that covers a vast range of circumstances. For example, a person with a hoarding problem may have difficulty getting rid of possessions but still have far less clutter than the individuals seen on TV.
An estimated 15 million people in the United States experience hoarding issues. Hoarding is a serious condition that can have devastating physical, emotional, social, financial, and legal effects on the individual and surrounding loved ones.
It’s time to bust the stigma and tell the truth. Here are seven common myths about hoarding.
1. Hoarding Is Just Another Name for OCD
Hoarding is a complex mental condition characterized by collecting too many items, an inability to let go of possessions, and trouble with organization. Until recently, hoarding was considered by mental health professionals as a form of obsessive compulsion (OCD).
While hoarding seems to be related to OCD, a vast percentage of individuals with hoarding problems do not exhibit other OCD symptoms. Even though some experts consider it a subtype of OCD, typical treatment plans have not been shown to be effective at treating the symptoms of hoarding.
2. Hoarding Is the Same Thing as Being Disorganized
Hoarding is far more serious than being disorganized. Compulsive hoarding can affect a person’s ability to maintain relationships, keep a job, and take care of personal and household needs.
3. Cleaning Will Immediately Solve the Problem
Simply attempting to clean up a cluttered space without addressing the underlying issue typically fails to solve the problem. People may spend hours of time and thousands of dollars to clean out a space only to have the person relapse and start accumulating more stuff in just a few months.
Those whose homes are cleaned out without their permission also may experience extreme distress, complicating the issue. To completely stop hoarding, a holistic treatment plan may be more effective.
4. Hoarders Are Lazy, Dirty, and Unmotivated
Stereotyping people with a hoarding condition as dirty or lazy is an unfair stigma. People who hoard may have cognitive deficits in the brain, impairing their ability to make decisions as well as to keep things organized. Studies have also shown there may be a genetic component to hoarding problems.
Rather than being stigmatized, what people with a hoarding condition really need from others is compassion, empathy, and support.Assuming a person who hoards is also dirty adds to the stigma surrounding a hoarding condition. The term hoarding most often refers to the accumulation of objects and clutter rather than dirt. It is common for a person who hoards to keep a clean house despite the clutter.
Hoarding is also common after a major loss when a person is unable to cope with grief in a healthy way. People who hoard are not lazy; they are just less capable than the average person at carrying out tasks and making decisions. Rather than being stigmatized, what people with a hoarding condition really need from others is compassion, empathy, and support.
5. Hoarders Are Collectors
Hoarding and collecting are two different things. Collectors tend to keep their items organized and proudly on display for others to see. People who hoard will rarely display their possessions, usually keeping their belongings in complete disarray. They often feel embarrassment and shame when others see their mess.
Hoarding also differs from collecting because it often prevents normal usage of the home. For example, a person’s kitchen appliances may no longer be accessible as a result of clutter.
6. Hoarders Can’t Stop Hoarding
Though it can be difficult for an affected person to stop hoarding, compulsive hoarding can be treated. Medication has not been shown to be effective against hoarding, though it may help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with it such as depression and anxiety.
Long-term therapy can effectively treat hoarding when combined with adequate education and support. Hoarding generally requires a holistic and comprehensive treatment program that addresses all aspects of a person’s life.
7. Hoarding Can Be Treated by a Single Medical Professional
Hoarding is a multi-faceted issue and typically requires a team of professionals to effectively treat the problem. Some professionals that may be involved in the treatment process include psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, professional organizers, building inspectors, and landlords, among others. These teams are often referred to as task forces, and approximately 75 cities currently have them in place to help those in the community who are struggling with hoarding.
If you or a loved one are struggling with hoarding problems, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist or other mental health professional who specializes in hoarding.
- Baker, J., Bergren, M. G., Frost, J., Sanchez, L., Andreasen, T., & Bratiotis, C. (2014). Beyond the Sensationalism: Professional Responses to Hoarding Disorder in the Omaha Community. Retrieved from http://www.unomaha.edu/news/2014/04/hoardingwhitepaper.pdf
- Bratiotis, C., Otte, S., et. al. (2014) Hoarding Fact Sheet. International OCD Foundation. Retrieved from https://iocdf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Hoarding-Fact-Sheet.pdf
- Dailey, S. G. (2013, February) Hoarding: A Complex Issue Needing Community Support. Age Wise: King County. Retrieved from http://www.agewisekingcounty.org/en/125/1/449/Hoarding-A-Complex-Issue-Needing-Community-Support.htm
- Samuels, J., Shugart, Y., et al. (2007, March). Significant linkage to compulsive hoarding on chromosome 14 in families with obsessive-compulsive disorder: results from the OCD Collaborative Genetics Study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 164(3): 493-9. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17329475
- Treneva, R. (2005, August 3). Hoarding: Myths and Misconceptions. Insight Bulletin. Retrieved from http://insightbulletin.com/hoarding-myths-and-misconceptions/
- Webley, K. (2010, April 26). Hoarding: How Collecting Stuff Can Destroy Your Life. Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1984444,00.html
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