weekly blog--one for the ages
Sometimes it takes being shut-in on an extremely frigid day to realize how much stuff you have collected over the years. Fortunately, my wife and I remain outside the six percent of people worldwide who are categorized as hoarders.
To begin, hoarding in the clinical sense was initially called Collyer’s syndrome in honor of two brothers who buried themselves with stuff in their Harlem mansion between 1909 and 1947. With the postwar economic boom, people of modest means began acquiring more and more objects, and Collyer’s syndrome became more widespread.
In those days, psychologists believed that hoarding was a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder--a repeated, ritualized action intended to ward off anxiety. That categorization held until 2013 when psychologists connected hoarding to an array of causes spanning everything from an over-cluttered home to the accumulation of live animals.
The curse of the hoarder: objects take on individual personalities with outsized emotional significance. People resist parting with them because of their perceived potential, their sentimental significance, their triggered memories, or for some other reason.
People with severe hoarding disorder tend to be easily distracted, and have a hard time focusing and concentrating. Paradoxically, they also tend to be perfectionists, so they’ll put off making decisions rather than risk being wrong.
And when it comes to their own stuff, they don’t categorize by type. Instead of looking at an object as a member of a large group, they see it as a single item that is unique and special with its own history, significance, and worth.
According to researchers, hoarding gets progressively worse as a person ages, and is exacerbated by bereavement, divorce, fuzzy thinking, or financial crisis. One study concluded that fifteen percent of depression-stricken older adults engaged in extreme hoarding. Which makes sense since both disorders impact the brain in the frontal lobe area, which is responsible for such things as organizing and arranging.
When a family member, close friend or good Samaritan tries to step in and help, most hoarders respond with hostility and deep mistrust. To jumpstart the cleaning and organizing process, it’s best to make the hoarder feel like they are in control.