Demystifying the stigmas of hoarding

What is hoarding?

Hoarding: Compulsive hoarding, also known as hoarding disorder, is a pattern of behaviour that is characterized by excessive acquisition and an inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects that cover the living areas of the home and cause significant distress or impairment.

Hoarded items in a room piled high and a photo after once they are removed

Hoarding is an issue facing many families and individuals, throughout our very own city. It isn’t always a theatrical or as extreme of an event as portrayed on TV, however we at Junk 4 Good have found that this issue has received a very negative stigma that leaves many people feeling ashamed to even talk about it. At Junk 4 Good we have experience in helping to sift through the seemingly never-ending work that individuals with hoarding behaviour’s tend to accumulate. But what is hoarding really? How can we identify it? How can we help to demystify the stigma and assist people suffering from this behaviour?

Identifying Hoarding Habits

Some common habits of individuals who demonstrate hoarding behaviors are:

  • Inability or resistance to throw away possessions (often collected in multiples)
  • Severe anxiety when attempting to discard items
  • Great difficulty categorizing or organizing possessions
  • Indecision about what to keep or where to put things
  • Distress, such as feeling overwhelmed or embarrassed by possessions
  • Suspicion of other people touching or moving items
  • Obsessive thoughts and actions: fear of running out of an item or of needing it in the future; checking the trash for accidentally discarded objects
  • Functional impairments, including loss of living space, social isolation, family or marital discord, financial difficulties, health hazards

Hoarding can also often be related to compulsive buying, compulsive hoarding of animals, books and objects, or the accumulation of free things, such as flyers or plastic bags.

Because hoarding often gets to a point where it causes illness, impairment and unsafe living conditions, hoarders will often display behaviors in response to this. Individuals may not allow visitors or family to come into their homes and may refuse repair or maintenance people to access their living space. This will often lead to feelings of anxiety or depression due to the clutter. It is also common that individuals may steal or be reluctant to return borrowed items. In many cases, due to the large collections of items occupying the dwelling, individuals may be at an increased risk of fire, infestation, eviction or falling.

How and where to get help?

Once the issue of hoarding has been discovered and identified, how can a person get the help they need? An individual experiencing hoarding will usually not seek help on their own and needs to have encouragement from a loved one, property manager or someone else that they trust. Additionally, there are local organizations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association in Edmonton and SAGE who can provide guidance, counselling and therapies to try and not only treat, but prevent future hoarding behaviours. Unfortunately, without the proper training, and ongoing treatment, hoarders may often relapse.

One therapy used to treat this illness is called cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) where a therapist may help the patient to:

  • Discover why he or she is compelled to hoard.
  • Learn to organize possessions in order to decide what to discard.
  • Develop decision-making skills.
  • Declutter the home during in-home visits by a therapist or professional organizer.
  • Gain and perform relaxation skills.
  • Attend family and/or group therapy.
  • Be open to trying psychiatric hospitalization if the hoarding is serious.
  • Have periodic visits and consultations to keep a healthy lifestyle.

happy customer after junk removal services

During the process to declutter, junk removal experts, like Junk 4 Good can help to remove some of the items for disposal. It can be a very stressful time for both the individual experiencing the hoarding and the families trying to help. For that reason, it is a good idea to have a therapist or medical professional assist in sorting the items to make any significant progress.

Unfortunately, without constant intervention and encouragement from loved ones and professionals,  individuals will often continue these behaviours. These behaviours can stem from low motivation, isolation and obsessive-compulsive tendencies and it is important to address the issue before it becomes a much larger problem.

For hoarding support groups and workshops in Edmonton, you are able to inquire with Canadian Mental Health Association for more information.