Saturday, 18 May 2013

Hoarding - Not just a matter of clutter

Hi all,

I am currently selling my flat in London and have gone through the process of "dressing" it ready for viewings. Anyone who knows me well will know that I am pretty fascist when it comes to clutter, so the challenge of creating clean, clear spaces was pretty much a no brainer.  Given my slight obsession with clutter free spaces, I have become a fan of the recent hoarding related programmes.

Coincidentally, it was reported in the press this week that a woman and her son had to rescued from their flat in Dagenham by the fire brigade because their hoard had taken over the property. The fire workers had to use a cherry picker to smash through a window to get the two residents out as the front door was completely inaccessible due to the clutter in the flat, (here's the article of this shocking case of hoarding).

Hoarding is described as an excessive acquisition of and inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects that cover the living areas of the home and cause significant distress. Hoarding can take many forms for example with animals, food, newspapers etc. Its reported that up to 3 million Britons suffer from hoarding disorder. Despite this and the popularity of TV programmes to do with hoarding I was surprised that there wasn't a plethora of websites or information on the Internet about getting help with hoarding.
Extreme animal hoarding

So how does hoarding get started? It would seem that most hoarders have suffered some traumatic loss, be it a death or a divorce etc., in their lives which they have not recovered from. The hoarding is a reaction to this loss by either filling the void of the loss and/or by creating a defence against relationships with others (so that the risk of another loss cannot be repeated). Instead of dealing with the underlying problem, a hoarder creates a somewhat artificial problem through their hoarding, so that the real pain is suppressed and replaced with a self induced one. Hoarding can also be hereditary and can result as a extreme reaction towards having a lack of resources (money, food etc) during childhood. Other mental health issues such as anxiety and depression can also encourage hoarding behaviour. Research into the brain, has shown that hoarders experience decreased activity in the parts of the brain which are responsible for focus, attention and decision making.

Symptoms of hoarding can start in early teenage years and will become more prominent as an individual gets older and has more personal funds and capability to accumulate possessions.

This month the updated "Psychiatrists bible", DSM-V is published and for the first time hoarding will be defined as its own mental health disorder as opposed to being a sub section of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Experts believe that this recognition of the disorder will help improve diagnosis and treatment.

In terms of treatment a mixture of therapy and gradual de cluttering appears to be a good fit. What the TV programmes show is that is extremely important to let the hoarder make decisions about their belongings. Without ownership of the process, the treatment will inevitably fail. What has to be remembered is that traumatic loss is most likely the cause behind the hoarding, and so letting go of their possessions is like another loss for the hoarder. Its like an addiction, where the treatment has to be taken one day at a time, and relapse is an expected part of recovery.

Such programmes as "Britain's biggest hoarders" or "The Hoarder Next door" show the impact a hoard can have not only have on the hoarder in terms of their mental and physical environment but also upon friends and family who struggle to deal with the pain and frustration of dealing with such a disorder.

Jasmine Hardman knows only too well the strain hoarding can have on relationships as she had to cope with her mum's excessive hoarding. Thankfully her mum is making great progress and so now Jasmine is trying to help other sufferers in the UK. She has set up a website, , which has an excellent resources page with books, videos etc and she also presents her client's cases on the TV show, "Britain's biggest hoarder". Jasmine's website was one of the best I have come across in terms of content, another good one is the Cluttergone website which offers services to help clear possessions (the declutter diary of Stella is a good read).  Plus unsurprisingly as hoarding has previously been regarded as a sub disorder of OCD, the International  OCD Foundation website contains some information.

I have recently started befriending at the UK mental health charity, Mind and their branch at Hammersmith and Fulham offer help for hoarders in terms of a support group

Also the excellent Podcast "Stuff Mom never told you" did an interview with a hoarding expert a while back, here's the link to the podcast (click on "Read More" to listen).

For me what the tragic case of hoarding shows is how important it is to work through feelings of trauma when they are experienced as repressing them will only makes matters worse,

Till next month,