According to the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, approximately 1.2 million people in the United States alone suffer from compulsive hoarding. Wikipedia, the online dictionary, explains that compulsive hoarders feel impelled to purchase or acquire an enormous amount of items. The hoarding happens continuously and over time. The items clutter up every area of their living space and ultimately lead to despair and impairment.
Hoarders are unwilling to let go of even the smallest item. They quickly reach the point of exhibiting irrational behavior at the smallest inkling of pressure to discard of an item, and acute stress sets in quickly. The mere thought of throwing or giving away an item is a highly emotional experience. Most of the objects have never been used, but the hoarder always figures out some use for all the clutter.
Licensed medical practitioners refer to the five-point Chronic Disorganization’s Clutter-Hoarding Scale to determine the level of hoarding in a person’s life. Level one indicates a light amount of clutter. The next two levels refer to chronically disorganized persons. Levels four and five are the most severe where living conditions in the home of a hoarder become dangerous and not acceptable for human occupation.
What makes compulsive hoarding more complicated is the lack of understanding a hoarder has of the seriousness of the condition. The overwhelming clutter in the house of a level four or five hoarder makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for any maintenance to be done in and around the house. Deterioration sets in, and the house becomes a serious fire hazard. Electricity chords get worn out and exposed wires present a serious threat. Stacking flammable materials such as books and newspapers close to the gas stove due to a lack of storage space is irresponsible and dangerous. A further cause for concern is the overwhelming stench, mold and roaches everywhere in the house.
According to the Founder and Director of the Anxiety & Stress Management Institute, Dr. Rebecca Beaton, a sign of severe depression in a hoarder is the resultant inertia which makes it difficult to throw away any trash. In many instances, the gathering of clutter and attachment to objects is an attempt to fill a gaping emptiness within, caused by misery and anxiety in the persons’ childhood or younger years. Objects are substitutes for loneliness, insecurity and loss. The difficulty for a hoarder in making the simplest of decisions is enormous, not only in letting go of an item, but also in organizing objects within the home.
When hoarders reach level four or five, the clutter has invaded their entire life. At that point, they managed to detach themselves from the stench, harmful conditions, mold and severity of the situation. Without the professional support of a psychologist/therapist/medical practitioner, the chances of a hoarder returning to a clutter free, normal life style is relatively small.