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Hoarding: More Than Just a Mess

Hoarding is a common problem that is difficult to treat.
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The Root of Hoarding: What Lies at the Bottom of That Pile continued...

In the past, experts saw hoarding as an “an outgrowth of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)," Tolin tells WebMD. “But as we have more studies coming in, we’re increasingly seeing that it’s not. It seems like there is not a particular special or strong relationship with OCD. Much more common are problems like major depression disorder, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder.”

Studies have found that the frontal lobe within the brain of someone who hoards tends to work differently, he says. This region is crucial for weighing options and thinking rationally. As a result, their priorities are different from those of non-hoarders, and “those are things we can imagine might feed into a hoarding problem,” Tolin says.

Sifting Through a Hoarding Problem

Most people who hoard don’t seek help on their own, Tompkins says. Sometimes they come in under pressure from their family, but in most cases it’s the family members themselves who seek help in bringing the home under control. Sometimes, people must take action because a landlord, a condominium association, or the city has put pressure on them to clean up the mess.

TV viewers may breathe a sigh of relief when they see a tidy, spacious home -- or room of a home -- at the end of a hoarding program. But solutions aren’t often simple, quick, or lasting. “It’s a very difficult syndrome to break,” says Kolberg, who offers training for other organizers to help them deal with clients who hoard.

“I think you want to keep in mind that no amount of shaming them or yelling at them or having temper tantrums about it is really going to change the issue. It’s important for hoarders to realize they’re causing other people harm and stress. I get that. But hammering away at them for behaving this way is just not helpful,” she says.

Expecting to see a substantial portion of the floors and tabletops in the near future may not be realistic, either. 

“Obviously there are success stories, but it’s important to recognize that this is a chronic and severe problem. When it comes to chronic and severe problems -- like drug use, bipolar disorder, severe depression, or hoarding -- even with best of treatment, a lot of people will still be struggling,” Tolin says.

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