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     Do You Have Hoard And Clutter Syndrome?

Definition: Hoarding is the EXCESSIVE collection and retention of things until they interfere with day-to-day functions such as home, health, family, work and social life. Severe hoarding causes safety and health hazards.

Is your house drowning under piles of clutter? Do you find it nearly IMPOSSIBLE to throw away things even though you haven’t used them in years? Has anyone said you need to clear out some of the clutter? Do you never invite people over because there is too much ‘stuff’ everywhere? If you have answered "yes" to any of the above you may be SUFFERING from what is sometimes called Hoard and Clutter Syndrome, Packrat Syndrome, or Compulsive Hoarding. It may be a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Hoard and Clutter Syndrome can affect our homes, lifestyles, finances, and safety. Frequently people who hoard possessions also are compulsive BUYERS. They have an inability to resist the urge to acquire an object, even though acquiring or possessing the object may create problems. It is about evenly divided between men and women, though there seem to be slightly more women hoarders. It crosses all social and economic levels. We don’t hear a great deal about it because sufferers seldom seek HELP. They are unaware they are suffering from something there might be help for.

One study found that 80 percent of hoarders had grown up as CHILDREN in a house with someone who hoarded. I grew up as the child of parents who had grown up during the Great Depression. They learned early to never WASTE anything and to never throw away anything that might be needed later. I took their lessons to heart and have had difficulty disposing of anything ever since. My sister is the same. We both have homes full of ‘stuff’.

We can’t seem to refrain from COLLECTING more ‘stuff’. It has gone far beyond keeping a good supply of needed items. At times our homes have become nearly impassable because there was so much stuff everywhere. There is even a name for that. It is called ‘tunnel living’. No matter how many books we read on how to organize, they don’t help because what we really need is do DIMINISH the number of things we have. Most of us also have problems with organization, decision making, and frequently with compulsive buying or collecting of free things.

Recently I have begun to come to grips with the problem, recognizing it for what it is. I have cleaned a great many things out and am working on clearing out more. What I have found is I have to do it SLOWLY. If I feel pressure to get it done I fall apart and can’t make a decision and stuff everything back into the closet, just stacked a little neater.

Having someone who is not a hoarder to assist you can be very useful if they can UNDERSTAND that you can’t be forced to get rid of things. I have certain things that I have sentimental attachments to. If I am allowed to sort through and retain the items I feel really uncomfortable about getting rid of, I am more WILLING to let someone else decide the fate of the rest.

I have also found I am better at letting things go if I know they will be going somewhere USEFUL. I still cannot throw things into the trash if I think they are in good enough shape to be used by others. I am getting better at putting things on a garage sale, taking it to a consignment shop, giving it to the thrift shop or Goodwill. I can give it to individual people who have a use for it. If I am to retain my peace of mind, however, do not ask me to throw in the GARBAGE something that is still useable.

Some hoarders cannot even bring themselves to get rid of actual garbage. An empty cereal box can become painful to let go of. In the worst cases, the home becomes a health and safety HAZARD. Garbage, trash, and left over food build-up can cause health issues as well attract insects and rodents. Piles of newspapers, magazines, and old clothing become a fire hazard both because they are very flammable and because they make exiting the home more difficult and firefighters cannot find their way through the piles to try to save anyone in the building.

One method that seems to help is known as cognitive behavioral therapy. You physically PRACTICE throwing something away until it becomes easier to do. In another therapy hoarders learn to make DECISIONS, and practice how to let go of objects without distress. Anti-depressants are also prescribed, but work best when combined with therapy.

If any of this sounds FAMILIAR, you may be dealing with clinical hoarding -- or you may simply have the garden-variety, everyday cluttering behavior. Whichever it is, there is help for you.


Peggy Hoehne is a Contributing Editor of the topics Household Tips and Wisconsin at Suite 101. She also writes a monthly column for her church's newsletter, and freelance articles for an Internet newspaper. You may visit her website at www.angelfire.com/journal2/gleanings/index.html.

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