You Kept What?! The 7 Characteristics of a Hoarder

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characteristics of a hoarder

Hoarding is a serious problem for some people and their families. The behavior has become well-known to the public through television shows and media that uncover hoarders and their homes, typically posing a solution to their problems and shedding some light on the cause of the behavior in the first place.

The causes of this disorder are numerous, though, and can’t be summed up in a couple of episodes of reality TV. There are a lot of characteristics of a hoarder, and we’re here to shed some light on a few of them for you.

Characteristics of a Hoarder:

Hoarding Disorder is a classified psychiatric disorder that is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). This means that the need to keep and collect personal possessions is a result of a wider situation in a person’s life, and the behavior is not trivial or something to be laughed at.

Hoarders are not all the same and understanding hoarding requires that you look at each case individually. With that in mind, here are 7 characteristics that many hoarders share:

1. Difficulty Parting With Possessions:

Everyone has an item or two tucked away that holds a lot of sentimental value. It seems reasonable to hang on to your dad’s high-school baseball glove or a love letter between your grandparents when they were young.

Hoarders feel the need to keep almost everything that enters their home. Newspapers, old trash, clothes, everything. Many of the items they hang on to don’t seem to have a lot of value to the outside eye. These things are extremely difficult for hoarders to part with.

2. Cluttered Living Space:

Hoarders value their collections of items more than they do cleanliness of their homes. The home of a hoarder might be filled with boxes, stacks of papers, and old random things, but void of any pathway to walk through.

In extreme cases, only the most spaces in a home that are essential (toilet, sink, refrigerator, bed) are left open.

3. Recognition of the Problem:

Many hoarders understand that what they’re doing is a problem. There’s often a level of guilt and shame involved. This is because the hoarding behavior, when severe, can seriously interfere with a person’s social and family life.

Guests typically aren’t welcomed into the house, children living in the home can’t invite their friends over, and social circles get frustrated that a person seems to be doing this to themselves.

In the face of this, the disorder is a real psychiatric problem. It’s extremely difficult to overcome.

At the same time, a lot of people with hoarders disorder don’t have a lot of insight into the severity of their problem. This could be for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s not a pleasant thing to acknowledge in yourself. In other words, it’s natural to be in denial about the fact that you’re showing signs of a mental disorder. Especially when that disorder has been blown up by the media in a semi-negative light.

Second, many hoarders keep their homes separate from their social lives. Creating an environment where people don’t have the ability to comment on or criticize your behavior is conducive to that behavior continuing.

4. Symptoms May Start Early:

Mild symptoms of hoarding might start in adolescence, gradually getting worse or remaining the same throughout adulthood. The disorder comes in degrees, with some people having a relatively good grasp on their behaviors and how to handle them.

At the same time, most people who go into treatment for a hoarding disorder do so after the age of 50.

5. Triggering Life Change:

The reason that most people begin hoarding at an older age is that the behavior is often triggered by a traumatic life event. When a person has the latent attributes of a hoarder, those qualities could remain dormant throughout life.

If, however, a loved one dies or a child moves away to college, for example, the behavior may become more present as a coping mechanism. It’s in these cases that the disorder manifests and causes real problems for a person.

6. General Indecisiveness:

While the bulk of the behavior isn’t a result of indecisiveness, it holds that a lot of hoarders do tend to be indecisive. This contributes to the difficulty determining what to keep and what to throw out.

It’s also common for hoarders to have close relatives that are indecisive. This is an environmental factor that puts into question whether hoarding is a genetic issue or an environmental one.

7. The Presence of Another Disorder:

It’s estimated that two-thirds of people with Hoarding Disorder also have a comorbid disorder.

Hoarding is categorized in the “Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders” section of the DSM. Illnesses in similar categories tend to lump closely together for patients, meaning that obsessive-compulsive disorder, hoarding disorder, trichotillomania, body dysmorphic disorder, and excoriation disorder are common among people who hoard.

There are also a lot of patients who have hoarding disorder coupled with anxiety and trauma disorders. This is the reason that triggering events often impact patients so severely, teasing out symptoms of hoarding disorder.

Separation anxiety is a large one for mothers and fathers who lose a child to death or even college. Being apart from a child prompts a parent to hang onto nearly all of the child’s items. That behavior then spills out into the rest of the items in the home.

Things like agoraphobia, social phobia, and anxiety are also commonly paired with hoarding disorder. There’s an interplay between anxiety disorders and hoarding.

As hoarding behavior picks up, the presence of the home becomes increasingly comfortable and safe to the person. If that person already has a fear of other people or the outside world, the odds of reaching out and dealing with the disorder begin to wane.

Do You Know a Hoarder?

If any of these characteristics of a hoarder describe someone in you’re life, it might be time to reach out to them and see what you can do to help.

It can be difficult to confront a loved on their behavior, but sometimes it is the only thing you can do. If you’re interested in learning more about mental disorders and what they look like, visit our site for the information you need.

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