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Too much stuff

“I’ve always had trouble throwing things away.  Magazines, newspapers, old clothes… what if I need them one day and I don’t have them anymore? The large piles of stuff in our house keep growing and they make it difficult to move around and sit together as a family. The piles are very upsetting to my husband and my children, who are embarrassed by them and won’t invite friends over because of it.  We get into horrible fights…but I get so anxious when I try to throw any of it away, I can’t bring myself to do it.  I don’t know what to do.”

This story is typical of someone who suffers from compulsive hoarding. Read on to learn what hoarding is, and how it can be treated.

What is hoarding?
Compulsive hoarding is the gathering and saving of items that have little or no value — or have some perceived value — and that a person has great difficulty discarding.

Commonly hoarded items include newspapers, magazines, paper and plastic bags, household supplies, food and clothing.
Hoarding can be related to the compulsive purchasing of items (never passing up a bargain, however unneeded), the compulsive acquisition of free items (such as collecting flyers), or the compulsive search for perfect or unique items (which may not appear to others as unique).

Am I a hoarder?
An individual who hoards can exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Avoids throwing away possessions.
  • Has severe anxiety when attempting to discard possessions.
  • Has trouble making decisions and cannot decide what to keep or for how long.
  • Feels overwhelmed or embarrassed by possessions.
  • Is suspicious of others touching items.
  • Feels depression and/or anxiety.
  • Has obsessive thoughts about possessions, such as wanting to check the garbage can to ensure an item. was not accidentally discarded.
  • Has great difficulty organizing possessions.

Hoarding may be present on its own, or a symptom of another disorder, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and depression. It is important that a qualified mental health professional determine why an individual is hoarding so he or she can receive appropriate treatment.

Reasons for hoarding
Individuals who hoard do so for many reasons, including the belief that the item:

  • will be useful at a later date
  • has sentimental value
  • was a bargain
  • is unique and can’t be replaced
  • has some value either now or potentially in the future

Hoarding affects quality of life
Hoarding can affect a person’s quality of life in many ways.  A lack of functional living space is a common issue, in addition to unhealthy and sometimes dangerous living conditions. Hoarding also affects family members, and can cause anger, resentment, and depression, as well as social issues in children. Hoarding may also become a major financial issue.

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