By Rose Fabrick, Certified Concierge Care Advisor
“I’ve always had trouble throwing things away. Magazines, newspapers, old clothes…What if I need them one day? I don’t want to risk throwing something out that might be valuable. The large piles of stuff in our house keep growing, so it’s difficult to move around and sit or eat together as a family. My Husband is upset and embarrassed, and we get into horrible fights. I’m scared when he threatens to leave me. My children won’t invite friends over, and I feel guilty that the clutter makes them cry. But I get anxious when I try to throw anything away. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, and I don’t know what to do.”
Hoarding behaviors do not happen suddenly. The behavior can begin as early as the teenage years. However, statistics show the average of individuals seeking treatment for hoarding disorder is 50 years old. Hoarding disorder is a mental health condition that should be addressed as early as possible. Hoarding disorder becomes severe among the elderly population because the behavior has persisted for several years.
It’s important to recognize the reason(s) for the hoarding disorder. People believe an item may be useful or valuable in the future, or it may have sentimental value, making it unique and irreplaceable. They also believe an item is too big a bargain to throw away. An item may serve as a reminder to jog their memory of an important person or event, or indecision on where an item belongs, so it’s better to just keep the item. There is a difference between hoarding and collection. Collectors have a sense of pride about the items they collect and it brings them joy to display and talk about their collection. Collectors also keep their collection organized, feel satisfaction when they add to their collection, and budget their time and money. Hoarders experience embarrassment about their possessions and feel discomfort when others see them. Hoarders have clutter, often at the expense of livable space, feel sad or ashamed after acquiring additional items, and are often in debt.
It is not clear what causes hoarding disorder. Genetics and brain functioning are being studied as possible causes. Stressful life events – death of a loved one, divorce, eviction or losing possessions in a fire – may contribute to hoarding disorders when the individual finds it difficult to cope with the event.
Hoarding disorder causes several complications, such as increased risk of falls, injury or being trapped by shifting or falling items, family conflicts, loneliness and isolation, unsanitary conditions that cause a risk to health, a fire hazard, poor work performance, and legal issues such as eviction.
Senior clients with hoarding disorder have be referred to us to assist the senior due to an eviction from their multi-resident dwelling. With a recent referral, the hoarding disorder caused an unsafe living condition – a fire hazard – for the senior and other residents in the building. Our transition support for the senior was needed to find an appropriate adult family home where the Provider can discourage the senior from hoarding, while meeting the senior’s financial budget. It was determined that the adult family home was the better option in order to discourage shopping events, focus the senior on activities she enjoyed – like crocheting – to keep her busy. The Senior Concierge Advisor and Provider found a Senior Center close by the adult family home to provide additional activities for the senior. Transportation was arranged, restricted between the adult family home and the Senior Center. The senior has less anxiety, is receiving effective socialization, and thriving.
Medicine alone does not reduce hoarding behavior. Medicine could help reduce the symptoms of hoarding or treat conditions – like depression and anxiety – that can exacerbate hoarding.
It is more difficult to convince an elder loved one with hoarding disorder still living in their own home to consider help or transition. Attempts by family and friends to help with de-cluttering will not be received well by the hoarder. The hoarder must be internally motivated to change. It cannot be forced. Everyone, including people who hoard, has the right to make their own choices about their possessions and how they want to live. The family supporting the senior can start by working in tandem with the Primary Care Physician, and access community resources that provide support and counseling for seniors with hoarding disorder and for family caregivers.
There is a support group for hoarders and family caregivers held at the Seattle Housing Authority building. It is facilitated by Matthew Schwartz, who is a Clinical Mental Health Counselor specializing in hoarding disorder. It is a 6 to 8-week session program. Attendees learn about hoarding disorder, the 5 stages of the disorder, the language/approach to use when supporting those with the disorder, the stigma that individuals with the disorder wrestle with daily, and provides a safe space where individuals can speak freely and be listened to. Attending the support group meetings via phone is possible, if getting to the venue is difficult. Contact Matthew Schwartz at 206-437-3828 to get started. Information is kept confidential. There is no payment required.
Seattle Housing Authority building on Capitol Hill
525 14th Avenue East, Seattle WA 98112
Parking is available and is close to bus routes.
Matthew also recommends Clutterers Anonymous – https://clutterersanonymous.org/about/ – 14 free phone call meetings
When a person seems willing to talk about a hoarding problem, the International OCD Foundation recommends following these guidelines:
- Respect – Acknowledge that the person has a right to make their own decisions at their own pace.
- Have sympathy – Understand that everyone has some attachment to the things they own. Try to understand the importance of their items to them.
- Encourage – Come up with ideas to make their home safer, such as moving clutter from doorways and halls.
- Team up with them – Don’t argue about whether to keep or discard an item; instead, find out what will help motivate the person to discard or organize.
- Reflect – Help the person to recognize that hoarding interferes with the goals or values the person may hold. For example, by de-cluttering the home, a person may host social gatherings and have a richer social life.
- Ask – To develop trust, never throw anything away without asking permission.