I've never spoken about this before on my blog. Not in any of my mental health posts, not on Twitter, nothing. I've never talked about it because I'm afraid of the response I'm going to get. Although there is a considerable stigma and discrimination around mental illness, when you mention the word hoarding or hoarder, people don't even realise it's a mental illness or falls into the same spectrum of mental health.
For this post, I've done a lot of background research into hoarding and the psychology of being a hoarder. Although, I'm a hoarder ( I bet it didn't take you long to figure that one out) my hoarding is different from the stereotypical view of what you may think a hoarder to be like. Like many mental illnesses, there's a lot of negative stereotypes and stereotypical images that surround them, being a hoarder, is no exception.
I want to set the bar straight. I want people to see hoarding as a mental illness or an element of a mental illness, just as much as people see heart disease and cancer as physical illness. We've all seen those ' hoarders behind closed doors' programmes which let's be frank are on repeat most weeks on channel 5. I personally don't think they portray hoarding as an illness to be taken seriously. I want to change that by educating you today- on what it really means to be a hoarder.
Okay, first things first there's a real disorder called hoarding disorder, which the NHS describe as "where someone acquires an excessive number of items and stores them in a chaotic manner. The items can be of little or no monetary value and usually result in unmanageable amounts of clutter" Okay so your stereotypical image of what a hoarder is. The kind of houses you used to see on how clean is your house? God, I miss that show.
But these people aren't lazy, they aren't dirty animals with no self-respect or cares in the world. They are ill. Just like people with bipolar or anxiety are ill. Hoarding is a mental illness and not a joke. These people don't want to live in their house which honestly looks like a bombs exploded. They want to live in a clean and spacious environment just like everyone else. But just like other people with mental illnesses their brain isn't working 100% which causes them to hoard things which the majority of people would see as useless or worthless pieces of junk.
I'm just going to slide on in here and tell you about my hoarding. I don't have hoarding disorder, but I do hoard very specific items. This is part of my OCD (I bet you didn't know that hoarding can be an element of obsessive-compulsive disorder, did you?) there's many different reasons why people hoard, which I will get to later on.
As you can tell by the pictures, I hoard empty hand sanitiser bottles, which are lined up neatly in rows in my bedside table draw. The reason I hoard these is because I fear that if I throw one out something bad will happen. I will get sick, or my parents will get ill and die, which will be my fault. It's not rational. I know that. But just imagine having a little voice in your head that pops up every time you throw one away which becomes louder and louder until eventually it becomes unbearable and you end up not throwing it away at all.
There are three main types of hoarding. My hoarding falls under the category of; prevention from harm hoarding. This kind of hoarding is linked very closely to OCD, like many of the other compulsions I perform they are to done to stop bad things happening. The other two types of hoarding are; deprivation hoarding where people hoard on to everything because they feel like may need it in the future. This is often linked to a childhood of neglect, and the last type is emotional hoarding, where after a traumatic experience, an individual becomes more attached to physical possessions than humans and hoards them.
I hoard because it's part of my OCD but other people hoard because of severe depression or schizophrenia. Some people with mobility problems are unable to clear things away, and over time accumulate significant amounts of clutter. Even learning disabilities and dementia can contribute to hoarding, resulting in them getting very upset when people try to dispose of their things, which most would see as just junk. Bereavement can also be a factor to why someone may hoard.
People cope with the loss of a loved one differently. So can you really tell someone who hoards they are dirty and lazy when actually all they are trying to do is come to terms with their loss?
Childhood and family history also are large reasons why an individual may hoard. If they were brought up in a cluttered household, have a family history of hoarding or had a childhood filled with neglect and very little physical possessions may result in them hoarding the items which they didn't have as a child but do now. Their brain is still stuck believing that they have to survive on very little, for example, not knowing when they are going to get the next meal. As a result, they hoard and keep buying more and more food.
Unlike a collection, hoarding is very disorganised, which is why I can't say I have a hoarder disorder. When someone collects books, for instance, they will store them in an organised and accessible manner. On the contrary to a hoarder who usually will have everything piling up around them and in the worst scenarios filling entire rooms up to bursting point. This, as a result, can make doing everyday tasks such as cleaning, cooking and washing pretty damn impossible. Hoarding can ruin relationships with friends and family because they are too ashamed to let them see their home so distance themselves away from everyone.
Do you think anyone would actually choose to live like that? No, nor do I! No one in their right mind would live like this if they could help it. But they can't help it because it's a mental illness. A disorder which needs support and long-term treatment, not people making fun of it.
Living in a hoard can be a nightmare for anymore. There's an increased risk of fire hazards, health hazards, trip and falls - the list is endless. Not only can be a hoarder put their physical health in jeopardy but also their mental health. Being a hoarder can lead to a life of isolation due to embarrassment often resulting in depression and low mood.
So with the understanding that hoarding can cause serious physical injury, mental health distress, family breakdowns and be a result of something often beyond their control which may even stem to before they were born, how can anyone say that hoarders are just lazy and it's not really an illness?
No one would ever imagine me as being a hoarder. You may walk past 10 people in the street today who are hoarders, but you wouldn't know. Because hoarding isn't to do with laziness and isn't associated with the hoarder being physically dirty and unclean. You can't see a hoarder just by looking at someone, away from their hoard/ home. Just like all other types of mental illness, hoarding disorder is invisible.
I really hope that by writing this post I've been able to help educate people about what being a hoarder or suffering from hoarder disorder really means. I would like to think I've done a little bit to reduce the stigma and change perceptions of what being a hoarder is about, even if it's just within my small corner of the Internet.
No one talks about hoarding or hoarder disorder like they do other mental health conditions. It is estimated that one in four people who suffer from OCD, also have compulsive hoarding. However, it is also important to note hoarder disorder, although often linked to OCD, is now seen as a distinct, disabling condition. No matter how uncommon or common it is the main reason why people choose not to talk about it, is because like me their afraid of the reception they will get. "How can you be a hoarder and have OCD? They are the complete opposites" comments like these would make anyone with the conditions shy away from getting the support they need, which is why we need to talk about it!
I would love to know your thoughts on the topic in the comments.
Thanks for reading, as always X