What is hoarding?
Hoarding is a disorder where someone acquires or collects an excessive number of items and stores them in a chaotic manner. Very often the items they collect can appear to be rubbish or have little or no monetary value.
However, to someone with a hoarding disorder these items can have a significant sentimental or emotional value, and many hoarders strongly believe that the hoarded items may one day be useful or that they make them happy.
Some people with a hoarding disorder will acknowledge the problem, even if they find it very difficult to deal with. Others will not recognise that there is a problem and be very reluctant to discuss it or receive any help.
Signs of hoarding
There are several indicators that a person may be struggling with hoarding:
- They collect and keep items that appear to have little or no monetary value, or broken items they plan to reuse or repair
- They find it hard to organise the items and store them chaotically
- They find it difficult to make decisions
- They find it difficult to manage everyday tasks like cooking, cleaning and paying bills
- They may become very attached to items, refusing to let anyone else handle them
- They can be isolated and have poor relationships with family or friends
Some people with a hoarding disorder hoard a range of items, whilst others may just hoard certain items. Commonly hoarded items include:
- Newspapers and magazines
- Junk mail
- Bills and receipts
- Plastic bags and containers
- Animals and pets
Data or electronic hoarding is also something which is becoming more common. This is where a person stores large amounts of electronic data such as emails.
Attempting to clear out or throw away items can often cause very strong and overwhelming emotions for people with a hoarding disorder, so the person will often avoid making decisions about what can be thrown out, or find reasons for needing to keep things.
Why is hoarding a problem?
Hoarding can take over a person's life; they can be very reluctant to have visitors and often become cut off from family and friends. People with a hoarding disorder can suffer from loneliness and mental health problems, and other elements of their lives can also suffer such as their performance at work or personal hygiene.
High levels of clutter in the home can also pose a serious health and safety risk, often making cleaning very difficult, leading to unhygienic conditions and encouraging rodent or insect infestations.
There is also a significant risk of the person having trips and falls or things falling on top of them, and the accumulations of items pose a serious fire risk, blocking exits and providing fuel for fires.
How can you get help for hoarding?
People can suffer from a hoarding disorder in its own right, but it can also sometimes be a sign of an underlying condition like obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, severe depression, anxiety, and dementia.
In the first instance you should see your GP, who will be able to offer appropriate advice and assistance, and refer to any other professionals who may be able to help.
There are also several organisations and charities who offer advice and assistance to hoarders and their friends and families. Help for Hoarders, Hoarding UK and OCD UK all have informative and helpful websites which provide further information.
You can also search online for companies and organisations who offer specialised de-cluttering and cleaning services for people with a hoarding disorder.
Environmental Health can only intervene where there is a risk to public heath or the issues are causing problems to neighbours, but if you are concerned about someone who is hoarding we can offer advice and assistance and also signpost to other teams within the council who may be able to offer support.