Under the Hood

Why We Hoard Stuff We Do Not Need

Hoarders are people who like to hold on to material possessions beyond the utility period, so much so that it takes up space and makes the surroundings look cluttered. No, this habit does not refer to the urge to keep all the books you own since childhood in a dusty bookcase, or finding extra closet space for the clothes you like to keep. The condition is more serious than that. Hoarding was recognized as a serious mental health disorder by the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5) in 2013. 

What do hoarders' apartment look like?

They may have boxes lined up to the ceiling with things they do not want to give away such as newspapers, clothes, toys and miscellaneous items, which all have gathered dust and bacteria. The apartment may look unkempt and unclean, and the inhabitant might find the chaos reasonable, despite it obviously reflecting their state of mind. 

The condition has similarities to obsessive compulsive disorder, but is nonetheless a separate disorder on its own. Hoarding disorder was grouped together with other obsessive and repetitive behaviors exhibited by people who suffered from body dysmorphic disorder, trichotillomania and excoriation.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, about two to six percent of the American population suffers from hoarding disorder, which could potentially interfere with day-to-day functioning. The association also said in a note on their website that men are more prone to hoarding than women, and adults older than 55 are more affected. 

Authors of the book “Conquer the Clutter,” Elaine Birchall, founder of the Canadian National Hoarding Coalition, and Suzanne Cronkwright, a technical editor and writer, identified three types of attachment styles in hoarders. In their blog on Psychology Today, they explained the psychology behind hoarding according to each syle. 

Sentimental attachment is one of the top reasons that people do not want to part with certain things. For instance, souvenirs of a relationship that ended or an auspicious time in one’s life may signify something special to the person, hence they may be holding on to it. This is unhealthy because it comes in the way of moving on, learning to let go and living in the present

The other attachment style the authors said could be related to an appreciation of the aesthetic appeal of certain objects. They may be art aficionados who acquire interesting pieces and decorate their immediate space excessively with paintings and sculptures. Though it may seem normal to them, it could intimidate visitors. 

There are also people who develop an intrinsic relationship to items that the owner feels will never lose its utility. For instance, people who want to reduce waste and find a use for everything in their house, so as to save the planet. They could end up overestimating a product’s use and this concept may be misplaced because they may have difficulty locating the items later due to the many items they hoard. 

The idea behind understanding attachment patterns is to unlearn these negative thoughts and find a way to have a healthy attachment to material possessions. This also reflects a decluttered and clear mind, which is crucial for people looking to overcome psychological distress. 

Hoarding Disorder According to the American Psychiatric Association, hoarding is estimated to be exhibited by approximately two to five percent of the population and can result in significant distress to oneself and others. Characterized by the persistent struggle to discard possessions, hoarding disorder behavior usually results in harmful emotional, physical, and social consequences. Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0

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