Hoarding disorders are characterized by feelings of obsessive accumulation and attachment to objects. There are 5 stages of hoarding to understand and treat the problem. But, what is hoarding?
Every so often, one of us has a messy room. It is quite common for us to put off doing dirty tasks for various reasons, including laundry, dishes, and floor cleaning. What happens when the unnecessary items keep piling up because you cannot or don’t want to discard them?
When such a situation occurs and persists long enough to become a compulsive behavior, it is known as Hoarding. Hoarding is the obsessive behavior of a person to keep items, animals, or trash regardless of the value and have difficulty throwing them away.
5 Signs of Hoarding
Sometimes accumulating junk or being disorganized can cause a mess in the house. There may be clutter in certain areas, but otherwise, the house is generally functional and safe with nothing out of place.
In contrast, hoarders are blind to clutter and tend to adjust according to their environment, so naturally, they are not bothered by the mess. They even fail to recognize the chaos around them and experience excruciating pain when throwing away any object.
Along with the 5 stages of hoarding, there are also different signs one can notice to find the hoarding problem.
While collecting is an enjoyable hobby, hoarders have an uncontrollable urge to acquire things they may not even need. They have an obsession or a compulsive desire to have everything, even if it is of no use for them.
Hoarders tend to lack decision-making skills to solve problems on their own. This makes them avoid making decisions involving their belongings. Decisions involving keeping or throwing away objects can even lead to anxiety in a hoarder.
It is the fear of getting rid of things. Hoarders have extreme anxiety when deciding to keep or throw objects, even if the object is no longer helpful. The fear is so much that they avoid the situation altogether.
Hoarders cannot be organized. As a result, all the collection of clutter they develop overflows in complete chaos. It is such that the clutter chaos takes over their house and may even have no more space for the person to stay.
Extreme hoarders tend to show signs of depression that may lead to social isolation. This may arise out of fear or embarrassment of showing others their clutter.
5 Stages of Hoarding
Hoarding disorder is a more complex problem than just being a little messy. Knowing the difference between a cluttered home and that of a hoarder is crucial to identify issues and find ways to solve the problem—the 5 stages of hoarding help understand the issue more deeply.
The National Study Group on Compulsive Disorganization devised a clutter hoarding scale with 5 stages of hoarding that indicate the severity of the disorder. Understanding the level of the disorder can help identify the hoarding problem and help those affected by the condition.
This stage may be hard to identify as the clutter is minimal. The person may shop for things they do not need and may have difficulty throwing objects away. This level can be identified as:
- Minimal clutter with no unusual odors
- All entrances and staircases are accessible
- There are less than three areas with animal waste
Clutter starts to take up 2 or three living spaces in the house with one blocked exit. There may be malfunctioning appliances, mildew in the bathroom or kitchen, and narrow pathways around the house. The person may avoid inviting friends or family into their home because of anxiety, embarrassment, or depression. Characteristics of this level include:
- Mild odors and pet waste on the floor
- Signs of rodent infestation
- Overflowing garbage cans
- Unclean kitchen with dirty plates or expired food
The clutter is now found overflowing to the exteriors of the house. One area of the house may show structural damage or maybe be in an unusable state. The regulation for the number of pets is exceeded. The person may have weight issues due to poor diet and personal hygiene. Other indicators of this level are:
- One or more unusable living space
- Excessive dust
- Noticeable odors through the house
- Blocked electrical outlets
- Minimal or no pet care
People within this level have poor personal hygiene with having not had a bath for weeks. Mental health is often worsening in these individuals. In addition, there may be an excessive number of pets with aging animal waste in visible areas. Other characteristics are:
- Expired canned goods
- Beds without sheets ridden with bugs
- Rodents and bats noticeable in the attic and walls
- Spiders and webs in abundance
This is the most severe type of hoarding involving severe structural damage to the house. Due to the amount of clutter, many people within level 5 hoarding do not live in their own home but rather stay with a friend or family member. The person may also show noticeable signs of depression. Other signs include:
- The visible presence of human feces
- A non-working refrigerator filled with rotting food
- Broken walls and no electricity or running water
- Rodents and non-pet animals found in the house
The 5 stages of hoarding give a refined look at the severity of the disorder. It is crucial to identify and receive help for the problem to improve the health and safety of the person.
Hoarding is a disorder that affects several parts of life. It is a condition that induces financial strain reducing the quality of life of a person. Family relations can also be strained to the extent that they may be unrepairable over time. It can also stem from other mental health issues like anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder; or in turn, may even lead to these issues.
A person suffering from hoarding disorder can plan a treatment action on their own or get professional help for the problem. In addition, the support from family or friends for the cleanup process can help immensely.
A professional can help determine which of the 5 stages of hoarding the person is suffering from and help devise a treatment plan accordingly. Professional help can also be sought for hoarding cleanup as it can be a very intensive process.
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Content is medically reviewed periodically by professionals for accuracy and relevance. Reviewers include doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, and even medical students.