It is likely by now that you have seen the popular show “Hoarders” on the A&E network. Nominated for an Emmy, and winner of a Critics Choice award, each episode focuses on one house where items have been piled dangerously high.
Or, more accurately, each episode focuses on one person. A person whose emotional baggage has prompted them to acquire a great deal of physical baggage.
Not surprisingly, the name “hoarder” has been used more broadly to describe people caretaking over all sorts of messes we might find in back rooms of old buildings, or in our aunt and uncle’s garage. We almost always mean it as a gentle joke.
But how can we tell when someone has crossed over the line from collector to hoarder?
Collector? Or hoarder?
The Hoarders website reminds us that “hoarding is a serious pathological condition.” That is, there is more to the hoarding than merely collecting a lot of stuff. But that is the primary symptom and it is visible to those who are closest to the person.
Here are some signs that point in the direction of hoarding. Remember, though, that observing the characteristics is very different from a diagnosis. Psychology Today reports that hoarding is often “affected by co-morbid factors such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADD, ADHD, anxiety, and depression.” It is also likely that these issues were made worse by the isolation that came with the COVID quarantine.
You simply can’t diagnose a psychological disorder with a simple visual scan.
Signs to worry about
So what are the signs that, when you see them, should cause you to worry?
Collections gone wild
One sign of hoarding is when a person claims they are collecting something, but the collection is unrecognizable. The collected items are not visible beneath the piles of other items, and can’t be found easily or at all.
In a house where hoarding is happening, there are obvious safety concerns. Piled items are at risk of falling on occupants, and key rooms like the kitchen or bathroom are unusable.
Is a serious hoard, there are concerns about pests or mold that is untreatable or unreachable. The risk is not imminent (like with something falling) but is nonetheless serious because mold and pests carry or can cause illness that will harm the occupant.
If you see two or more of these signs, you should seek help to approach your friend or relative.