Are you a hoarder?

There's a fine line between being a clutter bug and a hoarder. Learn the warning signs and emotional factors that can lead to hoarding.

By Katherine Vankoughnet

How to identify hoarding
©iStockphoto.com/trekandshoot
Thanks to a recent spate of reality television shows and media coverage, the term "hoarder" is now deeply embedded in Western culture. We've all seen the claustrophobia-inducing living spaces and disturbing piles of seemingly worthless objects that the afflicted have accumulated, and often the first question we ask is: "How did they get this bad?"
 
Even the staunchest minimalist has probably grappled with throwing out a beloved teddy bear, bought the occasional bulk-size pack of Tupperware or let the mail pile up once in a while. But where is the line between clutter bug and hoarder – and how do we keep ourselves from crossing it?
 
According to Elaine Birchall, an Ottawa-based social worker and hoarding expert, there are three factors that must be taken into account when identifying hoarding: 
 
1. Excessive accumulation and a failure to discard proportionately
2. Some or all of the living spaces have started to be taken over
3. There is distress or impairment of function
 
Chances are, these factors don't apply to you; but if you're a self-professed pack rat, you might find cause for concern.
 
"If you're a collector or clutterer, there's no proof that you will go on to become a hoarder," says Birchall. "However, I've never worked with a hoarder who hasn't started out as a collector or clutterer."
 
Warning signs
Both genetics and what's known as a comorbid factor – an additional disorder or condition, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, personality disorders, addiction or traumatic loss – are known to put people at a higher risk of hoarding. Beyond that, determining whether or not your clutter is becoming an issue requires a bit of inner reflection.
 
"If you have a compelling need to hold onto something or acquire something, and you really can't have a rational discussion with yourself about why, that is the first warning sign," says Birchall. "And if you find you're in a situation where have to ask yourself – 'Do I have a problem?' – then it's probably a good indication that something is wrong."

Page 1 of 2 -- Discover three reasons why people hoard on page 2 


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