Compulsive hoarding is a behaviour that is characterized by the excessive acquisition of material items which are not needed (food, furniture and other objects), and inability of throwing these items away no matter how damaged or how useless they are. Clutter resulting from hoarding usually reaches a point where rooms cannot be used for their designate purpose and/or where safety and hygiene are compromised. This behaviour is often found in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but it can also be associated with a range of other clinical conditions such as: anorexia nervosa, depression, organic and psychotic disorders. Research identified hoarding as an independent phenomenon that is related to, but distinct from, other OCD types.
This is a serious problem that disrupts the lifestyle of hoarders and often the lives of friends, family and the community in general. Compulsive hoarding in its worst forms can cause fires and /or injuries. People who suffer from this illness will suffer from the following symptoms:
1- Holding on to a large number of items that most people would consider useless such as: gone off food; old newspapers; broken objects; clothes that don’t fit anymore.
2- The house is so full that many parts are inaccessible and can no longer be used for intended purpose, For example: beds that cannot be slept in; kitchens that cannot be used, refrigerators filled with gone off food.
3- The mess is so bad, that it can cause illness, distress, and impairment. For example: Does not allow visitors such as family and friends, or repair professionals, because they are to embarrassed about the state of the house; this can lead to arguments with members of the family about the mess in the house.
People with this condition will often feel a strong sense of emotional attachment towards their possessions. They need to feel in total control of their possessions (they cannot stand people touching or moving anything around), they will feel upset and anxious when having to make a decision about discarding things.
By acquiring and keeping possessions, the patient will feel as if they are in control of something in their lives, when they probably feel that they cannot control anything else. When seeing something that they want, they will feel like they cannot feel happy until they acquire that object.
There is no cure for compulsive hoarding, there is no treatment that will make the problem go away completely, and never come back. However some treatments may help people to manage the symptoms more effectively.
One of the known cases in the UK is the story of Richard Wallace, a 61 year old man that accumulated so much rubbish in his back garden that it could be seen from space, this aggravated his neighbours to the point where they felt that they had to contact the authorities to try and solve the problem. Each room of Richard Wallace’s house was filled to the ceiling with personal belongings, which he considered memorabilia. But when his local council served a notice on him to remove it, he took his case to the crown court, arguing that it was his ‘human right’ to hoard junk on his land, and won.
The following pictures the state of his home.
Obsessive-compulsive hoarding: Symptom severity and response to multimodal treatment. Saxena, Sanjaya; Maidment, Karron M.; Vapnik, Tanya; Golden, Gina; Rishwain, Tanya; Rosen, Richard M.; Tarlow, Gerald; Bystritsky, Alexander. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Vol 63(1), Jan 2002, 21-27.
Frost, R., & Gross, R. (1993). The hoarding of possessions. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 31, 367–382