According to psychologists, hoarding, without exception, is always accompanied by varying levels of anxiety and sometimes develops alongside other mental illnesses such as dementia and schizophrenia. Recent neuroimaging reveals peculiar commonalities among hoarders including severe emotional attachment to inanimate objects and extreme anxiety when making decisions. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hope-relationships/201409/the-psychology-behind-hoarding)
Hoarding is a complex emotional that feeds on itself. Hoarding both relieves anxiety and produces it. The more hoarders accumulate, the more insulated they feel from the world and its dangers. And the more they accumulate, the more isolated they become from the world, including family and friends. Even the thought of discarding or cleaning out hoarded items produces extreme feelings of panic and discomfort. It is estimated that 3%-5% of Americans suffer from the condition, which is now listed as a distinct mental disorder.
Here is a list of generally recognized symptoms of hoarding from the Mayo Clinic. Researchers, doctors and psychologists continue to search for effective treatments for hoarding.
- Cluttered living spaces
- Inability to discard items
- Keeping stacks of newspapers, magazines, or junk mail
- Moving items from one pile to another without discarding anything
- Acquiring unneeded or seemingly useless items, including trash
- Difficulty managing daily activities, procrastinating and trouble making decisions
- Difficulty organizing items
- Excessive attachment to possessions and discomfort letting others touch or borrow possessions
- Limited or no social interactions
The Pack Rat
The pack rat loves to collect things. He/she saves a lot of items that most would not keep based on an emotional attachment or the idea that you may want to re-use in the future and do not want to spend the money again. Overcoming pack rat tendencies take serious work because of the justification that you’re keeping something for future use.
Signs that you are a Pack Rat:
- Keeping old magazines or newspapers
- Keeping clothes you don’t wear anymore
- Storing broken electronics and appliances
- Every room becomes storage
- Your car becomes storage
- Your daily life is impacted
Clutter Control for the Pack Rat
While hoarding is considered a mental health disorder and requires professional intervention, help for a Pack Rat to take control of his/her clutter is not nearly as difficult.
- Start Small: Decluttering a house is hard. Decluttering room by room is easier. Decluttering a small area, like organizing your desk, is even easier. Decluttering an even smaller space, like organizing your junk drawer, is even better for those that get overwhelmed easily. Divide the space you need to declutter and work on it – then move to the next.
- Track Progress: Take pictures of your space before you start. When you finish decluttering a section, snap another picture of that area. When you compare the pictures, you’ll be able to see the decluttering progress that you’ve made.
- Toss the Obvious Trash First: The first thing you need to do when you declutter is take a trash bag and get rid of the obvious trash. Junk mail, packaging, last week’s grocery list – trash them. Result – You will instantly see some progress in your decluttering project.
Bottom Line: You didn’t become a Pack Rat overnight. It was a habit that you built up over time. So don’t fret about trying to change yourself in a day or week. Work on finding and changing the little habits that all contribute to your pack rat nature. If you work on changing your habits one at a time, your progress will be more sustainable.
Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, by Gail Steketee and Randy Frost
Declutter: How to Organize your Life, Maximize your Productivity, and Enjoy a Clutter-Free Life, by Jennifer S. Edwards
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondō