Hoarding is a recognised disorder that refers to the act of acquiring an excessive number of items (many of which might be of no monetary value) and storing them in a ‘chaotic’ manner, resulting in unmanageable amounts of clutter building up in one’s home.
Far more than just being ‘untidy’ or ‘disorganised’, hoarding effects one’s day to day life by, for example, preventing them from being able to access rooms in their house (a practical concern) which can limit mobility and can be detrimental to personal hygiene as well as safety, and, by having an adverse effect on relationships and one’s mental health (an emotional concern) which can cause isolation and loneliness. Mental health problems associated with hoarding include (but are not limited to); depression, psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, and OCD.
The difficulty with hoarders is that their disorder can be very challenging to treat, as they might not realise that they have a problem in the first instance. Even people who do realise that they have a problem are faced with difficulties, as they might feel humiliated and/or guilty about their behaviour, feelings that might make them reluctant to seek help.
Hoarding is also a very challenging disorder due to the difficult emotions that attempting to ‘stray away’ from the illness can bring up. Such overwhelming feelings often prevent people from sorting through their clutter- clutter that they often form strong emotional attachments to- thus allowing their disorder to worsen/the clutter to build up. They might try to make excuses for their hoarding with phrases such as, ‘I may need this someday.’
Whilst anyone can develop hoarding disorder, there are certain factors that increase the likelihood of someone being diagnosed with it. Such factors include people who; live alone, are unmarried, have had a deprived childhood (either materially or emotionally), and have a family history of hoarding/have grown up in a cluttered home and never learned to sort items ‘normally.’
Signs of a hoarding disorder to look out for in yourself and others include:
- Keeping/collecting items of no monetary value (e.g., junk mail and carrier bags, broken items to repair and reuse.)
- Finding it difficult to organise items.
- Finding decision-making an extremely difficult process to undertake.
- Struggling to manage everyday tasks.
- Becoming extremely (and unreasonably) attached to items.
- Having poor relationships with family and/or friends.
Although living with hoarding disorder can be extremely challenging for people living with the condition, it is important to note that help is out there for all those affected, usually in the form of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy.)
CBT, in the context of hoarding disorder, involves the sufferer receiving professional help to address the root cause that led to the build-up of clutter, therefore helping them to understand why they find it so difficult to throw things away.
Throughout CBT, a registered therapist will support and encourage the sufferer to take responsibility for clearing the clutter from their home, with taking responsibility for their own clutter being extremely important. Despite the temptation that family/friends might have to take charge of the situation and sort the clutter out themselves, doing so would undoubtedly cause the clutter to build up again, hence why it is paramount that the root cause of the disorder is identified, and the hoarder is supported to take personal responsibility for it.
Compulsive Decluttering/Obsessive Compulsive Spartanism
The opposite of hoarding, though equally as debilitating, is compulsive decluttering/obsessive compulsive spartanism. Although not recognised as a disorder, but more of a ‘syndrome’, in the same way that hoarding is so much more than just being ‘disorganised’, compulsive decluttering is, likewise, so much more than just being ‘organised.’ But what does it actually mean?
The lesser-known condition of ‘Obsessive Compulsive Spartanism’ refers to the obsessive desire/compulsion to throw away belongings. People with the condition describe how the condition causes them to struggle with the prospect of having lots, or any, ‘stuff.’ The problem with this is that, in their refusal to own ‘stuff’ (because it feels like its ‘suffocating’, ’trapping’, and ‘overwhelming’ them), people with OCS tend to discard of useful things- things that serve a purpose, or at least, will serve a purpose in the future- therefore resulting in them needing to go out and buy the items they have just got rid of again in the future. This can pose serious financial problems as they are essentially throwing their money away.
Despite people with OCS usually being very much aware that they have taken their decluttering to the extreme, they are often left feeling as though it is impossible to free themselves from the cycle they have found themselves caught up in. To make matters worse, the fact that Obsessive Compulsive Spartanism is such a ‘low-profile’ condition means that, people living with it who desperately need help and support are overlooked. Why? Because, unlike hoarding disorder whereby people might feel like they are being ‘looked down upon’ for the amount of clutter they are living with, OCS might actually make people experience a sense of achievement, as minimalism has very much become a trend today, which sees everyone wanting a ‘clutter-free home.’ Their condition might therefore be dismissed as not being a ‘legitimate’ problem, thus preventing them from receiving the professional help and support they need to combat the, often, life debilitating condition.
To give some insight into what makes compulsive decluttering a serious condition as opposed to something to be celebrated, its important that we take some time to consider the symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Spartanism…
OCS tends to cause those with the condition to experience intense stress when they are in the presence of, what they deem to be, ‘unnecessary’ items. Having lots of possessions can cause people to feel extremely uncomfortable, restless, ‘on edge’, and irritable, with feelings of extreme anxiety also often being very much present.
The restlessness that clutter can cause people with Obsessive Compulsive Spartanism to feel can lead to them feeling a need to make ‘tidying’ their priority above everything else. This might, for example, see them getting home from work and, before they even take their coat off, start tidying things away because they feel unable to relax until they have done so.
Like hoarding, there are many potential causes of Obsessive Compulsive Spartanism. According to psychologists, it can come from the pressure of perfectionism and the subsequent feelings of guilt that might arise if the high expectations of oneself fail to be met. To combat such negative feelings, people might take their decluttering to the extreme in search of a sense of control that they feel they are lacking.
It should be noted that the probability of someone developing Obsessive Compulsive Spartanism is significantly heightened if they have a pre-existing mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety, and/or OCD.
The difficulty with treating Obsessive Compulsive Spartanism is that, because decluttering has very much become a ‘trend’ today, it can be difficult to determine whether someone is doing it as a compulsion, or whether they simply appreciate a tidy home. There are, however, certain ‘tell tale signs’ that suggest that they are doing it for the former reason- because it is a compulsion.
Generally speaking, if their urge to declutter is having an adverse effect on their day-to-day life, it can be considered a problem- something that needs addressing. For example, if the thought of clutter consumes their brain, giving them little headspace to think about anything else, or, if they feel guilty about the number of possessions they own- these are both signs that the root cause of their obsession needs professionally addressing, perhaps by a cognitive behavioral therapist.
To conclude, I want to reiterate that, despite hoarding and its opposing condition- Obsessive Compulsive Spartanism- being complex issues that can be difficult to diagnose and treat, there is always help and support out there for them.
If you’re struggling with any of the things I have discussed today, you can contact ‘SHOUT’, a free and confidential 24/7 mental health support helpline, by texting 85258.