A favourite book of fairy tales from childhood, a pair of jeans from college days, a gift from a dear one, all deserve a special place in the closet. With time, these simple reminders from the past become a special, albeit forgotten, part of life.
But what if the tendency to store such things outgrows the storage space at home? Imagine the clutter it creates. That is not all. In severe cases, it can cause major hindrances to living conditions. American Psychiatric Association defines this tendency as ‘hoarding’. People who have persistent difficulty in clearing unnecessary possessions that cause extreme clutter are called ‘hoarders’.
However, defining hoarding is not that simple, especially when it is often confused with collecting. Collectors have an agenda behind their collection and are quite organised. They often display their collectables with great pride. Hoarders, on the other hand, preserve random stuff and store them haphazardly.
I once asked a friend why she collects old clothes. She told me she uses them as dusters. Clearly, my friend was aware of her habit and she had a valid use for it too. However, that is not the case with hoarders. Firstly, habitual hoarders need not have any specific use for the things they hoard. Secondly, according to experts, they struggle with anxiety, aggression, and restlessness when they cannot collect things for some reason or the other.
According to the International OCD Foundation, one in every 50 people struggles with severe hoarding disorder. Studies suggest that physical clutter could be an indication of the hoarder’s chaotic state of mind. In fact, some experts believe that hoarding is an offshoot of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), although, it is subject to medical investigations.
No wonder the consequences of hoarding have become a topic of interest for shows on television. An Oprah Winfrey Show episode aired the story of a mother who had been hoarding clutter for 10 years. Interestingly, the woman was unaware of when and how the habit started. In fact, she was defensive when confronted about it. It was a classic case of hoarding, with typical symptoms—unawareness of the habit and self-denial.
In 2016, Huffington Post published a story of a 14-year old boy Josh, who slept in a small corner of the house, because his mother could not spare his bedroom from turning into her hoarding zone. Needless to say, such chronic hoarding habits not only adversely affect a person’s living space but also those sharing it.
Unfortunately, such instances are growing at an alarming rate. According to a study conducted jointly by the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Mental Health, hoarding causes a substantial health risk. In six percent of the reported cases, it led to death from a house fire.
It need not be so severe if the hoarder makes conscious efforts to let go of the chronic habit. Hoarding tendencies can be effectively addressed by seeking therapy. However, nothing can be achieved without the individual’s willingness to accept that they have a problem.
For those who are aware of their hoarding tendency or know someone who hoards, here are some approaches that could help curb the habit:
Determine what you require
Studies suggest that most hoarders are shopaholics who buy things they may never use. Unwilling to dispose of them, they preserve these possessions for ‘later use’, adding to the clutter in their living space. It is very helpful to ask yourself: Why do I want it? Where will I keep it? When will I use it? Answering these questions can help nip hoarding in the bud.
Mind the limited space
Imagine entering a dirty, dingy home after a long day at work. Let us say you manage to find your way in, tripping here and there. But imagine finding something from the closet that has tonnes of clothes you do not need. It is like trying to find a needle in a haystack! Being mindful of the limited space around you can curtail the number of things you store in the first place.
De-clutter to avoid accidents
Fire control departments across the world advise a clutter-free environment. This serves two purposes. One, you can run to safety without tripping and losing precious seconds; two, the scope of fire spreading in the house is reduced by significant proportions. Putting your own and your loved ones’ safety first can keep your mind and home more organised.
Make room for others
Everyone deserves a clean and healthy environment. Imagine inviting friends or relatives for dinner and not being able to make a place for them to sit. They may not say much, but the clutter could really disturb them. They may even hesitate to visit you at your home the next time. Which would you rather have around you? Heaps of unusable things or your loved ones? Respecting others’ comfort can help you keep your space free from unnecessary objects.
Being mindful of your shopping habits, limited living space, and safety and comfort of your loved ones can go a long way in curtailing hoarding tendency. It might not cure the problem, but it is a good place to start.