My Hoarding Tendency: Symptom or Illness?

Every morning, on my way into the office building where I work, I pass a certain parking spot in the garage’s basement. The spot is the closest to the building’s entrance door, so the driver who daily claims the spot must be one of the first to arrive each morning. Every day, it is one of two vehicles: a mid-sized four-door car or a small pickup truck. But my suspicion is that the same person owns both of them.

Both vehicles are stuffed to the gills with, well, stuff. There is room for the driver in each car, but not for anyone else. Much of it looks like it might be trash to most people — including empty cups and shopping bags — yet I couldn’t help but notice some shoes and a large purse also filled with stuff.

I suspect the owner is a hoarder. And I’m starting to wonder if I might be one as well.

Let me say that my car looks nothing like those two I have seen in the parking garage. In fact, my SUV is pretty clean and has plenty of space for passengers as long as they don’t have to sit in the cargo area, which is packed with boxes and books and stuff. My house doesn’t look quite like the houses on the TV show about hoarding — not quite.

I don’t want to understate the severity of hoarding disorder, which is recognized as both a stand-alone mental illness and as a symptom of other mental illnesses. According to the staff of the Mayo Clinic, “It’s not clear what causes hoarding disorder. Genetics, brain chemistry and stressful life events are being studied as possible causes.”

As for treatment, that same report says: “Although the primary intervention for hoarding disorder is psychotherapy, research continues on the most effective ways to use medications in the treatment of hoarding disorder. The medications most commonly used are a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).”

At the website for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, hoarding is defined as the persistent difficulty to get rid of possessions regardless of the value. Different from collecting things, the volume of what a hoarder accumulates sets them apart from other people and usually has negative emotional, social, financial and physical effects for the hoarder and family members.

According to the AADA, someone who hoards may exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Inability to throw away possessions
  • Severe anxiety when attempting to discard items
  • Great difficulty categorizing or organizing possessions
  • Indecision about what to keep or where to put things
  • Distress, such as feeling overwhelmed or embarrassed by possessions
  • Suspicion of other people touching items
  • Obsessive thoughts and actions: fear of running out of an item or of needing it in the future; checking the trash for accidentally discarded objects
  • Functional impairments, including loss of living space, social isolation, family or marital discord, financial difficulties, health hazards

Perhaps the hoarding that I do is a symptom of my depression, which apparently is possible. I don’t necessarily keep trash or hoard food or animals, but I do tend to hold onto many things that logic tells me I don’t need and never will use.

My two-car garage is full to the point of not having much room to walk inside it; a lot of that “stuff” is a collection of boxes with old newspapers, books and used notebooks from the newspaper job I left 15 years ago. One of our  bedrooms essentially is a large closet. Our master bedroom is filled with books and clothes. In my basement, in addition to my baseball card collection, I have somewhere stored all the letters I received in eighth grade from my girlfriend at the time.

I’ve always called my piles of books and papers around the house “clutter.” Like many people, I link much of that stuff to sentiment. I don’t need it. I protest that I would discard some of it and sell the rest in a garage sale if I simply had the time. But the fact is, I’m bothered by the thought of releasing much of it.

I won’t say I’m concerned. My eyes are open a little wider, though, and I might need to discuss this with my therapist.

Posted in Confronting Depression Tagged with: , ,
4 comments on “My Hoarding Tendency: Symptom or Illness?
  1. Larry says:

    I believe many of us hold on to things we probably don’t need or think we might need sometime in the future so we hold on to them. All it took for me was to move into a smaller house where there was no way I could keep those items. It was very eye-opening as we made numerous trips to St. Vincent dePaul and Goodwill. What we have found in our new home is that if we don’t have a place for it, it has to go. There is a sense of freedom in that.

  2. Mary Peragine says:

    Thank you for this. I often feel like I am being sinful by throwing things in the garbage instead of donating for recycling.
    I have this ingrained feeling that our country is so wasteful which i know it is true. However it is not my fault and I am trying to reason with myself AND say a prayer for guidance of what should be kept and what should be donated/Asking god to find a good place for the book for instance that I dont need anymore and I cant think of anyone who can use it!

  3. Joyce says:

    The older we get, the more stuff piles up! But in recent years I have learned tricks to dealing with clutter. Some items need more than one pass to decide what to keep and what to let go of, especially if they are sentimental items, but every little helps. Some things can be labelled with a date or put in a sealed carton and if they are still unused in 6 months or a year, they can be donated or trashed. Much loved but unneeded items that are taking up space can be photographed before donating. My DH and I are slowly downsizing and it is a good feeling to be free of a lot of the stuff we couldn’t part with before. My rational is that if at our age we suddenly have to move to a smaller place, it is better to get rid of stuff now than to be faced with a vast amount of de-cluttering when we are perhaps too old to do it. Then of course there is the thought of leaving too much behind for family to deal with when we pass from this life!

  4. Janice says:

    Thank you Mike for being so open with this problem. I went to talks on hoarding. The connection between depression and hoarding was close to 90% of depressed people had hoarding problems and Visa Versa.

    It takes energy to de-clutter and depression robs us of energy. That is my problem.

    ADHD also factors in as we start things more than we finish. Putting away is an important step to every creative process but I always find some excuse not to. The creating is so much more exciting!

    Great discussions and blog…thank you and God bless.

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Mike & Donna Eisenbath

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