Is hoarding unhealthy?

Is being a hoarder a mental health issue? There’s some evidence from popular TV programmes that capitalise on the shock factor that the nation is in need of a good clean up.

Poor standards of hygiene and cleanliness often run in parallel with excess clutter and hoarding.

What defines a hoarder anyway? It’s difficult to be prescriptive but it might apply where an individual retains space for items that would be considered of no use to anyone else.

That might sound familiar to those of you whose husbands have decades of musty football programmes cluttering up their bookshelves or mountains of unplayed vinyl records that haven’t seen a turntable for forty years.

But when is there really a problem? In the worst cases, food debris and packets mount up, leaving surfaces and floors uncleaned and unhygienic. Perhaps we all hoard to some extent, but when it stops an individual functioning in their own home, rendering a kitchen unfit for purpose or a sitting room intolerable to sit in, that’s when there’s an issue.

The fact is the worst hoarders have developed an unhealthy connection with the items that they are holding on to, and would suffer some psychological discomfort if they were taken away. The hoarder and the items they collect become inextricably linked to the extent that the hoarder’s identity is partly entwined with their belongings.

The problem of hoarding is apparently getting worse. The results of a survey completed by a UK charity suggested that of 40 home improvement agencies who responded, 87pc have dealt with people they describe as compulsive hoarders. A specialist support group in East London goes as far as estimating that as much as 10pc of the entire population are hoarders.

In the worst cases, hoarding can lead to eviction and homelessness. Even where government agencies order homes to be cleared up, re-cluttering remains a high risk for about a third.

It is also rather comic that there may be a significant number of properties that have been abandoned by hoarders because they no longer have room to live in.

Published by DCO. © Copyright 2009, 2010 DCO.