Are you a hoarder or a collector?

How much clutter are you comfortable living with? Some people have a very high threshold or tolerance when it comes to stacks of papers, boxes, clothes, etc. Some collect larger items like cars, engines, or technology hardware (computer towers, screens, etc.) Holding on to excessive clutter is known as hoarding.

Ask yourself if you are hanging on to significant amounts of junk mail, catalogs, unfinished crafts or sewing projects, clothes you’ll wear again someday, or broken things you plan to fix someday. Is your garage or storage unit filled with items you’re not sure how to dispose of like old mattresses, appliances, tables, sofas, or other home furnishings? Do you consider any of these items heirlooms? Do you keep “adopting” pets? If so, you may be a hoarder.

Why do people with hoarding disorder typically save items? The answers seem understandable yet may show symptoms of emotional dependency or insecurity:

  • They believe these items are unique or will be needed at some point in the future.
  • The items have important emotional significance — serving as a reminder of happier times or representing beloved people or pets.
  • They feel safer when surrounded by the things they save.
  • They don’t want to waste anything.

Risk factors associated with hoarding.  According to Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinc.org/diseases-conditions/hoarding-disorder/ , symptoms of this disorder can be seen as early as 11-15 years old and tends to get worse with age. Risk factors include:

  • Personality. Many people who have hoarding disorder have a temperament that includes indecisiveness.
  • Family history. There is a strong association between having a family member who has hoarding disorder and having the disorder yourself.
  • Stressful life events. Some people develop hoarding disorder after experiencing a stressful life event that they had difficulty coping with, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, eviction or losing possessions in a fire.

Complications resulting from hoarding. Health and safety may be at risk for the person or family who hoards, including:

  • Increased risk of falls
  • Injury or being trapped by shifting or falling items
  • Family conflicts
  • Loneliness and social isolation
  • Unsanitary conditions that pose a risk to health
  • A fire hazard
  • Poor work performance
  • Legal issues, such as eviction

Some hoarders may also be depressed, experience anxiety disorders, or have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

So what is the difference between collectors and hoarders? In contrast to the descriptors above, collectors generally find beauty and value in one thing or group of things; vintage dolls, ancient coins, bow ties, fine art, etc. Also, hobbies or collections do not typically interfere with your family’s life. If there is still a generally organized feel inside your home and all key rooms in the house are still useable (kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms, living room), you are most likely not a hoarder.

Don’t worry if you have a few stacks of clutter around the house. This is not the same as hoarding and collectors do not have anything to worry about unless you are taking food out of your family’s mouths or borrowing from retirement to fund your fetish.

Kathleen Riggs is the Utah State University Extension Professor for Iron County. Questions or comments may be sent to kathleen.riggs@usu.edu or call 435-586-8132.

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