Health Issues

What’s the Difference between Hoarding and Collecting?

posted: 05/03/12
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More About HoardingAbout Hoarding: Buried Alive, Hoarding Diagnosis and Treatment

Say you have a collection of dolls that takes up the spare bedroom in your home. Your husband thinks you're an obsessive collector, or hoarder. But are you really? The question could be flipped the other way and focus instead on your husband or boyfriend's attraction to woodworking tools, wood, screws and all the other items that make it impossible to park a car in the garage you share. Both of these examples represent collecting that's gone beyond what might be considered convenient or even "normal", but it probably doesn't constitute obsessive hoarding, a mental health condition that currently falls into a sub-category of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Compulsive hoarding is a special condition that carries with it extreme symptoms that usually limit a person's ability to function successfully in life. Compulsive hoarding sufferers are often isolated, sometimes embarrassed by their habits and almost always very distressed when confronted with the prospect of discarding the objects that they have become obsessed with.

Where a hobby of collecting shoes may cost you more money than you want to spend, or a passion for acquiring old computer games may stretch your already limited financial resources and wall space, obsessive hoarding usually involves objects that have little if any value. Newspapers, old mail circulars and discarded food packaging are commonly hoarded items, but hoarders can fixate on almost anything from plastic containers to, in extreme cases, items like hair, fingernail clippings and even feces.

Professionals look for these three things when evaluating compulsive hoarders:

An inability to discard objects coupled with anxiety if a hoarder does try to throw things away. Impaired ability to function due to hoarding. A cluttered living space that has become so filled with objects that it can't be used effectively.

Although hoarding can be a challenging condition to treat, there are both drug and behavioral therapies that have shown success, usually when undertaken together.

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