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Mental health centre

Clutter vs. hoarding

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What is hoarding?

Hoarding is a step beyond clutter. In 2013, it was officially recognised as a specific mental disorder. Before then some experts had regarded it as related to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

"Keeping every birthday card you ever received does not make you a hoarder. Having 50 bottles of nail polish does not make you a hoarder. Being unable to locate the car keys or your passport does not make you a hoarder," says Cassie Tillett, who runs Working Order and is a founder member of the Association of Professional De-clutters and Organisers (APDO).

Cassie says: "We’re talking about rooms that cannot be used for their intended purpose: sleeping in an armchair because the bed is buried under belongings; an inability to take a bath because it’s full of possessions; weaving your way through narrow corridors of boxes, or unable to enter a room at all."

Hoarders have the inability to throw anything away even items of little or no value.

Help for hoarders

Heather Matuozzo is part of the APDO’s hoarding advisory team. She helps people with hoarding disorder and also provides training for organisations like social services and health authorities.

"A catalyst often prompts people to seek help, maybe an eviction order, a fall or if the hospital won’t let them return home," says Heather. "I talk to the person as much as I can, I make suggestions and try to make a small start."

She says hoarders sometimes don’t realise the items they won’t throw away are of no use. "One man I helped had a food cupboard and the tins in there were light, they’d been in there for so long the cans had rusted, air had got in and the food had turned to dust."

Hoarding can have ramifications for health and safety.

"Following a number of tragic incidents, the Chief Fire Officers' Association established a working group to look specifically at the risks associated with premises where hoarding may be taking place," says CFOA National Lead for Mental Health, Ian Bitcon.

"There are clear additional risks; the quantity of combustible items may be much greater, escape routes and access for fire fighters may be greatly reduced or even non-existent and inappropriate cooking or lighting methods may greatly increase the likelihood of a fire in the first place," says Ian.

The need for therapy

"Work with a chronic hoarder should not include de-cluttering without the assistance of therapy," says Cassie. "Tidying up will not solve a problem unless the underlying causes are identified and addressed."

Ask your GP about help on offer. It may be the person would benefit from seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist. It may be that hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy or neuro-linguistic programming would be helpful.

"It’s important to understand the condition," says Heather. "These aren’t lazy, dirty people who can’t be bothered. There’s no need to be judgemental and want to punish - you need to be understanding and willing to help."

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Reviewed on November 16, 2015

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