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This article is from the WebMD Feature Archive

Harmless collector or compulsive hoarder?

Three questions to help you decide if you've crossed the line into hoarding, and how treatment can help you declutter.
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3. Is your "collecting" of objects interfering with everyday functioning or your relationships, causing your loved ones distress?

Conditions can become so bad, Saxena says, that hoarders can't ask people round for a social visit - the house is simply too cluttered and they're embarrassed.

Or they may not feel able to get workmen in, he says. "I've known people whose central heating isn’t working, and they are living in the cold", he says, because there is too much junk in front of the boiler to allow the technician access.

Spouses and partners of hoarders, and other family members can get understandably distressed - and become puzzled as to why their loved one can't comply with their request to clear up and throw out.

Your results

If you answered yes to all three of these questions, you meet the three criteria experts use to describe compulsive hoarding, say Frost and Saxena.

Take heart: you’re not alone, and experts say treatment is effective with continued effort.

Hoarding: the statistics

Because many people who have a hoarding problem live alone - and don't entertain - it's difficult to estimate how many are affected, Frost and Saxena say.

 "What we find is anytime we advertise [for subjects for a hoarding study], people come out of the woodwork", he says.

“More women than men tend to come in for treatment”, Saxena says, “But it's not clear if women are more often affected or more likely to seek help".

Hoarding: the back story

After years of study Frost and Saxena have some surprising discoveries about hoarders. Experts used to think hoarding was simply a subtype of obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, but now most say it's not that simple.

Hoarding is also seen in those with generalised anxiety disorder, or GAD, and it can be related to social phobia, Frost says. "When people hoard, they have to learn how to hide their environment", he says. "They worry about criticisms people will make. If you do that for a number of years, you might become socially phobic".

"We're beginning to think hoarding is a separate problem related to OCD but also to GAD and social phobia", Frost says.

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