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What Is Hoarding | Definition, Diagnosis, & Treatment Options

What Is Hoarding & How Is It Different From Collecting?

It is usually painfully obvious when someone is hoarding, but a hoarder shouldn’t be confused with a collector or ordinary pack rat.
A collector usually selects a single item or theme of items that they search for and collect responsibly.  Collectors enjoy organizing, displaying, and adding to their collection when their budget allows.  And while hoarders often select items to collect in the same way, their collections usually lack any kind of organization, takes over normal living space, and may lead to the incurring of substantial debt.  Hoarders also lack the pride that most collectors take in their collections, feeling shame and embarrassment instead.

Also, unlike a pack-rat who normally stores items neatly and out of the way to maintain sentimental or appreciating value, a hoarder is much more likely to pile and clutter items wherever they can.

How Hoarding Is Normally Diagnosed

Hoarding is usually diagnosed as someone who:

  • Avoids Throwing Things Away – This may include old newspapers or magazines, empty bags or boxes, food, and clothing that no longer have any value or use.
  •  Experiences moderate to severe anxiety when throwing something away.
  • Cannot keep items or possessions organized.
  • Has an intense feeling of embarrassment about their hoarded items.
  • Experiences a sense of paranoia about others touching their possessions.
  • Fears running out of something or not having something later when they need it.
  • Obsessively checks the garbage in case something was accidently thrown out.

Other factors that might be considered when diagnosing hoarding disorder include:

  • Depression
  •  Social Isolation
  •  Family Problems
  • Marital Problems
  • Financial Difficulty
  • Health Hazards in the Home
  •  Loss of Living Space (i.e. no place to sleep or eat inside the home)

Of course, you should always consult with a medical or psychiatric professional to diagnose hoarding disorder.

Treatment Of Hoarding Disorder

As hoarders often feel a sense of paranoia and compulsion when it comes to their possessions, as well as defensive and embarrassed about their condition, trying to help can be difficult.  Treatment of a hoarding disorder is a slow and delicate process, and it is best to seek professional help from a licensed psychiatrist to avoid exacerbating the situation.

One of the major points of hoarding disorder treatment is removing the clutter from the hoarder’s home.  However, this can be a hazardous process as hoarders often collect food and other items that might pose a risk if handled improperly.

In Arizona, contact BioTeamAZ – the state’s most trusted clean-up and decontamination service – if you need professional help in removing the clutter and getting on with your life.

What Is A Hoarder | Hoarding Disorder & Those Effected By It

The Victims Of Hoarding Disorder

A hoarder can be quickly overwhelmed by the obsessive-compulsive desire to find, buy, or otherwise acquire worthless items.  Though these items can quite literally be anything, some of the most common include:

  •  Old Magazines & Newspapers
  • Empty Bags, Boxes, & Bottles
  • Clothes That No Longer Fit
  • Pens, Pencils, & Other Writing Utensils
  • Food & Beverage Items

Some less common but more extreme examples of hoarded items are:

  • Live Animals (e.g. Cats)
  • Hair
  • Fingernail Clippings
  • Used Bandages
  •  Dirty Diapers

However, unlike serious collectors, hoarders do not generally take pride in the items they collect, which have no appreciable value and normally no sentimental value.  In fact, they may even feel ashamed and embarrassed for their possessions.

There are several other health, psychological, and social problems that may arise from hoarding.

Problems That Hoarders May Face

Hoarding is considered a form of obsessive compulsive disorder, and as such it comes with many issues that other OCD sufferers commonly face:

  • Depression – Due to the compulsive need to collect clutter, hoarders may suffer from feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, and other distresses associated with severe depression.
  • Isolation – Hoarders do not generally invite friends and family into their homes because of the embarrassment associated with their hoarded items, leading to moderate to complete social isolation.
  • Financial Distress – Sometimes a hoarder may collect items that they must buy, which can quickly lead to a loss of income, debt, and even bankruptcy.
  • Marital & Family Problems – The hoarder is not the only victim that suffers from the disorder.  Compulsive hoarding also puts a large strain on relationships with spouses, children, parents, and others.
  • Paranoia – Many hoarders feel defensive and paranoid about their hoarded items, which may manifest in feelings of suspicion toward those around them or hours spent looking through garbage to ensure nothing was mistakenly thrown out.
  • Loss of Living Space – Hoarders often fill their entire home with the objects in their collection, making it impossible to sleep in a bed, prepare and eat meals, sit in chairs or on sofas, or use showers, bathtubs, or toilets.
  • Health Risks – Risk of fire, trip-and-falls, vermin infestation, or disease are common among hoarders.
  • Eviction – Hoarders face the very real possibility of losing their home or apartment from landlord eviction or lawful intervention.

The dangers and problems that a hoarder may face are as unique as the items they may collect.  While it is possible that some hoarders may face different problems than what is listed above, these are by far the most common.

Helping A Hoarder Get Back To Normal

Hoarding is a serious psychiatric condition, and a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist can offer therapy and medications that might help.  Family members can also help by supporting their loved one as they go through the difficult changes associated with ridding themselves of hoarding behavior.

One crucial step in the therapy of a hoarder is to remove the clutter they have collected and return their home to a normal, healthy living space.  This should only be attempted when the hoarder themselves feels comfortable and the hoarder’s therapist feels that it is a good time.
But, keep in mind that a hoarder’s collection may pose serious health hazards, and you should contact a professional contamination disposal service in order to ensure proper, safe, and adequate decontamination of the hoarder’s home.

In the Phoenix area, contact BioTeamAZ, the area’s experts in hazardous clean-up, for peace of mind at the most competitive price.

What Causes Hoarding | Risk Factors & Triggers For Hoarding

Risk Factors & Warning Signs Of Hoarding

While hoarding can occur in anyone without regard for race, age, sex, or economic status hundreds of cases of hoarding have been documented and compared to create a list of risk factors and warning signs for compulsive hoarding behavior:

  • Family History – Genetics may play a role in hoarding disorder as it has been shown in many cases that sufferers have had one or more close relatives that suffered from the condition.  It is still unclear exactly how strong this genetic bond may be or if it is a learned trait rather than a hereditary one.
  • Early Warning Signs – Hoarding behavior often begins at adolescence and becomes more severe with age.  Children and teens who are apt to collect broken objects, trash, or other items that may be considered junk is a strong warning that the individual may suffer from a more extreme condition later in life.
  • Alcohol Dependence – About half of hoarding disorder sufferers have a history of dependence or abuse of alcoholic substances.  It is not clear whether hoarding is a product of alcoholism itself or simply an indicator of a strongly addictive personality that is usually present in hoarders.
  • Social Anxiety – Social anxiety and isolation can be both a warning sign of hoarding disorder and a result of the condition.  It has been shown in several cases that hoarders have isolated themselves socially before the actual onset of the condition.
  • Clutter Collecting – An obvious warning sign of hoarding is the collection of clutter and trash.  Hoarders often have an inability to organize their homes and discard trash, leading to large masses of clutter that can later cover every square foot of their living space.

Another possible warning sign of hoarding is paranoia about personal possessions.  Hoarders often feel uneasy, defensive, or even angry when someone else handles their property.

Triggers That May Cause Hoarding

Triggers for the onset of hoarding vary greatly and sometimes are not present at all.  Hoarding behavior can begin without any notable event having caused it, making it difficult to create a conclusive theory as to what causes hoarding.

However, it has been documented that excessive stress and emotional trauma is often present shortly before the onset of the disorder.  Highly depressed or anxious individuals may be at higher risk to begin compulsively hoarding.

Another commonality in hoarders are highly stressful life events, such as a divorce, death of a family member, or suffering from the destruction of a natural disaster.  Events such as these are often very difficult to cope with, and it may be difficult to decide what to do with leftover items and be feel insecure about throwing things away.

Stopping Compulsive Hoarding Behavior

Though hoarding can be a very mysterious condition it is often treatable through psychiatric programs, antidepressant medicines, and family or peer support.  These treatments can often be intense and difficult as hoarders are usually very intent on keeping their collections intact.  However, with the right program and support network most hoarders respond very well to professional treatment and return to more normal life.

One of the keys to ensuring the success of any hoarding treatment program is to get rid of the hoarded items and clean the hoarder’s home.  This can often be a traumatic experience for a hoarder, but the sudden return to reality is often highly effective.

However, health hazards such as rotting food, animal or vermin infestation, and other concerns should be noted.  It may require the help of a professional sanitation crew to ensure the area is cleaned and sanitized safely and adequately.

BioTeamAZ is Arizona’s #1 hazardous waste control and sanitation service.  Contact us today, we’re always happy to help.

Signs Of Hoarding Disorder | Hoarder Risk Factors & Warning Signs

Compulsive Hoarding Risk Factors

Hoarding is an indiscriminate disorder that can befall anyone without regard for gender, age, or social status.  While the cause of hoarding is still undetermined, experts have compiled a list of common factors that seem to target those at risk for the hoarding.  These include:

  • Age – Hoarding behavior often begins in the early teen years and worsens with age.  Item saving at this age may include broken CDs, outdated school-work, etc.
  • Genetics – Many psychologists have noted that a family history of hoarding is often present in hoarders, though it is not certain whether this is an inherited disorder or a trait that has been learned.
  • History of Addiction – Hoarding may be considered an addiction in and of itself, meaning that those who have a history of alcohol or other substance dependency is a possible risk factor.
  • Social Isolation – Hoarders often find a sense of comfort in their disorder, and the loneliness of social isolation may increase the risk of hoarding disorder.
  • Stressful Events – The death of a loved one, divorce, and disaster is a noteworthy trigger for hoarding disorder, especially if such an event leaves an individual with more possessions than they know what to do with.

Other risk factors, such as emotional trauma, depression, and anxiety are usually applied on an individual basis by a licensed medical or mental health professional.

Signs Of Hoarding At An Early Age

Hoarding is a complex behavior that has unfortunately not seen a lot of research as of yet.  However, hoarding can begin at a very early age with young children collecting items that they have no real use, such as:

  • Broken Toys
  • Kitchen Utensils
  • Empty Candy Wrappers
  •  Empty Juice & Beverage Containers
  • Papers

Children at this age may even lack some of the more intricate emotional states of adult hoarders, such as anxiety and depression.  Collection and item accumulation may be the only signs of hoarding in an otherwise happy and healthy child.

Signs Of Hoarding In Adulthood

Adult signs of hoarding are much broader and more involved.  In addition to the accumulation of “junk,” an adult hoarder may:

  • Suffer from depression or anxiety (especially social anxiety).
  • Have poor decision-making skills.
  • Be unable to organize.
  • Show a certain level of paranoia that they may be discarding something useful or valuable.
  • Take great comfort in have more pets than local legal ordinances allow.
  • Procrastinate or be indecisive (especially about housekeeping).
  •  Feel ashamed or embarrassed about the state of their home.
  • Become defensive or aggressive when someone touches their possessions.
  • Be withdrawn from friends and family.

A hoarder’s home is often highly cluttered and may include trash, rotting food, offensive odors, and a general lack of sanitation and hygiene.

Help With Hoarding

Even if the signs of hoarding are obvious many hoarders don’t realize they have a problem.  This is generally because they feel that their clutter may be valuable and/or useful in the future.  However, help does exist in the way of professional therapy, support group programs, and medications.  If you or a loved one is suffering from risk factors or signs of hoarding, seek consultation with a licensed mental health professional in your area.

Also keep in mind that cleaning up the clutter, especially in extreme cases, may require the help of a professional sanitation service.  Mold, pet waste, pest infestation and a variety of other factors may carry a significant health risk and often need professional treatment to ensure that all hazards are safely removed.

BioTeamAZ, Arizona’s leading sanitation crew, is available to help you get back to a healthy, happy, more sanitary life.  Contact us today.

Levels Of Hoarding | Hoarding Disorder Severity Ranking

The 5 Levels Of Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding severity varies greatly between individuals with the disorder.  Specific criteria has been outlined to categorize five level of hoarding with level one being least severe and level 5 being the most.  The criteria for each level is as follows:

Level 1:

  • All stairs and doorways are easily accessible.
  • Clutter is minimal.
  • Household pets are healthy and sanitary.
  •  No more than 1-3 pet accidents can be seen.
  • Rodent and other pests may be minimally present.
  • House has a safe level of sanitation and healthy housekeeping habits are observed.
  •  House is free of offensive odors.

Level 2:

  • One exit is blocked.
  • One major heating, cooling, or ventilation device has not worked for six months or more.
  • Two or more rooms appear to be cluttered.
  •  Function of living room and bedrooms is seemingly undefined.
  • Pathways throughout the home seem to be slightly narrow.
  • Light to moderate evidence of pest and rodents.
  • Light pet waste and dander present.
  • Three or more leavings in litter boxes.
  • Limited care evident for fish, reptiles, or birds.
  •  Light offensive odors.
  • Limited housekeeping practices present (overflowing garbage, light to moderate mildew, moderately soiled food contact surfaces).

Level 3:

  • Visible clutter on porches or yards, including indoor items like appliances and furniture.
  • Two non-working appliances or more in the home.
  •  Excessive use of electrical extension cords.
  • Light structural damage to home occurring in the past 6 months.
  •  More pets than local limits allow (not including new puppy or kitten litters).
  • Visibly neglected fish, reptile, or bird habitats.
  • Audible evidence of rodents.
  • Light flea infestations and moderate spider-webs evident.
  •  Clutter that causes narrow passages in hall and stairways.
  • One bedroom or bathroom is unusable due to clutter or trash.
  •  Small amounts of hazardous spills and substances.
  • Excessive dust, dirty bedding, and no evidence of recent sweeping or vacuuming.
  • Heavily soiled food prep areas with offensive-smelling, overflowing garbage cans.
  • More than 3 full hampers per bedroom of dirty laundry.
  •  Strong offensive odors throughout the home.

Level 4:

  • Structural damage to home more than 6 months old.
  • Mold and mildew strongly evident throughout home.
  •  Inappropriate appliance usage.
  • Dangerous use of electrical wires.
  • Damage to at least 2 walls.
  • Inadequate weather protection.
  • Evidence of sewer backup.
  •  More than 4 pets in excess of local limits.
  • 3 or more instances of old pet waste.
  • Pet dander covering furniture.
  • Excessive spider, flea, and rodent infestation.
  • Bats or raccoons in residence in attic or basement area.
  • Unusable bedrooms or bathrooms.
  • Hazardous material stored inside the home.
  • Flammable materials packed in living area or an attached garage.
  • Rotten or moldy food on counter tops.
  • One to fifteen old canned goods with obvious buckled surface.
  • Kitchen lacks clean utensils and dishes.
  • Beds have no covering and/or evidence of lice.

Level Five:

  • Obvious damage to structure of home.
  • Disconnected or non-working utilities (water, electric, sewer, etc.).
  •  Standing water inside the home.
  • Fire and other hazards beyond legal ordinances.
  • Pets that are dangerous to occupant or visitors.
  • Visible rodents.
  • Infestation of fleas, spiders, cockroaches, mosquitoes, or other insects.
  • Regional animals such as squirrels, raccoons, or opossums in the home.
  • Kitchen, bathrooms, and bedrooms are unusable because of excessive clutter.
  •  Occupant of home living or sleeping outside.
  • Evidence of human feces inside home.
  • Rotting food throughout house.
  • More than 15 old canned goods with damaged surfaces.

The above criteria is normally applied on a case-by-case basis, and not all items on the list may be applied when diagnosing the level of hoarding.

Removing Hazardous Waste

When the level of rotting food, pet or human waste, mold, or hazardous chemicals becomes too excessive, it becomes difficult and dangerous to properly clean without professionally trained sanitation personnel.

There are many sanitation and hazardous waste removal services available throughout the United States, such as BioTeamAZ, Arizona’s leading source of hoarding clean-up.  Contact BioTeamAZ today if you are in need of professional help.

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