I know that we toss around the term “hoarder” a lot. It’s become very casual over the years, and people are quick to accuse someone of being a hoarder. But the truth is that it is a real disorder. It can exist on its own, or it can be a symptom of a more serious condition such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Hoarding is a compulsion and when we start to understand compulsions at large, it becomes easy to see how and why there are so many types. Binge eating is a compulsion. Sex with strangers is a compulsion. Drinking is a compulsion. Gambling is a compulsion. Though we may see how any of the above-listed activities are appealing during times of stress, and don’t see how hoarding fits into that category, it’s just important to see that, when someone is mentally or emotionally unwell, that can manifest itself in many ways. If we can accept the more obvious ones like substance abuse and compulsive spending, then we can begin to perhaps accept the less mainstream ones, like hoarding or cutting one’s own hair. Hoarding can happen for many reasons. And, like the other compulsions listed, it can ultimately rule and destroy your life. Just like booze. Just like drugs. Just like sex with strangers. These all have long-term side effects. But because hoarding doesn’t seem as immediately dangerous as, say, binge drinking, we can ignore the early signs. Don’t. Here are signs you or a loved one are becoming a hoarder.
Justifying odd purchases
There are reasons to buy anything. You could come up with a justification to purchase literally every object presented to you. Your mind works that way: looking for reasons to buy something, rather than not to buy something. When you go into any type of store, and you look at items, your mind buzzes with odd scenarios in which you may need each one.
Buying things for which there is no space
You don’t have space for anything else. You know that you don’t. You will find something, you will think of the area in which you’d store it, you’ll realize that’s full, but you’ll buy it anyway thinking, “I’ll make space for it somewhere.” You even buy storage for things you don’t need, to make the space.
Panicking at the thought of tossing something
The idea of getting rid of something causes you true anxiety. In fact, friends or loved ones have suggested you get rid of something, and you reacted very poorly. You screamed at them. You asked them to leave. You grabbed the item out of their hand.
You want to reuse everything
Your reason for not throwing something out is often that it can be reused. It is good to find smart ways to reuse things, so as to not be wasteful, but there comes a point of repurposing when you just have hundreds of items lying around the house, taking up space all day, in case you need them just one day.
Some repurposing ideas are unrealistic
Some of the scenarios in which you’d repurpose something are unrealistic. You may have many things that are just for the case of an apocalypse. It’s certainly good to have an emergency kit in case you lose water or power for a couple of days after an earthquake, but you may have enough items to live a full life in a post-apocalyptic world.
You don’t even know what you have
At this point, you can look at several areas of your home – in closets, in the garage, in drawers – and say that you don’t even know what is in there. There is just so much stuff, at one point, you stopped being able to see through the mangled mess. You don’t know what’s in the center or at the back.
You’re hiding items
You’ve started to hide the things you bring home from your partner. Or you’ve lied about throwing something out, and simply hidden it. If there is any shame around having something, then it’s likely because you don’t need it. But if you’re willing to go so far as to hide it, that also means there is terror around releasing it.
You have clothes for a life you don’t live
You have entire wardrobes for entire lives that you don’t live. A boating wardrobe. A country club wardrobe. A camping wardrobe. A gala wardrobe. You don’t go on boats. You’re not a member of a country club. You don’t camp. You don’t attend galas. But “What if…” is what you always say.
You have items for a hobby you don’t do
You have belongings that are a part of a hobby you don’t do. All of the knitting needles and yarn one person might need in a lifetime. Bowling balls and bowling shoes and bowling gloves. You purchase these things just in case you one day get into these activities.
You recently lost family
It’s common to hoard the belongings of loved ones. If you lose relatives, and they leave many of their items, or their entire estate to you, selling or donating their items can feel like a form of abandoning them. So you may just take on all the items a loved one collected in her lifetime and…keep them.
You’re struggling with depression
If you are struggling with something else right now, such as depression or anxiety, and you feel some hoarding tendencies may be cropping up, there is a good chance your inclination is correct. Hoarding is often a symptom of a deeper issue.
Always going for the bulk sale
If there is a sale on bulk items, you buy them. A hundred cans of beans. Twenty tins of tennis balls. Twelve giant bags of dog food but you don’t have a dog. Fifty gallons of Gatorade. You always go for the bulk sale, but you don’t have the home to support it.
You’ve taken things out of the trash
After much argument and tension, you agreed to throw something away. But then, you took it out of the trash. You’ve taken things out of the dumpster. You’ve chased the garbage truck to get something out. You may have even visited a thrift store, where you donated something, to get it back.
Navigating your home is hard
It’s very difficult to navigate your home. Drawers are so full that they won’t open. Pathways are so cluttered that you can’t walk around. Closets are so overstuffed that you have to be very careful when opening them. If someone else tries to walk around your home, you have to give plenty of instructions.
You can’t have people over
You’ve reached a point when you can’t have anybody over. Your home is officially too cluttered. You fear that they would judge you. More than that, you fear that they would try to change you. Your home feels like a secret place now, and you don’t want anyone to know what goes on inside of it.