How is Hoarding Diagnosed?

  • A room in a home is full of old clothes, boxes, and other items.
First, let’s talk about what hoarding is not.

It’s not your friend who collects Bobbleheads, even though they occupy all of the shelves in her living room. And it’s not your other friend who seems to have three old pizza boxes and a dozen empty soda cans on his coffee table 99 percent of the time.

Hoarding is usually diagnosed later in life, but can start as early as the teen years. At that young age, it doesn’t look the same as it does later in life. Rather, the seeds of hoarding are manifested as a trouble parting with possessions, even though they may have little value.

So what exactly is hoarding disorder?

It’s a serious mental illness—not a clutter problem—that affects 2 to 5 percent of the population. People who suffer from it have difficulty parting with items because of a perceived need to save them and the distress they feel when they get rid of something.

The result is a large number of items that make daily living difficult—and sometimes dangerous. For example, a furnace may break and never be repaired because the resident is reluctant to let a service person in the house. Showers may be filled with old clothes, while dirty dishes and food waste pile up in the kitchen, attracting rodents. You get the picture. Luckily, hoarding can be an easy disorder to identify if you know what you’re looking for.

Symptoms of Hoarding

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is published by the American Psychiatric Association. According to the manual, hoarding can be diagnosed if the following criteria are met:

• Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value.
• A perceived need to save items and the distress associated with discarding them.
• The accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromises their intended use. If living areas are uncluttered, it is only because of the interventions of third parties (eg. family members, cleaners, or the authorities).
• Clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining an environment safe for oneself or others).
• The hoarding is not attributable to another medical condition.
• The hoarding is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder (eg. obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder, decreased energy in major depressive disorder, etc).

Treatment for Hoarding

Cleaning up someone’s space doesn’t solve anything. True healing, however, is possible and begins with therapy.

Renting a self-storage unit isn’t a solution, either. But it can play an important role in the healing process.

Here’s just one of many examples. A woman was helping her mother, who had been diagnosed with hoarding disorder. As the mother was working through her issues in therapy, the daughter was trying to make the home safe again. To do so, she had to remove more than 500 collectible dolls, which were stacked in just about every square foot of the home.

Self-storage bought the daughter time to strategically sell the dolls for their true value—and gave her mother time to begin therapy and come to terms with the “loss” of most of her dolls.

At StorageMart, you can rent a unit as small as 25 square feet or so—or up to the size of a garage. Our self-storage units are affordable, can be rented on a month-by-month basis, and are always clean and well lit. Need more info? Check out our storage unit guide or rent a unit online today.

About Sarah Little

Sarah Little, Marketing Director at StorageMart, holds a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration. She serves as Vice President on the Board of Directors for the Central Missouri Foster Care & Adoption Association, a non-profit group dedicated to improving the lives of children.

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