Awareness of hoarding has continued to grow since the American Psychiatric Association designated the disorder as a distinct mental illness in 2013. Most recently, Lifetime Television debuted Hoarders: Family Secrets, a new series featuring Matt Paxton and individuals afflicted with the hoarding disorder.
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Hoarders are defined as people who "excessively save items that others may view as worthless and have persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions, leading to clutter that disrupts their ability to use their living or work spaces," according to the American Psychiatric Association website.
The website continues, "Hoarding is not the same as collecting; collectors look for specific items, such as model cars or stamps, and may organize or display them. People with hoarding disorder often save random items and store them haphazardly."
Hoarding disorder occurs in an estimated 2 to 5 percent of the population, the American Psychiatric Association website says. Paxton's aunt and grandmother had the disorder. "Everybody has somebody (who is a hoarder)," he said.
You can find a list of local and national resources for hoarding disorder in an accompanying story on this blog.
Hoarding first was recognized as a mental disorder about five years ago. "We like to think that ("Hoarders") helped bring awareness," Paxton said. The official designation as a mental disorder means that more resources, such as education and health insurance reimbursement for therapy, are available for sufferers.
"The only way to fix hoarding is through therapy," Paxton said.
Usually an episode of grief or trauma triggers hoarding, even if the sad events happened decades ago, he said. Hoarders hang onto possessions out of a need for love and compassion. The sad irony is that the self-destructive behavior pushes loved ones away.
There are other factors at work as well. Some hoarders grew up with a "waste not, want not" ethic. Hoarders in their 30s and 40s tend to collect new items purchased on home shopping networks or the Internet. Whether it's newspapers, craft supplies, purses or shoes, the piles have purpose and give the hoarder something to focus on.
Paxton met an extreme coupon clipper whose hobby allowed her to buy discounted items for her family, but her kids couldn't sleep in their bedrooms because the rooms were full of the stuff Mom bought with coupons. "The items became more important than the actual relationship," Paxton said.
Frustrated and angry family members want to swoop in with a Dumpster and a shovel, but that's exactly the wrong approach, Paxton said. Hoarders often become angry at well-meaning efforts to fix the problem.
Appeals to logic don't work, such as pointing out that the mess is unhealthy, grandchildren can't have sleepovers in the affected home, workmen can't make repairs and emergency workers couldn't get in case of fire. "The bad word there is logic. Hoarding is not a logical situation," Paxton said.
"The hoarder needs to be in control," he said. "The hoarder will fight hard for what's left."
The right approach is backing off and bringing in a professional cleaner who specializes in working with hoarders. A professional doesn't have the emotional ties and will be able with gain the hoarder's trust and cooperation.
Paxton became involved with the original show "Hoarders" when an independent production company asked him to become its host. After production ended, he stayed in touch with many of the crew members. About four months ago, he got a text from the production company: "We're on Lifetime. Are you in?" He texted back yes. "We started filming two weeks later," he said.
Does the show exploit troubled people? Paxton asks himself that question, too. He finds the answer in the thousands of emails he gets from hoarders and hoarders' families saying that they or a loved one joined a support group or met with a therapist after seeing the show.
The families profiled on "Hoarders" and "Hoarders" Family Secrets" receive on-going therapy, provided by the show. "That's what makes it OK," Paxton said.
At ServiceMaster DCS, we are here in Chicago Land to assist you in your work with hoarders and their families. Please contact us to receive more details on how we can help.