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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Hoarding as a Mental Health Disorder

Published November 9, 2011 4:12 PM by Barbara Mercer

Have you caught an episode of Hoarders lately? While I try to avoid reality television, something about this show draws me in. It’s akin to entering a strange land where customs and communication are unlike anything I’ve encountered. Ultimately, each episode I watch leaves me with an overwhelming sense of sadness. And a sudden urge to rid my house of any unnecessary items.

While this show and others have increased public awareness about hoarding, the November 2011 issue Harvard Women’s Health Watch reports mental health professionals are also taking another look at the issue. Hoarding was once considered a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Today it’s being revisited as its own disorder with specific criteria for diagnosis. Still, the International OCD Foundation has a page dedicated to hoarding.

I admit it – I can be a bit obsessive at times, and like to hold on to items with sentimental significance. Does this mean I have hoarding tendencies?

I located a Hoarding Severity Scale and assessed my need to stockpile. It seems I could get rid of a few things that I’m convinced I might need at some point in the future, but my daily life and activities are unaffected by clutter. Apparently, just because my closets could use some work doesn’t mean I’m heading toward disaster.
 
Are you concerned your collecting of items might be approaching “hoarding” status? In her blog post, Compulsive Hoarding and 6 Tips to Help, Therese J. Borchard recounts offered six anti-clutter strategies for compulsive hoarders from Gerald Nestadt, MD, MPH, director of the Johns Hopkins Medicine Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Program:

1. Make immediate decisions about mail and newspapers.Go through mail and newspapers on the day you receive them and throw away unwanted materials immediately. Don’t leave anything to be decided on later.

2. Think twice about what you allow into your home. Wait a couple of days after seeing a new item before you buy it. And when you do purchase something new, discard another item you own to make room for it.

3. Set aside 15 minutes a day to declutter. Start small rather than tackling the entire, overwhelming house at once. If you start to feel anxious, take a break and do some deep-breathing or relaxation exercises.

4. Dispose of anything you have not used in a year. That means old clothes, broken items, and craft projects you’ll never finish. Remind yourself that many items are easily replaceable if you need them later.

5. Follow the OHIO rule: Only Handle It Once.If you pick something up, make a decision then and there about it, and either put it where it belongs or discard it. Don’t fall into the trap of moving things from one pile to another, again and again.

6. Ask for help if you can’t do it on your own.If you feel these strategies are impossible to carry out and you cannot cope with the problem on your own, seek out a mental health professional.

Do you have additional tips to share, either from your own experience or experience helping someone who was struggling with this issue?

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