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Friday, December 3, 2010

Hoarder or Collector?

An interesting article by Deborah M. Todd in yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on determining the difference between hoarding and collecting. Here's an excerpt:

Robert Hudak, a psychiatrist with UPMC's Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic who works with patients who hoard, said an official clinical definition for the disorder is not yet included in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But, he said, because research into the phenomenon has surged in the past two decades, he believes the next edition will define the disorder.

Criteria of a hoarder
The criteria that the American Psychiatric Association has proposed for defining hoarder in its diagnostic manual include these descriptions:
• "difficulty discarding or parting with possessions regardless of the value others attribute to the possessions,"
• "a strong urge to save items and stress associated with discarding items,"
• "symptoms so severe an accumulation of a large number of possessions fill up and clutter active living areas of the home so that their intended use is no longer possible,"
• "clinically significant distress or impairment in social functioning" due to the symptoms.

Dr. Hudak said hoarding has been considered a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder in the past, but many researchers today believe it is a separate illness.

He said he has never treated a case of animal hoarding but said severe cases  ... reflect a thought process that clearly separates hoarders from those who are merely disorganized or house massive collections.

"I think either you're a hoarder or you're not," he said. "Someone who's just a little sloppy and accumulates a lot of stuff on their desks and just doesn't get around to throwing things away, I don't think they're at any risk for becoming a hoarder. Hoarding is a specific illness."

But Vickie Dellaquila, owner of Organization Rules in McCandless and also a member of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization, said she has seen collectors with some degree of disorganization end up in hoarding situations following a trauma in their lives. One female client who had problems with compulsive shopping ended up collecting everything from beauty and household products to junk mail following the death of a loved one.

"She had already had tendencies of chronic disorganization, but [the death] triggered more hoarding when she couldn't deal with the loss. She's hoarding as a mechanism to cope," Ms. Dellaquila said.

One major difference between collectors who have hoarding tendencies and collectors who may have too much of an item on their hands is that the collectors without a true hoarding problem realize that the overabundance takes away from their ability to track and display their goods or interferes with their personal space, she said. ...

"We're not going to diagnose hoarding based on the amount of stuff that someone has per se. We diagnose hoarding with the person's unrealistic attachment to the possessions," (Hudak) said.

Mrs. McKee said that misusing the label of hoarder can be dangerous to a hidden but substantial population that all too easily will retreat to further isolation -- and away from help -- if the stigma surrounding the disorder is heightened.

"It's not OK to talk about hoarders like you would talk about everybody else because the cashier in line could be a hoarder. The person next to you could be a hoarder," she said.

"I hope that people will be more respectful of the disorder as they find it afflicts so many."

More on hoarding:

The Psychology Behind Hoarding

Self-Help Books for Hoarders and Their Families

When Clutter is Unhealthy

Three Steps to Decluttering