It’s normal to have possessions you love and to keep photos, magazine articles, and mementos of special occasions – but if your “stuff” is taking over your home, making you feel anxious, or causing difficulties in your relationships, you may have what’s called a hoarding disorder. Hoarding disorder is a much more common problem than many people realize, affecting between two and five percent of the population.
Interestingly, brain scans of people with hoarding disorder show abnormalities in the region of the brain that is associated with decision-making. For some people with hoarding disorder, the root of the behavior lies in the pleasure they get from acquiring new possessions, particularly at bargain prices (for instance, at garage sales or discount stores). For others, it is the anxiety that comes with disposing of anything they own that is most problematic.
Are you a Hoarder?
If the following statements describe you, it’s quite likely that you have hoarding disorder:
- You find it difficult to give away, throw away, or sell anything you own, regardless of whether or not it has any actual value
- Your possessions are taking over your home or certain parts of it to the extent that the space is unusable for anything else
- You feel uncomfortable letting anyone see your accumulation of possessions because of what they’ll say
- Your intense attachment to your possessions is creating problems – emotional, physical, financial, professional, or legal – in your life
In its most recent revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, hoarding disorders has been identified as a distinct problem with specific recommended treatments.
Many people with hoarding disorder also have obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and/or depression, issues which also must be addressed for treatment to be successful.
Adaptive to Change
Coming to terms with the fact that you have a hoarding disorder is uncomfortable and the knowledge that you will need to make some difficult changes in your behavior and your life may be anxiety-provoking. It’s understandable: Change always brings anxiety.
You can learn to ride the anxiety, like a wave that eventually spills over and subsides into peaceful waters. The first step is learning to identify and label anxiety as it happens – the next step is to find healthful ways to calm yourself down – the third step (which takes time) is to grow comfortable with the fact that anxiety is and always will be a fact of life, but it does not have to take over your life.
Today’s the day to take the first step – start a journal.
Buy yourself a notebook or set aside a folder on your computer where you can record your thoughts, feelings, and the events of the day. This is an important part of the path to self-awareness.
For your journal, choose a format that is easy for you to work with and make a commitment to spending 15 minutes/day (early morning, midday, or evening – the choice is yours) thinking about the things that happened, your feelings, and how you responded. You may even want to take brief notes throughout the day.
At the end of the week, look back and see what transpired. When did you feel good? When did you feel lousy? What obstacles did you encounter? Do you like the way you handled them? Are there things you wish you had done differently?
Set a couple of goals for next week… and stick with it! Over time you will see that there are certain patterns to your actions and reactions – and you’ll have ideas on how to move forward in a more productive way. The important thing is to make a commitment to journal regularly on your progress.