With the popularity of television shows focusing on extreme cases, hoarding became a household word more than a decade ago.
A&E Network’s “Hoarders” did more than just poke fun at the disorder. It also showed the very real struggles of people to make sense of their life and their surroundings by collecting valuables, semi-valuables, and other things that no one would consider to be of any practical value.
As this episode from Hoarders season 4 shows, cleaning up requires levels of assistance, including counseling, family support, funding, and often a team of people to help clean.
And even then, sometimes the cleaning is not enough.
So how do you know if your family member is a hoarder, and if they need help?
Some mental health groups identify five levels of hoarding, which is recognized as a mental disorder that might require psychological assistance.
Your cousin’s really large beer bottle collection is not, by itself, evidence of hoarding. Not even in its disorganized state, some in boxes, and some on shelves and even more under the bed.
However, if your cousin is compulsively adding to it, without regard for duplication or storage, this may be a concern.
More advanced hoarders seem to have trouble cleaning up after themselves. The entire house might be a disorganized mess, and instead of one or two collections, they seem to collect everything.
Other, more advanced signs of hoarding include having multiple animals and animal waste that has not been cleaned up. These animals might be cats and dogs or they might even be unusual animals. In some cases they are animals like rats and mice that are not commonly understood to be pets at all.
Still worse, some hoarders have abandoned all efforts to clean up even in their food preparation areas. Dirty dishes are stacked and ignored. Sinks might even be clogged and unusable.
Sometimes in these extreme cases public health officials are forced to act. As we have learned, public health officials have broad latitude to compel individuals to live in a safe and healthy way, even in their own homes.
Obviously if you have a loved one who is hoarding you will first want to try and intervene yourself. Offer to help clean up. Visit regularly to establish a normal routine. This can help them feel more secure so they don’t have to cling to objects for security.
If this fails, your loved one might need additional psychological assistance with a therapist.
And when it comes time to clean, you are likely going to need professional help.