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Why Do People Hoard?

Letters spelling 'hoarding' among a pile of paper

In recent times, an increased number of people realize the importance of harmonized living space and its impact on overall well-being and contented life. Yet to some degree, many of us are guilty of accumulating an excessive number of items we rarely use or do not need at all. We can all benefit from an effective action plan to keep our homes tidy and clean. Alas, for some people letting go of clutter is not an option. Hoarding has been first recognized as a psychological phenomenon by clinical researchers since at least the 1980s. However, it was only given its own diagnostic criteria in 2013. The underlying cause and effect of hoarding is a complex issue. Let's delve a bit deeper into why people hoard and attempt to demystify this behavioral pattern that adversely affects peoples' lives.

The basics of hoarding

In simple terms, people with hoarding disorder stockpile items in excess and have perpetual difficulty getting rid of clutter, regardless of its actual value. In the most severe cases, people accumulate so much stuff that their living space cannot be used for the intended purposes, which impedes their normal everyday functioning. Hoarding can pose significant health and safety hazards, and it seriously diminishes the quality of life. Popular TV shows such as ''Hoarders'' have presented us with shocking images of clutter strewn all over people's houses. While these have a sensationalistic character and focus on the extreme, people suffer the consequences of the syndrome even in less acute cases. A clean house feels good, and an organized space decreases stress and anxiety. Clutter has precisely the opposite effect, which makes us wonder why people bear the burden of junk and aimlessly hoard?

What triggers hoarding?

A lot of things are yet to be understood about hoarding disorder. There are numerous theories about what causes the syndrome, ranging from hereditary factors, traumatic life events, mental conditions such as depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, uncontrollable buying habits, and inability to pass up free items or bargains. Different people have individual explanations about their own experiences, and it is likely a combination of things. While no one knows the exact cause, the fact remains that hoarding causes a lot of distress for people affected by it.

Typically, hoarders have a deep emotional connection to the items they pile and serious difficulties parting with them. Although most of these items are worthless in reality, they are perceived as valuable, in one way or another. The loved ones of the person that hoards will have remarks that the stuff they keep is not worthwhile, making the hoarder feel embarrassed of their possessions. They do not deem hoarding an issue but think that the real problem is that their loved ones have a problem with it. Hence, hoarding happens in private, and it has a significant adverse effect on interpersonal relationships, often resulting in social isolation and family discords. Evidently, it is a complex phenomenon, so let's look into the possible hoarding causes from up-close.

The link between sentimental clutter and hoarding

Hoarding ranges from mild to severe. The majority of us are, in fact, pretty good at recognizing when clutter gets overboard and effectively deal with it without experiencing significant distress. But let's be honest and admit that certain items have special meaning to us but no real purpose or function in our daily lives. These are otherwise known as ''sentimental clutter,'' and we are more likely to let them pile up. It is pretty simple to find the right way to keep and organize memorabilia without sacrificing the important stuff with a bit of mindful consideration. An emotional attachment to items due to sentimental values associated with them is a prominent underlying cause of why people hoard. Family heirlooms, gifts from loved ones, and the like are some of the stuff people feel uncomfortable getting rid of. If these feelings remain unchecked, the ''gift guilt'' will bury you under a pile of items you feel compelled to save!

Family history and learned habits

Clinical researches suggest that the genetic component plays a significant role in peoples' hoarding tendencies. In line with this theory, it is frequent for people who hoard to have an immediate family member with the same condition. Despite the intricacies of the hereditary facet, shared environment and learned habits are more of a holistic approach to the puzzling question of why people hoard. The way we organize and manage our homes and possessions is a learned habit and usually one we absorb from our parents or caregivers. Besides, the compulsion for hoarding stuff is often associated with childhood experiences causing emotional distress. For instance, living in poverty and being deprived of basic needs, including adequate warmth and care, reportedly create feelings of emptiness. As a growing individual, the hoarder tries to fill in that emptiness with an excessive amount of stuff.

Excessive worrying and perfectionism

Various sources claim that hoarding is an addition to certain types of depression, fear and anxiety, and it develops as a coping mechanism in response to those. Many hoarders cannot cope or process everything that is going on in their daily lives. Consequently, they feel anxious, overwhelmed and ashamed, while the piles of clutter grow around them. These people are often perfectionists, dreading to make a wrong decision. Ultimately, the stress of trying to decide what to do with each item becomes just too much, so it is easier to keep everything.

Why do we need organized space for a happy life?

Tidiness and organization support well-being and health. Whether we realize it on a conscious level or not, we crave cleanliness and harmony in our homes to mirror the organization within our bodies. Namely, the human body comprises thousands of integrated biological and neurological systems and cells that are neatly organized and operate on scheduled circadian rhythms. The lack of organization and regulation in this context translates into illness. This graphic example illustrates the importance of an organized home and its impact on our overall happiness and well-being.

Thus, the answer to why people hoard is neither simple nor straightforward. It is more of a compound of individual elements, but most of all, undealt emotions. As above, so bellow, that is how the maxim goes. Next time we moan about having to clean our homes, let us remember these things.


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