Compulsive Hoarding and the Family
Compulsive Hoarding has been defined as:
- The acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions.
- Clutter that precludes activities for which living spaces were designed.
- Significant distress and impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding.
Research has found that hoarding may be a result of problems with a person’s information-processing or as a result of other mental illness or trauma. It may also be a coping mechanism or a way to self-soothe. It may be similar to motivations for substance abuse or other addictions like gambling or eating disorders.
How does hoarding affect family members and friends?
Since studies have shown that hoarding has been rated as a serious threat to people living with or near the hoarder, it is clear that the impact of hoarding behavior on families reaches far beyond the hoarder’s household. Estimates show that compulsive hoarding directly affects as much as 5% of the population, and this number grows exponentially when the effect on family members is considered.
In 2007, one research team found that if a person had lived in a severely cluttered environment as a child, it is likely that this person experienced increased levels of childhood distress, including less happiness, more difficulty making friends, reduced social contact in the home, increased intra-familial strain, and embarrassment about the condition of the home. Family members also talked about feelings of rejection toward their loved one who hoards.
I have conducted my own research study at the University of Minnesota on how compulsive hoarding affects family members of persons who hoard, and I found that family members most times do not understand the disorder, which can lead to negative experiences, perceptions, emotions, and interactions within the family. These family members also experience a lot of feelings of loss associated with their loved one’s hoarding, including losses of relationships, a sense of “home”, and family traditions. These losses can be very difficult for everyone in the family.
Given how much hoarding behavior can impact a family, it makes sense that family therapy would be a good choice for helping treat hoarding behavior and the wounds it has left within family members.