We all accumulate belongings over the years. But when is it too much?
According to Michael Tompkins, PhD, author of Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Clutter, Hoarding and Compulsive Acquiring, your family member may be in the early stages of hoarding if he or she
- keeps parts of the home off limits and the curtains drawn;
- talks with you endlessly about the stuff. You’ve stated your concerns, offered help, even gotten angry, and yet there’s no action;
- gets overwhelmed decluttering even a small area. It becomes a major job that can take more than a few hours or days;
- often fails to pay bills. Not necessarily for lack of money, but because the bills can’t be located. Or the stamps. Or the checkbook;
- is in debt because of compulsive shopping;
- has trouble finding things and resists storing belongings out of sight;
- puts off home repairs. He or she may not recognize the need. Or may not want to let a repairperson see the house;
- insists on meeting you at your home. This avoids embarrassment or confrontation about the clutter;
- rents one or more storage units. There is a seemingly unquenchable need for more storage space;
- will not let you touch or borrow his or her possessions. Possessions are guarded fiercely and may be treated as if they are “friends.”
If these symptoms look familiar, your family member may well have a hoarding disorder. He or she literally lacks the ability to eliminate clutter. Suggestions for next steps:
- Don’t rush to action. Force will only alienate your loved one. By maintaining your relationship, however, you may be able to help manage the problem.
- Learn more. The most extensive studies on hoarding are done by scientists researching obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Consider professional help. Especially if there are safety risks. Consider a geriatric care manager or in extreme cases, Adult Protective Services.