Why do hoarders never believe they are hoarding?

4 signs you are an extreme collector

Hoarding comes in different shapes and sizes. Most people collect something. Some fill their closets with super 3-for-1 deals from discounters. Others pack their kitchen cabinets with great bargains they got with grocery store coupons. Some people's medicine chests may be overflowing with free samples from bandaids to face creams. Many people collect items that seem of little value to anyone but themselves, from used concert or movie tickets to books and toys that they loved as children. You may not think about these behaviors until you decide it is time to clean up your supplies. Then you will find it surprisingly difficult to throw away those precious memorabilia or sales clothes that you have never worn.

For the majority of people, these forms of gathering don't really affect their ability to function on a day-to-day basis. You may joke with your friends about "hoarding" souvenir pens, but your hobby most likely does not qualify you for the hoarding disorder. According to British researchers Ashley Nordsletten and Mataix-Cols (2012) collects up to a third of adults. In contrast, 2-5% of the adult population would meet the criteria for a diagnosis of hydrangea.

TheDiagnostic and statistics manualPublished by the American Psychiatric Association is currently under revision and will be referred to as DSM-5 when it is published in 2013. There are six criteria for what she will call hoarding disorder, two of which exclude symptoms due to other conditions (a medical illness or obsessions in OCD). As with other disorders in the DSM, a third criterion dictates that hoarding must cause clinically significant stress or endanger the health of the person or the health of others. In the case of hoarding, this means that the individual experiences hoarding as the so-called "ego dystonic", which means that the hoarder perceives the behavior as disturbing even if he or she does not feel able to stop it.

Hoarding disorder will be a new category in DSM-5 as it, the authors explain, "will raise public awareness, improve case identification, and stimulate both research and the development of specific treatments for hoarding disorder". Although hoarding used to be a subcategory of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it would now be a disorder on its own as the DSM-5 authors believe that it occurs frequently in the absence of OCD.

The new criteria for the hoarding disorder in DSM-5 then include:

1. Persistent difficulties in disposing of or separating personal possessions regardless of their real value.

2. This difficulty is due to a strong urge to save items and / or problems associated with throwing them away.

3. The symptoms lead to extreme disorder in the household or in the workplace, which makes them inanimate or unusable.

4. The individual experiences clinically significant stress or impairment in social, professional or other important functional areas, including maintaining a safe home or work environment.

5. The hoarding is not due to any other disease, such as dementia.

6. The hoarding is not due to any other mental disorder, such as major depressive disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

There are no clear diagnostic criteria for collecting. However, Nordsletter and Mataix-Cols (a member of the DSM-5 Task Force) evaluated the research on collecting to determine how far collecting overlaps with hoarding. Nordsletter and Mataix-Cols rated each of the DSM-5 criteria based on the known characteristics of collectors. Four of them turned out to be particularly relevant:

Criterion # 1: Difficulty discarding and value of objects

Collectors seem to be more flexible in the way they make and store their valuables than hoarders. For example, you can start collecting one type of book as children and switch to different types of book as you mature (e.g., action books as children to mystery books as adults). Collecting seems to have its own natural life cycle, with maybe 70% of kids having some sort of collection but only 23% of kids in their twenties. By the age of 60, it is estimated that only 13-15% of the population have a collection. The only problem with this mindset is that as people get older they may be less likely to collect new items, but they may find it very difficult to part with their possessions.

Collectors also trade or sell all or part of their collection without experiencing the mental agony of a hamster. It's not clear how many collectors actually sell or reduce their collections over time, but the more likely they do, the less likely they are real hoarders.

In terms of the value of their collection, hoarding is defined as the difficulty in separating oneself from items regardless of their worth. Hoarders can really collect valuable items, but they can also - literally - collect rubbish. Collectors can also collect items of little value, such as: B. mass-produced toys that only increase in value when they are no longer available (think old Barbie dolls or Happy Meals from the 1980s). Since it is not possible to define "valuable", the important criterion seems to be that the individual has problems separating himself from objects, regardless of their actual value.

Overall, the study's authors are of the opinion that some collectors might actually meet this first criterion for hoarding, especially if they are in distress not only when discarding, but also when discarding view discard their collections. Without pathologizing the average hobbyist or Antiques roadshow Fan, it seems certain that the collecting to hoarding continuum tends to be more towards hoarding when this criterion of difficulty in discarding objects regardless of their value comes into play. For now, you can stick with your vintage collection of Lionel trains.

Criterion No. 2: Strong urge to retain and distress when casting

As much as they value their collections, people who are more collectors than hoarders don't seem to worry about losing their items or a strong urge to keep them.

Taking into account what they would like to do with their collections after their deaths could be one way of defining distress about abandoning a collection, and there is some evidence of this. In one study, 90% of adults aged 65 and over stated that they would pass their collections on to their heirs or sell or donate the objects. If you've ever been on the receiving end of a collection like this, you can remember handing in the entire set without hesitation and with great relief. This, in turn, speaks to the fact that a collection is not inherently so valuable to anyone but the collector.

The authors concluded that there is no real way from the literature to know if it is tantamount to adding a collection to your will when showing pathological distress when giving it up in your lifetime. However, if collectors state in their wills what to do with the collection, there is a chance that this will be reflected in the appendix that is beginning to border on hoarding.

Criterion 3: accumulation and disorder

A survey of the number of possessions collectors typically have found that more than half have fewer than 50 items in their collections, but 28% have 100 or more. The greatest collectors were men between the ages of 18 and 25. While this doesn't seem like a large percentage, Northern Latvians and Mataix-Cols pointed out that collectors often need to occupy a significant amount of their living space to display these collections. They found that one collector only had 10 items in their collection, but they were tractors.

Despite the invasion of their habitat by their collections, non-hoarders show an important difference from their hoarding counterparts. These are the collectors do Display your possessions instead of having them pile up all over houses or apartments. Hoarders may have houses so full of their possessions that they can barely move. Additionally, the items being hoarded (which can range from moldy food to old newspapers) are scattered and arranged in no displayable order like a collection. Not all collectors have nice and neat arrangements of their valuable items, but they do so much more often than those with the hydrangea disorder.

Criterion No. 4: Clinically significant stress or impairment

As for all conditions assessed in the DSM, hoarding must meet the criterion that a person's daily life is significantly stressed. This means hoarders struggle to get on with their jobs, maintain normal family ties, and live in the community. The distress they experience also creates feelings of shame or regret and they wish they could stop hoarding (i.e., "ego dystonic").

Unlike hoarders, average collectors have strong family relationships, interact in a social context with other collectors, and have no experience of guilt or regret. They participate in an active community of collectors, develop friendships within the community, and can even share their interests with family members.

General conclusions

When examining the overlap between hoarding and collecting, Nordsletten and Mataix-Cols come to the conclusion that in the worst case a collector can meet criteria 1 and 2 (as well as having other medical or mental illnesses). However, the average forager does not meet criteria 3 or 4. The average forager also shows no patterns of excessive coverage or lack of insight into their condition, behaviors that are assessed during a DSM assessment.

It is important to note, however, that there is a subset of Extreme Collectors who meet all of the criteria for hoarding but have not been diagnosed as there is a risk of defining normal behavior as abnormal. These avid collectors may go undetected in the collector population as they appear to behave just like the average collector. The main differences between them and average collectors seem to be in criteria 3 and 4.

Extreme collectors are often involved in more than one type of collecting behavior. Their living spaces are increasingly being overrun by their objects. Although their collections are neat unlike hoarders, they live in disarray when they get big enough (or their home is too small). Extreme collectors may also invest a lot of money and effort in their collecting behavior, which can negatively impact their work and family life. They can also feel guilty and socially isolated as they disappear into their collections more and more. Some of these people may have another mental disorder or illness (such as dementia) that is leading to or making their symptoms worse. They do not enjoy collecting and are not part of the collecting community.

Just because you enjoy collecting, and may even have a few supplies of items in your home or office that mean more to you than others, shouldn't be cause for alarm. If you or someone you know is showing these extreme collective symbols (# 3 and # 4), it may be time to seek help. Fortunately, even cases of severe hoarding respond to psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy specifically aimed at this condition.

To the contrary extreme, you should not conclude that a hoarding disorder diagnosis is appropriate because you or a loved one has one (or more) collections. All psychiatric diagnoses must meet strict criteria before they can be applied. As long as you can enjoy your hobby, not let it run your life, change your collection preferences over time, and share your interests with others (including family), there is every reason to keep it as an important part of your hobby for life to come Years.

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Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne 2012


Nordsletten, A. E. & Mataix-Cols, D. (2012). Hoarding versus collecting: where does the pathology differ from the game?Clinical Psychology Review32(3), 165-1. 176. doi: 10.1016 / j.cpr.2011.12.003