Do You Hoard? You'd Be Surprised How Many Do!

I could hardly believe it myself.  But a new story in The New York Times today says the number of people who hoard in this country is between 3 and 5%. Now, I'm not talking about people like my husband, who saves every newspaper because he's going to read it, he really is, one day soon.

But there are people who hoard ashtrays and stuffed animals and clothing and shoes until it's piled all around them.  And maybe it's because I used to love the show, "Hoarders" on TLC, but this fascinated me to learn  that many people do indeed live amid chest-high piles of newspapers and dirty dishes and pet messes and just about anything else you could think of.

I had to stop watching because, over time, it was just too depressing to see all these very sad individuals who, usually after some catastrophe -- a divorce, death of a child, a diagnosis of late-stage cancer --  found that buying and buying and buying things, stockpiling things, helped salve the hurt and loss.

In some cases health hazards were involved, as people just gave up on life and tossed garbage and food and other things they used onto the floor or into the bathtub, sometimes even the toilet, instead of throwing it away.  Worst of all were those who had their water or electricity turned off, and had to stop washing or use gas stations -- or their floors -- for sanitary needs.

I remember inheriting cockroaches when I lived in a large apartment building in my 20s, and while that's something that's common to many, if not most, complexes where a lot of people live together, it's nothing that is pleasant.

At first you dislike these people and think, how could anyone live this way? But when you start listening to the stories, they become human and I started realizing that, if life ever got this tough for me, maybe I would do it, too.

But the hoarding itself isn't always the worst part.  "The self-soothing need to acquire, coupled with a paralyzing inability to discard, significantly impairs one’s ability to function," writes Jan Hoffman in the article. On the show you see some people completely shut down, isolating themselves from family and friends out of embarrassment or shame, or the inability to just keep going amid all the junk and clutter.

Often, they become a hazard not just to themselves, but others, too, when neighbors share walls or even live next door to people who hoard. Rats and infestations of insects make their homes in the muck, and bacteria builds from rotten food and unclean living, creating unhealthy conditions for all living nearby.

Firefighters, too, have real problems when these habitats, as they often do, catch on fire.  Searching for victims inside the mess is sometimes impossible -- if they can even get inside, among all the piles.  In fact, an elderly woman in Old Greenwich, Conn., recently died when her home burned down and firefighters just could not get inside.

It's a sad thing, but it's now finally getting some attention, since it was recently included for the first time in a psychiatric diagnostic manual.



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