Is It Hoarding or Clutter? How to Launch a Clean-Up

By Perryman, Anne | Work & Family Life, March 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Is It Hoarding or Clutter? How to Launch a Clean-Up


Perryman, Anne, Work & Family Life


Many older people live amid clutter that can start to look like hoarding. But there is a difference.

Clutter is characterized by piles of papers, clothing and collectibles that take up most or all of the surface space in a person's home. Hoarding is typically a floor-to-ceiling accumulation-with living space significantly reduced.

Understanding why

Clutter and hoarding are, to some extent, the result of a consumer society that encourages us to buy things we don't need-and older people are not the only ones with a problem. When the possessions in anyone's home don't get sorted and dealt with, they pile up.

Compulsive hoarding, on the other hand, is a disorder that can be found across cultures and often runs in families. When compulsive hoarders get "cleared out," they tend to refill spaces very quickly.

Most people are not compulsive in that sense. They just have way too much stuff. Whatever the situation is with your older relative, it's important to understand why people hang on to the things they no longer use or need.

Experts cite the main reasons:

* Fear of losing something of value. There's often treasure in that clutter, and people who have lived through hard times also feel strongly about not being wasteful.

* An emotional attachment to possessions such as wedding gifts or even old magazines. Many older people are unhappy because "my children don't want these things."

* Physical frailty. Older people may have trouble accessing storage areas and removing heavy items.

* Spiraling effect. When things pile up, people often feel ashamed and don't want to be found out, which makes matters worse.

Warning signs of a problem

The New York City Task Force on Hoarding cites these as signs that someone has a problem:

* Impulsively buying items that are unneeded, have little value and for which there is no room.

* Losing important papers such as bills, causing missed deadlines and late payment charges.

* Wearing the same clothes for days at a time.

* Living with blocked pathways. Having to move things around in order to sit down or go to bed.

* Not letting people inside their home. Meeting friends elsewhere. …

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