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You might just be a Hoarder?

Updated: Jan 23, 2021

Who would have thought that a Global Pandemic might make people act just a little crazy? Okay, a little crazy is to be expected. Right. We are only human. In 1986, The Human League told us that, via song. So, I ask you….is buying the “most squeezable” Charmin by the pallet, nuts? How about having cornered “the Lysol market” in your neighborhood? And lastly, hoarding up all the damned eggs! Seriously people, where are all the damned eggs. Did you steal the chickens too? This is longest I’ve gone in my life with out scrambled eggs. If I had any money, I’d take my all my spite down to Costco, buy all the bacon, just so you’d have to barter with me, filthy Egg Bandits!

Okay, where is this blog going you ask? All the above had me thinking like Elmo. If any of you have been at home these past few weeks trapped with a children my daughters age, you’ve too, have likely seen every episode of Elmo’s World. You too, then know that Elmo teaches us, when you see something, and you are curious…it makes you “wonder even more.” And I was wondering about HOARDING!

First, to clarify, I was raised by parents I considered hoarders. (Everyone else in the neighborhood thought so…so they were probably hoarders.) There’s no doubt after this article. Second, as an appraiser and auctioneer for almost 20 years, I’ve seen some amazing hoards, that’s for sure. But third, I’ve seen people call someone a hoarder or think of themselves as hoarders that I didn’t consider meeting the criteria in my brain or experience. This is what made me “Elmo” wonder.

Are there levels or degrees of hoarding?

Has it been measured by psychologists?

What causes it? Can it be cured?

Is it hereditary? (It was not in my case, but has it been known to be.)

So, let’s get to the bottom of it together….

What is Hoarding?

Hoarding is a known disorder. Someone with diagnosed hoarding disorder will experience great levels of stress at the mere thought of getting rid of something. I have personally witnessed this with clients and my immediate family. If you have ever witnessed or have tried to help someone downsize with this affliction you will see their deep seeded and perceived need to save almost everything. Regardless of actual value. Its personal, psychological and runs deep. Almost ever episode of the popular TV Show Hoarders I have seen; the same psychology plays out repeatedly. Honestly, it just reminds me of home and my childhood, but I know it’s not normal. Further, I am sure it why I became an auctioneer and an appraiser. It was to help those people dealing with a loved one downsizing. I found it odd how the hoarder will not listen to family but generally listens to a 3rd party. Not the people that love them, but the stranger. My parents were like that and so were most of my hoarder clients. Just another curious human nature thing, and perhaps for another blog, but all of this doesn’t help answer my questions…

Has the disorder been measured by psychologists?

I was thrilled to find out, YES! Generally, when we think of hoarders, we go straight to the crazies in our imagination. That neighbor, a relative or memory of the worst episode of Hoarders, Buried Alive you ever saw. But enter, The National Study Group on Compulsive Disorganization. They created a clutter hoarding scale with five levels of hoarding. I would have loved to be part of that study. Let me summarize their findings for you….

The 5 Levels of Hoarding and Its Recognition

Level 1

This is the least severe. There are just a few signs here. The lack of clutter might hide the condition, but the individual will have trouble throwing away things. This might be an excessive shopper that buys things they do not need. Excessive being the key, so don’t freak out.

The home ques are reportedly light clutter and no noticeable odors, all doors and stairways are accessible, but may show some past animal waste throughout the house. Animals (the pets) are great for ques.

You can see where this is heading….

Level 2

A level 2 hoarder may avoid having guests in their home or express some embarrassment. They may have anxiety or depression and withdrawal from social interaction…. not wanting people over to visit.

The home ques here are a blocked exit, an appliance not working, and may have a malfunctioning HVAC System. This level of hoarding exhibits additional clutter, two or more “junk” rooms and narrow pathways around the home. Generally, the home will have light pet odor, signs of animal waste on the floor, evidence of rodents, overflowing garbage cans and dirty food prep surfaces.

On a side note & while I am on my re-read edit of this, I just wanted to add…. As I researched more, I began to have a touch of anxiety. My parents’ level had yet been reached. So now I wanted to know what “enabler level” that would place my sister and I on. I am sure there are levels of that! Let’s continue….

Level 3

A level 3 hoarder may have poor personal hygiene and weight issues due to an unhealthy diet. They may become dismissive or angry when their lifestyle is in question by friends or loved ones. Let’s call it lashing out.

The home ques here are visible clutter outside of the home. The usual indoor items, i.e. televisions and furniture, are now outside. Home appliances have been broken for months and an area of the house may have light structural damage. Generally, level 3’s has a number of pets and show some signs of neglect. There is typically evidence of rodents. Other signs…fleas, spider webs and narrow paths through the halls and stairways. Other home characteristics may include one unusable bathroom or bedroom, small amounts of hazardous substances or spills, excessive dust/dirt, piles of dirty clothes, towels and sheets, blocked electrical outlets, tangled cords, overflowing garbage cans and odors throughout.

Level 4

A level 4 hoarder will have poor hygiene, declining mental health and may express grandiose plans or nostalgic memories.

The home ques here are noticeable mold and mildew, structural damage, odors and sewage buildup. The number of pets exceeds regulations, there are several visible areas with aging animal waste, the bedroom is unusable and rotting food is on surfaces. Other examples: aged canned goods, no clean dishes or utensils, beds with lice, or other bugs, no sheets or covers, excessive webs and spiders, bats and other rodents audibly noticeable in the attic and walls, more than one blocked exit, flammable substances stored in the living room….

I did tell you this blog was hitting home and honestly as I reached level 5, I just knew I would see signs of 5 in my upbringing. This was becoming a weird, cathartic, soul-searching exercise vs what I started out writing about a few hours before. I just wanted to answer a quirky question of why people bought all the toilet paper. I had to question it and no more…. damn Elmo….so let’s get back to the story.

Level 5

A level 5 hoarder often cannot not live at the home any longer. We used to say, “built their way out of the house.” Meaning, they built their hoard up to the rafters and you could no longer live or get in the house. I truly know several of these folks. A good friend of mine, that will probably read this, has a father that bought another house to fill for a new hoard. My parents were super close, and I always said if they had the money, they would have. They just were blessed with a lot of space and outbuildings to fill.

Level 5’s will often stay at a friend’s or family member’s house. They may have waste in bottles or buckets that remain inside the home. At this level of hoarding the hoarder will have noticeable symptoms of depression. Along with all the other levels and signs of the home ques with the additional clutter filled bathrooms, an unusable kitchen, noticeable human feces, rotting food on surfaces and inside a non-working refrigerator.

Here, I was pleased to have not checked all the level 5 boxes in my upbringing but mind you, it was darned close. I thought I would use a yellow highlighter to mark all The Farmhouse Level 5 hoard characteristics but think I’ll save that for the therapist. I need one after writing this. But as long as I was on the roll… I forged on.

What causes it?

Leave it to the Mayo Clinic to tell me….” It's not clear what causes hoarding disorder. Genetics, brain functioning, and stressful life events are being studied as possible causes.” That doesn’t help…. but I did find it interesting that they found it starts around the ages of 11 to 15. It gets worse with age and of course is more common in older adults. I used to think my Dad di it because he was a child of the depression and have heard that is a common factor as is being raised in poverty and then having means.

Is it hereditary?

Yes, was the answer I uncovered. Family History is a know factor for hoarding compulsion. Also, stressful life events and the use of hoarding for coping. The death of a loved one, a divorce or losing possessions in a fire have shown to be some common causes. I have seen the empty nester become a hoarder, but I question if the free space just exposed what the Mayo Clinic said was most likely formed in early in life. I surmise it’s the combination of it all. We are complex creatures for sure.

Can it be cured?

Of course, I wanted to know, is there a pill for that? Nope. However, as with most mental health conditions, getting treatment early may help prevent the hoarding from getting worse.

So, I guess I figured out my Toilet Paper, Lysol and Egg Hoarders….

They are just doomsday preppers and not true hoarders. Sure, you could point to the stressor of the Pandemic exposing depression, some underlying anxiety disorder or Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), These are all common in Hoarders, but, all other signs just point to them getting ready for the zombie apocalypse. And by the way, according to Walking Dead, Zombies don’t wipe, Lysol won’t protect you and Rotten Eggs will only attract them. Not sure about the eggs…I just made that up.

Anyway, I am going to do something odd and close this one on a serious note. Yeah…. not me, but here goes. If you think you are a hoarder, get some help. Hoarding does have serious consequences for you and your loved ones. Typically, there is the all too common financial strain of needless & extreme shopping, the strained dysfunctional relationships it causes and possible loss of housing due to eviction or even condemnation.

It is known that the children of hoarders experience depression and other mental conditions due to their living situation. Adolescents and teenagers will avoid social situations that involve inviting peers into their lives because of the embarrassment. Even being raised like this, they know it’s not normal. Some children become resentful. Hoarding or living in the situation often leads to substance abuse. It’s a common coping mechanism for the living with this disorder.

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1 Comment

Michael Busick
Michael Busick
Apr 01, 2020

Good article. Very insightful. I guess I'm at 1.5 or the higher end of 1.

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