hoarding

If someone you love is hoarding...

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Recently I consulted with therapists and social workers at a mental health agency to offer ways they can better support clients who hoard. The interesting thing was that several staff shared examples of their own family members who hoard. Researchers estimate that around 6% of the U.S. population struggle with hoarding, but it sure seems higher to me.

Your grandmother may have lots of things in her home, but how do you know if it's actually hoarding? How can you best support her? What's the long term outlook?

Signs that someone is hoarding:

  • Excessively acquiring items that are not needed or for which there's no space. An extra coffee maker for which is no room on the counter or another vacuum cleaner even though there is little open floor space. 

  • Persistent difficulty throwing out or parting with things, regardless of actual value. Perhaps years of junk mail or empty boxes. 

  • Feeling a need to save these items, and being upset by the thought of discarding them. She may feel anxious at the idea of throwing out expired food. 

  • Building up of clutter to the point where rooms become unusable. Her stovetop is covered in groceries that won't fit in the cupboards or bathtub full of clothes. 

  • Having a tendency toward indecisiveness, perfectionism, avoidance, procrastination, and problems with planning and organizing. "I might need this someday." 

Why do people hoard? 

  • Primary causes seem to be genetics (there is a specific gene correlated with hoarding behaviors) or very stressful events such as a house fire, or extreme poverty as a child. 

How can you help?

  • Help your grandmother create an interesting and engaging life...don't just focus on the problem.

  • Gain her trust by listening to understand, and refrain from sharing your personal judgments. Shame and criticism are not helpful.

  • Don't expect her to make logical decisions about what to keep and what to give away.  

  • Start with most helpful area, such as the stovetop, or bathtub or bed. 

  • Work in small chunks and celebrate small wins and negotiate limits.

How likely is it that someone totally stop hoarding?

  • Not great, the research I’ve read reports less than 50% have significant improvement; hoarding is actually more of a management situation.

  • It’s most helpful if they can get coaching or therapy early and stick with it.

Resources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hoarding-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20356056

https://hoarding.iocdf.org

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270967651_Cognitive_behavioral_therapy_for_hoarding_disorder_A_meta-analysis

I plan to share a summary of this information on Fox 4's Therapy Thursday segment, (Sept. 13th around 9:15 am), please tune in if you can!

Unlock the Door and Throw Open the Blinds: A photo series

Photos are on display at Union Station in Kansas City April 9th-23rd as part of the Inspire KC exhibition.

Nikki Crawford, PhD

A story about a woman who feels buried in her stuff.

Gift Wrapping Table

Gift Wrapping Table

“Ten years ago my house was fine, even 7 years ago it was okay. My dog passed away in 2010 and then I retired, it really started to pile-up after that. I don’t have my grand kids over anymore, frankly I am too embarrassed to have anyone over. Only one of my friends and Nikki has been in my house in the past several years.”

Stacks, Tubs & Paper Bags

Stacks, Tubs & Paper Bags

Meet Ruth, a brave and delightful woman who agreed to let me take photos of her home. We are working together to make her home a place of peace where she can feel calm and settled.

The excess stuff is a major challenge for her, yet it certainly doesn't define who she is. Ruth is a very engaged mother and grandmother, dedicated volunteer in her community and church. She is a retired professional who loves musicals. She is a loyal and compassionate friend. I find her to be curious, funny, and engaged in an interesting life outside of her home.

It took courage for Ruth to have her “stuff” photographed, she hopes that in sharing these images she might inspire others to open up and ask for help.  

Overflowing Cupboards

Overflowing Cupboards

Enough? Too much? Too little? - we have our individual thermostats.

A “Thrifty” gene related to compulsive collecting has been discovered by scientists. This gene, they suggest, was helpful to our ancestors who were more likely to survive when they held on to excess resources.

"I don't even know where to begin"

"I don't even know where to begin"

Ruth’s living room, hall and spare bedroom are full of gifts she’s not yet given her family –  many of us use gift giving is a way to express our love. This way of showing affection has gotten even easier as our ability to manufacture and import goods cheaply has improved. According to research at UCLA our consumption of material goods has actually doubled over the past 50 years.

"I really am capable"

"I really am capable"

“I really am capable”, is a phrase I often hear from clients wanting me to know that although they’ve gotten behind on managing their stuff, they function very well in other areas of their lives.

Excessive clothing is an area of struggle for many of us, and low prices have greatly increased our rate of purchasing.  Shopping for many people is a soothing and distracting way to avoid being home amidst the clutter. According to Mattias Wallander, CEO of USAgain, a textile-recycling company, we as Americans now buy five hundred percent more clothing than we did in 1980.

Overwhelmed

Overwhelmed

Too much clutter cascades into other challenges. A few years ago Ruth had a roof leak fixed, but she has not yet repaired the ceiling because she is embarrassed to have a painter in her home. So when she notices the ceiling she criticizes herself for not having it fixed, which spirals into more self-criticism. She worries that in a health crisis paramedics would have to come into her house. Broken appliances may remain so for months due to the shame of having a repair person come into her home.

No Rest

No Rest

Most of us know someone who lives with too much stuff. Extreme hoarding behaviors have been diagnosed in approximately 2-5% of U.S. residents. Although I don't know if Ruth has extreme hoarding behaviors, she has definitely come to a point in her life when she is interested in drastically changing how she lives.


When I work with Ruth I see a nuanced and beautiful person who is far more complex that any particular set of behaviors.

I see dreams yet to be realized. I see a woman stepping into another phase of her life.

I see we all want the same thing - to live a life of love and acceptance of ourselves and those around us.

I love to find ways to support people who are overwhelmed by their stuff. To walk with them to reclaim their homes and create a life that feels more expansive, satisfying and rich.

I’m grateful to Ruth for being brave and wise and for allowing me to share a small piece of her story.

Nikki