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aliyamichel35 | healthcare2014

Are you a hoarder?

Feb 23rd 2014 at 8:36 PM

Thanks to a recent spate of reality television shows and media coverage, the term "hoarder" is now deeply embedded in Western culture. We've all seen the claustrophobia-inducing living spaces and disturbing piles of seemingly worthless objects that the afflicted have accumulated, and often the first question we ask is: "How did they get this bad?"

Even the staunchest minimalist has probably grappled with throwing out a beloved teddy bear, bought the occasional bulk-size pack of Tupperware or let the mail pile up once in a while. But where is the line between clutter bug and hoarder – and how do we keep ourselves from crossing it?

According to Elaine Birchall, an Ottawa-based social worker and hoarding expert, there are three factors that must be taken into account when identifying hoarding:

1. Excessive accumulation and a failure to discard proportionately
2. Some or all of the living spaces have started to be taken over
3. There is distress or impairment of function

"If you're a collector or clutterer, there's no proof that you will go on to become a hoarder," says Birchall. "However, I've never worked with a hoarder who hasn't started out as a collector or clutterer."

Warning signs
Both genetics and what's known as a comorbid factor – an additional disorder or condition, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, personality disorders, addiction or traumatic loss – are known to put people at a higher risk of hoarding. Beyond that, determining whether or not your clutter is becoming an issue requires a bit of inner reflection.

"If you have a compelling need to hold onto something or acquire something, and you really can't have a rational discussion with yourself about why, that is the first warning sign," says Birchall. "And if you find you're in a situation where have to ask yourself – 'Do I have a problem?' – then it's probably a good indication that something is wrong."

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