Help for Hoarders: Out of the Closet and Into the Light?

I’m not a fan of  “Hoarders” or any of the other reality TV shows that shine a very public light on the private and painful world of people who suffer from hoarding disorders, and their families. To me it smacks a bit too much of the kind of public humiliation I wish had gone the way of pillories and stocks in the village square.

Still,  I have to admit there may be a good side to the phenomenon: for these shows have drawn attention to a problem that is more common than many people may have realized; and one fringe benefit of all the attention seems to be that nowadays there is more help available for people with cluttering or hoarding problems–and a more open, public dialogue about the problem which can only be healthy.

Take, for example, an essay columnist Jane Brody wrote late last year. In “It’s Time to Say Goodbye to All That Stuff,” Brody was refreshingly, I would even say courageously, candid about her own tendency to “accumulate too much of nearly everything and my seeming inability to throw out anything that I considered potentially useful to me or someone else sometime in the future.” Very matter-of-factly Brody describes how she faced the fact that she was both buying and keeping too much stuff, and how she went about changing her ways.  And just the other day she published a “progress report” on the continuing process of decluttering her home.

The “Caring and Coping” series on the New York Times New Old Age blog is another source of help and advice for people who struggle with this problem and their families: for example, Cristina Sorrentino, of the Boston University School of Social Work, has prepared a PDF of guidelines for “How to Talk to Someone With Hoarding: Do’s and Don’ts” that is posted there.

Last week  the 14th Annual International Conference on Hoarding and Cluttering was held in California, the speakers  including Dr. Randy Frost, one of the world’s foremost experts on hoarding. Among topics of conversation at the Conference was talk that hoarding may soon get its own category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMMD), the “bible” of American psychiatry. (In the past hoarding has been considered a form of obsessive/compulsive disorder, but according to some experts, it’s not a precise fit. )

Perhaps defining hoarding behavior as the symptom of a very specific illness can be helpful in both treatment of the condition and understanding of its true nature. Hopefully it will also lead to a more compassionate attitude toward the  people who suffer from it, and more effective help for them in confronting their problem.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor,  writing coach travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

For more on last week’s Conference in San Francisco, and a social worker’s perspective on the problem of hoarding:


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