Researchers have also found a link between heredity and hoarding. “It’s been shown in a half a dozen or more studies that people who hoard are more likely to have a family history of hoarding,” says Frost. “There are also some studies about genetic links and even a twin study looking at hoarding behavior, suggesting that hoarding may indeed be partly heritable.”
Reality TV presents us with hoarding for our entertainment — wrapping up each episode with some progress. In real life, however, solutions to problems brewing for decades — even generations, if there is a hereditary factor — is not so simple. Frost and Steketee both agree that although the house needs to be cleaned you first have to look at the behavior that is causing it to be cluttered.
Television’s solution only works in the short-term, says Steketee. “When there is a lot of clutter, if you just pick it all up and throw it all out then there is much less clutter. But that doesn’t mean that over the next few weeks and months people won’t re-accumulate exactly the same sort of level of clutter to fill their homes,” Steketee says, noting that there are some situations when people are in danger, and the clutter must be cleaned.
In the long run, though, it’s more important to teach these people skills to deal with their stuff than just dealing with the stuff itself. “Every time the mail arrives, instead of just piling it in a corner, they actually go through it and throw some of it out, and only keep the things that are critical for them to pay their bills. You help them set rules,” Steketee says.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a treatment being offered to help sufferers of compulsive hoarding disorders. The long-term therapy and monitoring teaches hoarders how to make practical, rational decisions and offers organization tactics for day-to-day living.
“We help with avoidance conditioning and some approach-conditioning behaviors that are associated with hoarding,” Frost says. “We can’t tell people what to think about their possessions, or how to feel about their possessions. But what we can do is to get them to take a step back and look at their beliefs about possessions and try to evaluate their validity.” They try to make the hoarders into more objective “scientists,” so they can see their beliefs are conditional. “One of the most frequent beliefs people have is that they can’t stand it if they threw something away — that is a conditional belief. If we can get them to start testing that as a hypothesis, rather then have them simply believe that they can’t stand it, then we may be able to change their beliefs in attachments to things.”
Hoarding is a problem that is difficult to understand if you are an outsider. A “clean sweep” will not fix the deep-seated emotions that go into manic clutter. Family members of a hoarder should seek help if faced with the issue, as it is not easily solved with a mop and tough love. Understanding and compassion are needed even if you are exasperated by your loved one’s surroundings.
Julia’s family has tried on three occasions to stage an intervention to help her with her situation. She says they humiliated her, and now she will not allow them to come over. Julia does not understand why her family is so upset with her and is distraught about not seeing her children. When asked if she would consider treatment, she responded, “Why should I change? I want to be left in peace. I miss my children, but I have lived this way for over 30 years — how could I live any other way?”
To inquire about treatment or help, please visit ocfoundation.org/hoarding.
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