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Am I a Hoarder?

Hoarding has gained a lot of attention lately thru reality television shows like A&E's "Hoarders." Sufferers of this condition, aka 'hoarders,' are identified as people who live in cluttered environments and have difficulty discarding their possessions. This definition creates confusion for city dwellers who often have to fit a lifetime of belongings into a 1-bedroom or even studio apartment! The majority of people living in small spaces will answer "yes" to these typical assessment questions for hoarding: "Are your rooms cluttered?" "Do you have a need for additional storage space?" "Do you ever buy items you don't have room for?" Therefore, how do we know if we have a problem?

It is important to consider the severity of the problem. Truthfully, almost every one of us has some characteristics of hoarding. The degree to which your symptoms interfere with your overall functioning is the important variable here. For instance, if you have some difficulty throwing away a week's worth of newspapers and they form a little pile on the floor, you are probably not a hoarder. But if you have six months' worth of newspapers scattered across the living room floor, making it difficult to get from one end to the other, you may be a hoarder. Use your friends, family, and neighbors as a point of reference. Is my saving behavior similar to other people I know or does it seem extreme? Also, since many hoarders minimize or deny the problem, ask yourself: Do other people in my life consider my saving behaviors a problem?

Also, there are important emotional and psychological characteristics to consider. Hoarding is not the same as collecting. Generally speaking, collectors are proud of their possessions and enjoy showing them off. If you are a hoarder, however, you feel embarrassed by your possessions. You purchase items with the intention of finding some function for them but end up feeling embarrassed by them. Unlike collectors, hoarders feel uncomfortable with others seeing their possessions and often outright refuse to let others view their possessions. Whereas collectors feel satisfaction when making additions to their collection, hoarders feel ashamed, sad, or depressed after acquiring additional items. So it is necessary to ask yourself how you feel about your possessions.

If you believe that your clutter is distressing and impairs your functioning, Cognitive Behavior Therapy can help. In addition to helping you create an action plan to clean up the clutter, I can help you with the emotional parts of the problem. Together, we will explore why you save and the special meaning you attach to possessions. We will work to build your motivation and identify barriers that get in your way. I will teach you to recognize faulty thinking and replace negative thoughts with more balanced and realistic appraisals.