Friday, February 5, 2010

Compulsive Hoarding


'It's persecution', says man in backyard clutter scrap

City orders cleanup, owner cries foul

Signs of Hoarding
Firstly, there are 3 behaviours to Compulsive Hoarding*, which is an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

1. The acquisition of, and failure to discard a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value.
2.    Living spaces sufficiently cluttered so as to preclude activities for which those spaces were designed.
3.    Significant distress or impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding.

These can involved unresolved grief, fear of being unable to replace an old item, anxiety about extreme poverty.
There are clues, if you have a client who is a compulsive hoarder. I'm sure you've seen the senior with  anxiety about throwing anything away. Seniors often have emotional attachments to items. For those having lived through The Depression, you can understand it. In some instances, pets begin to replace family members. One of the most common examples are those unable to discard newspapers.

Complications can include: dementia, schizophrenia, eating disorders, developmental disabilities, autism and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

Consequences of Hoarding

  •    Building loads (weight of items on the structure of the home)
  •    Fire hazards (items in oven, near heat source)
  •    Physical hazards:   Blocked hallways and stairs
  •    Infestations
  •    Plumbing not functioning: health and cleanliness
  •    Sanitation concerns: rotting food = feces, maggots. Rodent or insect infestations provide a medium for diseases.
  • Financial issues: tax dollars to clean out a home, only to discover the same senior is living in the same situation a few months later.
  • Eviction and homelessness are frequent outcomes.
  • Cluttered living space can preclude the use of the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom
  • Potentially puts the health and safety of the senior and neighbours at risk.
Psychosocial Impact
  • Family and friends can be alienated, especially in the presence of addictions or other mental health issues
  • Seniors sink into a lonely life, fearing mistakes, become chronically disorganized, socially  alienated and embarrassed.


  • 310 Community Service Providers in Ottawa met in 2004 to collaborate, address the escalating issue of hoarding and form a Coalition.
  • In 2005 the Coalition captured the public health staffing costs associated with 94 hoarding cases referred to the City of Ottawa and exposed a staggering total cost of $133,328.00. 
  • Untotaled costs: time of Fire, Police, and By-law Officers or Community Support Workers. 
  • The amount include the cost of each of the 94 clean ups!

Do you have a problem with excessive clutter in your home or a home in which you work? Tell your employer, family members, and get help before it is too late. Agencies can send in social workers.
Too often, family or friends cover up for such issues, risking the physical and mental health of clients, workers and volunteers.

You need physical protection: booties and masks and gloves. This is an unsafe working environment. The consequence, in the city, for those living in apartments is eviction, leaving many on the streets. For some, who become ill, they become ALC patients, unable to go home, with friends and family trying to clean up after them.

I cannot tell you how many friends tell me about similar circumstances. It can be prevented or ameliorated. It is not 'normal', nor is it safe. It costs all of us an emotional, physical and financial toll. Many try to cover up for such mental health disorders, but those who suffer must be taken care of by professional, not by church volunteers or neighbours.

*Dr. Randy Frost, PhD, Professor in the Department of Psychology at Smith College in Northampton, MA defines 

CLUTTER SCREENING QUESTIONNAIRE [PDF]. Gail Steketee, Ph.D. Boston University School of Social Work. A.

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