Hoarding: What can be done?

Hoarding is a distressing condition where a person habitually accumulates items to the point of negatively impacting their lives. It may become unsafe, unsanitary, and isolating. It is thought that about 15% of people with a hoarding condition has insight into the impact of their behaviour. It is estimated that 2-6% of the population has the condition, which has been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder, traumatic life events, and to AHD. The actual cause of hoarding disorder is unknown.

Wondering what hoarding actually looks like? The Clutter Image Rating Scale provides visual representations of different levels of clutter in different rooms of the house. By selecting the photo from 1 to 9 that best represents the actual room you are able to rate each room. Generally, a score greater than 4 indicates excessive accumulation of goods. The CIRS is not a diagnostic tool, it helps to get a handle on just how much clutter is present.

Kitchen with minimal items on benches and clear floor is Level 1 of Clutter Rating Scale for kitchen
Level 1 of Clutter Image Rating Scale for Kitchen
Kitchen with benches covered with newspapers and other items and floor partially obstructed is Level 6 of Clutter Rating Scale for kitchen
Level 6 of Clutter Image Rating Scale for Kitchen

Asking these questions will help to determine whether someone is just a collector or is hoarding excessively.

  • Have difficulty getting rid of items?
  • Have a large amount of clutter in the office, at home, in the car, or in other spaces (i.e. storage units) that makes it difficult to use furniture or appliances or move around easily?
  • Often lose important items like money or bills in the clutter?
  • Feel overwhelmed by the volume of possessions that have “taken over” the house or workspace?
  • Find it difficult to stop taking free items, such as advertising flyers or sugar packets from restaurants?
  • Buy things because they are a “bargain” or to “stock up”?
  • Avoid inviting family or friends into the home due to shame or embarrassment?
  • Refuse to let people into the home to make repairs?

At Canard Solutions we are called to assist when a person with hoarding symptoms is looking to move house. The need to clear the house for sale is a difficult time for a person who hoards, and all involved need to understand that their possessions and their home provide security. Removing possessions without permission is not a solution, rather it will increase distrust and may engender serious emotional distress. As with all our projects we work closely with the client to ensure their needs are being met. Without treatment, clearing and cleaning will not solve the problem of hoarding.

There are multiple types of help for individuals with hoarding disorder, including self-help books, support groups, individual talk therapy, medications and group therapy. New studies are underway examining internet-based treatments. Emerging evidence supports peer-facilitated group treatments.

One useful self-help book on the market is “Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding” by David F Tolin and Randy O Frost.

Is treatment effective? Treatment may include medication for depression combined with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to assist the person to form different habits, with the effectiveness of CBT reported to be up to 80%. Group therapy and online support groups can also reduce the feelings of isolation and shame and assist in maintaining motivation to change. The Anxiety Recovery Centre Victoria is available to make referrals and offers help via their Helpline.