We all want the best for our loved ones – our parents, partners, family, and friends. So being able to notice potentially destructive behaviour is crucial to the support we give.
Hoarding Disorder affects hundreds of thousands of Australians. It impacts their:
- Quality of life
With expert advice from Wendy Hanes and Angela Esnouf from Hoarding Home Solutions, we’ll take you through 5 signs of Hoarding Disorder and how you can spot early (and late) signs of hoarding.
1. Prioritising ‘Stuff’
Growing up, it’s hard to notice things that are out of place – because we have nothing to compare our home to. But there are some more obvious signs to look out for that might indicate a parent or family member is hoarding.
Hoarding Symptoms in Parents
“People who hoard have such an intense focus on things that they are willing to give up comfort and normal relationships,” Angela and Wendy explain.
This behaviour in your parents may include:
- Sleeping on one side of the bed because the rest of the bed is covered with clothing and papers
- Reluctancy to repair essential items like a refrigerator or heater because they don’t want to allow a tradesman into their home.
Angela and Wendy tell a story of a woman who grew up in hoarder home. Her bedroom was filled with clothes and bric-a-brac that belonged to her deceased grandmother. She didn’t have any suitable space for her own belongings.
In this environment, it’s common to grow up feeling that ‘stuff’ means more to your parents than you do.
2. Disorder at Home
Everyone knows a passionate collector. From action figures to stuffed animals, they accumulate items they find interesting or valuable. But this collecting behaviour is different for someone with Hoarding Disorder.
“People who hoard acquire many things seemingly at random,” Wendy and Angela explain. “[The acquired objects may also be] disorganised and even chaotic and interfere with everyday living.”
Early Signs of Someone Hoarding in Their Home
When you visit someone’s home, you’ll be walking into and seeing their living space. If they do have Hoarding Disorder, you may notice objects that seem out of place, worthless, or even hazardous.
Wendy and Angela mentioned a story of a gentleman who lived in a small apartment. “He would pick up items from hard rubbish including furniture and toys. He had no use for them, and had no intention of doing anything with them, he simply felt they were too good to be thrown away.”
Homes are personal spaces and can give a glimpse into a person’s lifestyle. And unhealthy disorganisation may point towards Hoarding Disorder.
3. Overstocking Items
When you think of the common items that are hoarded, dirty wrappers and broken objects may come to mind. But Wendy and Angela say there’s a common misconception that everything in a hoarded home is worthless.
It may not be the type of items hoarded but the amount.
“[With Hoarding Disorder], the types of things saved are much the same as everyone else – newspapers, books, clothing, containers and paper top the list,” Wendy and Angela describe. “The difference is in the sheer volume, the way it is managed, and the way it affects their comfort and safety.”
A serious concern of Hoarding Disorder is the fire hazard it may create. Having piles of flammable objects like paper and old aerosol cans can put homes and families in real danger.
4. Defensive Responses
Stocking up on everyday essentials and keeping leftover Christmas wrapping paper can have its benefits, but the reasons for storing can be warning signs of a hoarder.
Angela and Wendy explain that “beliefs about items can often be rational (the old newspaper might be useful to wrap things in), but in the case of hoarding they are disproportionately held.”
“For example, we are all concerned about the environment, but people who hoard may become so concerned that they will not put items in their recycling bin because there is no guarantee that the council will recycle them properly.”
Hoarding Disorder and Doorbell Dread
Many people with Hoarding Disorder fear judgement from friends and family, so they do their best to hide it. This ‘doorbell dread’ can even lead to someone living a sort of double life.
Wendy and Angela talk of a female bank manager who was efficient and respected at work but lived in fear of her colleagues ever finding out that she was not able to manage her home.
“Family members of hoarders have often reported they had no idea about the extent of their loved ones hoarding because they were so skilled at avoiding visits and initiated get-togethers in public places.”
5. Perfectionism in Yourself
While it’s wise to look out for hoarding symptoms in those you’re close to, it’s important to keep an eye on yourself, too. Especially if you’ve recently experienced loss or have a mental disorder, spotting early signs of Hoarding Disorder can help you get the support you need before it negatively affects your life.
“One of the most common ‘unhelpful beliefs’ in hoarding is perfectionism,” Wendy and Angela say. “If you are starting to feel concerned about the state of your home, but feel paralysed to act, it may be that you struggle with perfectionistic tendencies.”
From Perfectionism to Hoarding Disorder
Your perfectionism may turn into a real struggle to manage the things in your home.
“You might feel like you can’t put your Christmas cards away until you have time to create a spreadsheet to record cards sent and received,” says Wendy and Angela.
You could also experience:
- Exaggerated fear of waste
- Concerns about losing memories
- Deep attachment to items.
If you’re not sure on the reasons why you can’t let something go, consider reaching out to a professional who can help you understand.
An expert tip from Angela and Wendy: “If you notice you are soothing yourself by acquiring things you don’t need, or you experience distress at the thought of discarding anything, talk to your GP who can help you with suitable referrals and support.”
Sometimes the signs of Hoarding Disorder are very difficult to spot. But if you do notice hoarding symptoms in someone you’re close to, you can help. Reach out warmly and with an open mind to the underlying issue in their lives.
Wendy Hanes is Australia’s only Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization (CPO-CD©) and assists countless Australians in organising their lives.
Angela Esnouf runs her business, Creating Order from Chaos, to help people organise their homes and lives.