Hoarding behavior is not unlike a train wreck in that it is both disturbing and intriguing; the popularity of reality TV shows like Hoarders is testimony to this. In my opinion, such shows typically paint hoarders as kooks who simply need to have their "stuff" hauled out of their house for their own good. The reality, as you might suspect, is far more nuanced.
According to hoarding expert Dr. Jane Roberts (no relation) of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, hoarding is now considered to be its own mental disorder. It is a complex disorder and can manifest itself to varying degrees and with different things being the hoarding focus. Some hoarders focus on one or two items, such as clothing or books. Others may focus on animals, such as cats. In the worst cases, virtually everything is kept, including newspapers.
When hoarding reaches a crisis point, it is not unusual to find the hoarder confined to tiny areas for actual living connected by so-called "goat paths". These situations often call for intervention since public health becomes an issue as well as the safety of the hoarder. Whether dementia has a relationship in some way with hoarding is an area yet to be explored by behavioral science.
When working my appraisal work involves a hoarding situation, a special approach is called for. Oftentimes, the hoarder will not discriminate between valuable and worthless items, so it is not uncommon to find valuable items and even money stashed in unlikely places. This means that a thorough search is usually needed in the event there is something worthwhile squirreled away.
A case in point involved a recent hoarding situation where I discovered the hoarder had valuable Native American antique jewelry packed along with cheap new jewelry from Asia. There was no attempt at organization... the hoarder apparently just saw it all as "jewelry" and treated it accordingly. This person also hoarded clothing and there were racks and racks of never-worn items, with Paris couture side by side with thrift store garments.
If you have a friend or relative that is hoarding and are not sure how to deal with it, consider an insight-oriented therapy program. According to Dr. Roberts, such interpersonal therapy is presently regarded as the best treatment option. It addresses the thinking that is driving the hoarding behavior and thus offers a potential pathway to behavioral change.
To contact Dr. Roberts and learn more about hoarding treatments and obtain a brochure about the disorder, please visit www.lifecoach.net. This will have contact information for Dr. Roberts, for whom I have developed great respect after hearing her speak to various organizations.
In short, while it is undeniably fascinating in some ways, hoarding is not a disorder to take lightly when it reaches extremes. It can ultimately become a danger for the person who has the disorder as well as both relatives and neighbors and even animals, if they are the hoarding focus. As you can imagine, hoarding situations are some of the most challenging jobs that come my way.
Bryan H. Roberts is a professional appraiser in Sarasota, FL. He is a member of the Florida State Guardianship Association, the Sarasota County Aging Network (board member), and is certified in the latest Uniform Standards of Appraisal Practice (USPAP).