When Helping Hoarders, The Key Is Slow And Steady : Blog Of The Nation On the outside, hoarders can come off as freaks who can't bear to let go of the smallest of items. But many of them suffer from a mental disorder. Local task forces are working to ease the pain -- but the process is slow and steady.
NPR logo When Helping Hoarders, The Key Is Slow And Steady

When Helping Hoarders, The Key Is Slow And Steady


We get attached to everyday items, whether we like to admit it or not. It doesn't even have to be something a celebrity touched -- objects hold memories (and purposes) that are dear to our hearts.

For others, though, letting go is much easier said than done. It even gets to a point, in some cases, that families are torn apart. And, believe it or not, it's a disorder.

According to an article in Time, hoarding "affects an estimated 6 to 15 millionĀ  people in the U.S. Hoarders are not just monumental slobs."

These people are in the business of clutter -- anywhere and everywhere in their homes. From used Band-Aids, to stacks of old newspapers, items pile up in hoarders' homes, instead of being trashed. Factor in the day-to-day clutter that we are all responsible for "forgetting" to clean up, such as dishes and laundry, and a living room turns into a war zone.

Chances are you've seen shows on A&E or TLC (like Hoarders or Hoarding: Buried Alive), where compulsive gatherers are paired with experts and therapists to clean house before it becomes too late. The other night, I watched a creature-based hoarding show, called, yes, Animal Hoarders on Animal Planet -- and it's exactly how it sounds.

While the documentary branch of the media brings this disorder to public awareness,

"...hoarding experts say that quick forced cleanouts often do more harm than good to the resident's mental state. Effective treatment for hoarding takes a year on average, says Gail Steketee, a hoarding expert and the dean of Boston University's School of Social Work. As with many other disorders, the first step is to recognize the problem. Hoarders often suffer from something called clutter blindness. Lorraine, a 68-year-old retiree who lives in Massachusetts and asked that we not print her last name, realized only recently that she has been a hoarder for more than three decades. In her home office, stacks of papers reach nearly to the ceiling, and she has to shimmy through a tiny corridor to reach her computer."

But in an effort to relax the nerves or hoarders who aren't subjected or chosen for quick clean-outs,

Some task forces sprang up because city officials didn't know how to deal with hoarders. "Now everyone knows what to do or whom to call so they're not just passing the buck," says Krista Lovette, a founding member of the four-year-old task force in Wichita, Kans., who helps run a county elder-care program. And with education comes understanding and empathy for the hoarders. "We're not there to strong-arm them," Lovette says. "We're there to help them."

The reformation process is possible, but it's a delicate step-by-step process. As Lorraine, the aforementioned hoarder in the article, put it, "It's like trying to shovel sand off the beach with a teaspoon." Hoarding is a serious problem. And while we may gawk and stare at the amount of junk people retain, we should keep the severity of the situation in mind.

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