Hoarding is often described as the compulsive or excessive collecting of items that may be deemed to hold little or no value, as well as an inability to discard such items.
While many hoarders are unable to see the dangers caused by their obsession, the problem can lead to loneliness, further mental health issues and can often pose a serious health and safety risk.
Sometimes associated with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), problematic hoarding can also be a result of anxiety, depression or issues arising from past traumas.
For instance, a hoarder may be struggling to cope with stress, depression or social phobias, and find comfort in the clutter that builds up around them. The problem may also have been sparked by a stressful life event, such as the death of a loved one.
The accumulation of possessions and clutter are the most visible signs of hoarding, and it often reaches a stage where the 'collected' items invade the home to such an extent that it is no longer possible to carry out simple, everyday tasks such as cooking or sleeping in bed.
Just as they are unable to stop adding to their collection, hoarders often become severely distressed or anxious about discarding anything, and put off throwing anything away. They may also display problems organising or making decisions, and when challenged on the subject, will try to justify their need for the items cluttering their home, perhaps claiming they will re-use or repair them.
As the problem grows, many become further isolated and cut off from others. In many cases, work, home and social life are severely affected by hoarding.
While friends and family may find it easy to recognise that there's a problem, the majority of hoarders are convinced there is no issue, and are reluctant either to seek help or accept help from others.
What might start out as innocent collecting can quickly cause serious problems. Day-to-day life often takes a backseat, so work, bills, health and nutrition suffer. As the items encroach on living space and often spill into the outside areas, the clutter can pose a health risk to both the individual and their family or neighbours. In some cases, the possessions will be seen as breaking health codes and sanitation laws, or anti-social behaviour regulations, which can quickly lead to council intervention.
Therefore, if you or someone you know has a problem, it is important to seek help, and your GP is a good place to start. Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed but they don't help all hoarders, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which aims to help sufferers manage their issue by changing how they think about their obsession.
If your problem is growing but has not yet reached a critical point, there are also ways in which you can help yourself. As long as you have identified that you have a problem, you may be able to start getting things under control, little by little.
For instance, decide upon just one area to clear, even if it is small and you work on it for only for 15 minutes a day, as achieving little goals will help you to see that progress is possible.
Try to make a decision about whether to keep an item quickly, within 10 to 20 seconds, and try not to touch or think about it too much, as this increases the emotional attachment. Instead, ask yourself a few quick questions, such as when did I last use or need an item, and how likely am I to use it in the future?
Though by their nature, compulsive hoarders find it hard to let go, by taking action and giving yourself a chance to see that those feelings of anxiety last only a short while, you may find that you begin to make slow progress. Take before and after photos of the area you are beginning to clear, and treat every step as a victory, however small.
For information, support and advice on learning to cope with compulsive hoarding, visit the Help for Hoarders website at www.helpforhoarders.co.uk.
Have you beaten your hoarding problem? What advice would you give others? Leave your comments below...