Hoarding disorder affects at least five percent of Americans, and despite TV programs showing its effects, it is still widely misunderstood. Experts discuss the danger hoarding poses to others, including neighbors, children, and first responders; why those with the disorder are so attached to things; and the right and wrong ways to address the problem.
Elaine Birchall is a social worker specializing in hoarding disorder and co-author of the book Conquer the Clutter: Strategies to Identify, Manage and Overcome Hoarding. She says family members of hoarders may think that if you simply clean up the clutter and throw it all out, everything will be okay. But, in reality, that might be the worst thing they can do.
“This is not drama or exaggeration: you can put someone into a psychotic break by going in and doing a cleanup behind their back. And I have seen that happen… They actually had to be hospitalized. They had to be… on a suicide watch for 72 hours because of the trauma.”— Elaine Birchall, social worker & author, Conquer the Clutter
Our other guest, Dr. Carolyn Rodriguez is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and also Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Stanford University School of Medicine. To help better understand hoarding disorder and what it feels like, she gives an example:
“If I came to your home and… we just stuffed your whole living room with these like priceless artifacts. And then a week later, I say, you know, it’s really hard to like, get in and use the space. Let’s just throw some of these things away. You may feel… mortified. Like my goodness… these are ancient artifacts. We can’t possibly throw these in the trash… That is a little bit the experience of somebody who, in their mind, it’s something extremely valuable,” says Rodriguez.
- Dr. Carolyn Rodriguez, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Stanford University School of Medicine
- Elaine Birchall, social worker specializing in hoarding disorder and co-author, Conquer the Clutter: Strategies to Identify, Manage and Overcome Hoarding