Jo Cooke of Tapioca Tidy is a leading expert on hoarding. She is Director of Hoarding Disorders UK CIC and author of the book “Understanding Hoarding“. In this post, Jo shares with us her insights into hoarding disorder.
Hoarding: is it a trait we all share?
Although hoarding is a relatively new diagnosed disorder, I believe that there is an inner hoarder in each one of us it’s just that some of us do it on a much larger scale than others.
My father was Polish, he grew up during the war and he remembers being hungry. In response to his upbringing he had his own hoarding behaviours, which my mother “managed” and were the backdrop to my own childhood. So it was a natural step when, a couple of years after my father died, I decided to set up my own business helping with hoarding issues.
For centuries, as a result of deprivation and scarcity, both humans and animals have hoarded and accumulated not only foodstuffs but also objects. Just as squirrels hoard nuts to feed themselves through the winter months, and magpies collect objects for their nests, so do humans preserve and stockpile food, water and other essentials to see them through periods of shortage, recessions, war or natural disaster. Many of us were brought up by parents and grandparents who were wartime babies and who consequently hoarded to see them through periods of rationing and austerity.
Historically we have hoarded as a natural response to being unable to gain easy access to certain foods and essentials, or to being ‘stuck inside’ during bad weather. We stack and stock logs, tins of food, coffee, nappies, toiletries and medicines. There are generations of ‘just in case’ hoarders, hateful of waste and fearful of running out. Observe food shoppers panic buying just before bank holidays, at Easter and Christmas – loaves of bread and bags of potatoes fly off the shelves.
The throwaway generation
Nowadays we so easily and readily dispose of many items, abandoning clothes that are no longer in fashion, books we have read, household and technological items that are no longer cutting-edge, toys that our children have outgrown. With the ever-increasing urge to purge, and a growing culture of decluttering, there is a new throwaway generation.
Items can be so easily bought and accessed: shops are open on Sundays, buying online is easy and readily accessible. If we need a new winter coat, we don’t wait until Christmas, we can buy it here and now, at midnight, on our phone or our computer, and receive it in three or four days. We can even pay extra for next-day delivery. We have throwaway plates, disposable napkins, pre-chopped garlic, pre-peeled oranges, prefab houses, and electrical items that are not designed to be fixed or repaired. Invariably, if our washing machine, TV or dishwasher becomes faulty, we tend to replace it, not repair it.
Buy one, get one free – who can resist such a bargain offer? Shops in every high street sell products for a pound, charity shops are popping up everywhere – 50p an item. There are car boot and jumble sales every weekend. Stuff is readily accessible everywhere, and shopping and buying is steadily becoming a recreation, a social event. No wonder our homes, garages and sheds are crammed full.
Hoarding is a complex issue
In more recent times, it has been recognised that the reasons for hoarding are not just deprivation and the need to survive disaster, but are far broader, more complex. It is now widely acknowledged that hoarding can be linked to deep-seated psychological and emotional issues. We hoard as a way of seeking comfort and distraction from trauma and difficult life events, and hoarding is often connected with other mental health issues. Hoarding is a solution to a problem and can act as a comfort blanket, just as people may drink, gamble, exercise excessively or over-eat as a coping mechanism.
Possessions play an important part in people’s lives. They can define who we are as individuals, and provide us with pleasure, comfort, joy, convenience and opportunity. But accumulating possessions that impact adversely on our living spaces, put a strain on our finances, affect our physical and mental health, and challenge our relationships and our homes can cause significant distress. Hoarding can greatly affect a person’s ability to function and carries a high level of risk to those who hoard, the people they are living with and others. Excessive acquiring and saving, collecting items others have thrown away, and not throwing anything away ourselves, can all qualify as characteristics of hoarding.
Hoarding as a mental disorder
Hoarding is being increasingly recognised as a mental health disorder. The media has done much to bring hoarding into the limelight, but the subject is frequently portrayed in sensational terms. When the British Psychological Society (BPS) issued a perspective on hoarding, one of its recommendations was that ‘The national media should seek advice from experts including clinical psychologists about the portrayal of people with hoarding problems and desist from using mental health problems to entertain and shock the public.’
Hoarding disorder was recognised as a mental health disorder within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (DSM-V) in May 2013. The five diagnostic criteria it uses to identify a case of hoarding disorder are:
- Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their monetary value.
- This difficulty is due to a perceived need to save the items and distress associated with discarding them.
- The difficulty discarding possessions results in the accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas.
- The hoarding causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or to other important areas of functioning.
- The hoarding symptoms are not restricted to the symptoms of another disorder (e.g. hoarding due to obsessions in obsessive–compulsive disorder or delusions in schizophrenia).
Working with people with hoarding behaviours
When working with people with hoarding behaviours it is very important to ensure that you work slowly and sensitively, be mindful of the language that you use, and work towards their agenda and not your own.
Hoarding is complex and it is possible that a home may well present as a hoarded home, but there may be underlying issues to understand. It may be that there is a lack of life skills, or they may be impacted by executive functioning which involves being challenged by organisation, planning and prioritising which presents typically with people who are neurodiverse.
For help and support, you can find your nearest APDO-registered hoarding specialist on our Find An Organiser database.