Everybody accumulates stuff, and many of us have cluttered closets and drawers. But when seemingly useless possessions and even rotten food pile up, blocking exits and filling beds, sofas, sinks and bathtubs, it's evidence of a psychiatric condition called compulsive hoarding.
Hoarding has spilled out of the closet and into the spotlight in recent years, thanks to "Oprah," "Dr. Phil" and the A&E series "Hoarders." E.L. Doctorow's new novel, "Homer and Langely," offers fictional insight into the reclusive Collyer brothers, found dead in their Fifth Avenue mansion in 1947 amid 130 tons of trash, including 14 pianos, 25,000 books, decades worth of newspapers and the chassis of a Model T Ford.
Yet most hoarders remain a family secret. Experts estimate that as much as 2% of the population meets the criteria, a group that spans all education and income levels. "Attorneys, surgeons, business executives—some very bright and successful people that you'd never suspect have this problem," says San Francisco psychologist Michael A. Tompkins, author of a new book, "Digging Out," aimed at helping families of hoarders. "Sometimes they're the life of the party, but nobody's ever been invited to their home."..." More & audio