Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hoarding disorder: 3 million Americans can't throw away junk


When childhood friends came over to play, Grand Junction resident Andrea Land would tell them to close their eyes until she and her mother could tidy Andrea’s bedroom. She didn’t want her friends to see the piles of junk mail, magazines, shoes and books her mother stacked throughout the house.

“I knew it wasn’t normal and normal people didn’t have piles of paper everywhere,” Land said.

It wasn’t until she was an adult that Land found a name for her mother’s abnormal impulse to shop for and keep items she may never need and others wouldn’t keep. Land says her 55-year-old mother is one of 3 million people in the United States with compulsive hoarding syndrome.

More severe than simple collecting or messiness, hoarding is treated as an addiction and can come paired with obsessive compulsive disorder, according to Steve Landman, a counselor who helps patients battle the condition at the Family Counseling Center, 726 Colorado Ave.

One of Landman’s patients has a thin aisle weaving through the clutter in his apartment. He collects ketchup packets and napkins from fast food restaurants but can’t use his own kitchen because of the clutter. His hoarding tendencies have spread into storage sheds.

There are as many different kinds and levels of hoarders as there are people, Landman said, which makes treatment a challenge. Anti-depressants help some hoarders, but not all.
Sometimes, Landman recommends a 12-step program to clients.

In all cases, he looks for baby steps toward success. Having a cleaning crew and an organizer come in and wipe a house clean, especially if the person is left out of decisions about what stays and what goes, can be devastating for a hoarder who has assigned meaning and emotions to everything in their home, even if some items are worthless, unsanitary or dangerous.

“If I can get this man to clear off a two-foot space so he can sit down, that is major progress,” Landman said..." More