Sunday, January 24, 2010

Too much clutter could signal danger

When clutter in a home creates chaos, and the thought of eliminating some objects is overwhelming, there is a problem, experts say. A home should not contain so many acquisitions that they pose a serious risk of injury, illness or fire.

Those who live in residences where objects blanket floors, furniture and other areas have a problem, according to medical experts. Those people may say they hold onto items because they will be needed someday, but there is more to it than that.

"When they cannot bring themselves to part with emotional items such as pictures or clothing, it is not just a matter of them having too much clutter," says Dr. Olga Brawman-Mintzer, MUSC professor of psychiatry. When someone gets to the point where their acquiring and inability to dispose of things precludes them from normal daily activities, it is considered compulsive hoarding.

"It's a condition that many researchers have found has a genetic component," she says. "Environmental stressors may also play a role."

It's difficult to estimate the number of hoarders because they tend to live alone and do not entertain, say researchers in an article on WebMD. The Web site gives 2 million Americans as a ballpark figure.

The researchers are Randy Frost, Israel professor of psychology at Smith College in Massachusetts, and Dr. Sanjaya Saxena, associate professor of psychiatry, University of California San Diego School of Medicine, La Jolla.

Hoarding, a medical illness, is spotlighted by the popular A&E television show "Hoarders," which demonstrates that it's nearly impossible for them to part with belongings.

Within the spectrum of hoarders, there are a number of behaviors and symptoms, Brawman-Mintzer says. They have problems resisting the urge to acquire possessions and may frequent thrift stores or garage sales. They acquire multiples of the items and have difficulty parting with them..." More