Finding the refrigerator in the kitchen of Mary Smith's Framingham apartment might be a challenge.
The room is swamped with piles of clothes in a heap nearly 5-feet high. Stacks of books and boxes are scattered all over the floor, leaving only a narrow passageway to walk. Any concept of organization has been lost in the accumulation as a fan sits on top of one stack and a stockpot rests in another.
Smith, whose name was changed for this story to shield her identity, displays hoarding tendencies, yet she is not alone. Studies suggest that as many as 5 percent of the U.S. population exhibits some level of hoarding. The Mayo Clinic defines hoarding as "the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them."
Michael A. Tompkins, a licensed psychologist and co-author of "Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Clutter, Hoarding and Compulsive Acquiring," says hoarding behavior "typically begins in late childhood and is usually mild. It typically builds and worsens over time, becoming significant when a person enters early adulthood and becomes serious when the person is in his or her 40s or 50s. The hoarding behavior can worsen during stressful periods or when a person experiences traumatic events or enters a major depressive episode.
"Although we cannot say why people hoard, we believe that certain characteristics increase the likelihood that a person will develop a hoarding problem..." More