Hoarding has become a serious enough problem that it is the topic of TV shows and news stories. Although prevalent across society, the act of collecting and keeping more possessions than you can use appears to be more common among seniors than other age groups. In a way, it makes sense; by the time you’ve reached your sixth decade, you’ve accumulated a lot of stuff.
Yet hoarding goes beyond not being able to let go of your old 78 or 45 records (even though you don’t have a record player anymore) or your notes from that college history class. People who are serious hoarders have a hard time controlling their behavior and can be a danger to themselves. For example, accumulated trash can impede movement and block doorways, lead to fires and attract insects or vermin. Further, important documents and bills can become lost in the clutter, which can lead to financial problems. On the whole, letting your possessions overtake your dwelling and life can lead to a poorer quality of life.
Here are some indications of hoarding:
- Accumulated piles of mail and unpaid bills
- Difficulty throwing things away
- Picking up free, unneeded or worthless items
- Extreme levels of disorganization and clutter, which intensifies over time with powerful emotional attachments to stuff Difficulty walking safely through your home
- Frustration trying to organize
- Difficulty managing activities of daily living
- Expired food in the refrigerator
- Jammed closets and drawers
- Compulsive shopping
- Difficulty deciding whether to discard items
- Expired medications in medicine cabinets
- Using the bathtub for storage
- Keeping papers and magazines on and under beds
- Storing magazines and shoes on steps
Reasons for Hoarding
Experts say that seniors are prone to cluttering for various reasons, including anxiety, depression, fear of loss, not knowing how to get rid of possessions or wanting to hold onto memories. For many hoarders, specific items that no longer hold any intrinsic value, such as a beloved prom dress, still carry strong memories. Hoarders may fear that memories or the past will be lost without that tangible evidence. Seniors often fear what will happen if they give up trivial possessions. Some older adults have been known to save three generations of bank statements because they think they might need them someday.
Many hoarders feel like they are “rescuing” unwanted objects and animals, which gives them a sense of importance, purpose and responsibility. They convince themselves that no one else can take care of the animals, for example, as well as they can.
For a senior hoarder who has lost friends and family, possessions can become a companion, and thus, the more the better. Loneliness can lead to depression, which makes it difficult for seniors to get organized, and a hoarder can start believing that the host of a TV shopping show is a friend. Buying a lot of goods may give the hoarder a momentary high of getting a good deal, an action he or she has to repeat to continue that good feeling. At the same time, with cable TV, Internet and other technological avenues, it’s easier than ever to buy things. And many older adults still carry a Depression-era mindset of wanting to save items for a rainy day.
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Content provided by the Society of Certified Senior Advisors