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Hoarding is the act of collecting things that may not have much use or value to most people. People who are considered to be hoarders collect many items on a daily basis which then create a lot of clutter. Hoarders might be aware of this clutter but still find it very difficult to get rid of their possessions. A hoarder typically finds it hard to organize items, to make decisions about whether they intend to re-use or repair certain things, to let go of things, and to allow others to touch, borrow or throw away their things.

Hoarding behavior can start as early as adolescence, however, the average age of people receiving help for this behavior is around middle age. The reasons why someone becomes a hoarder are not really known, however, a person is more likely to become a compulsive hoarder if there is someone in the family who is a hoarder or used to hoard things, if the person grew up in a cluttered home, if the person is struggling to cope with a significant loss and if the individual has another mental health difficulty such as depression or anxiety. Many hoarders tend to live alone because of the severity of the clutter. This may make the person feel very isolated which can then worsen this behavior as hoarding may bring comfort to the person.

People who struggle with hoarding might find it very challenging to change this behavior because of strong positive feelings when getting new things, feelings of guilt, rage and fear when considering getting rid of their items, and strong beliefs that their items are valuable or useful even though other people would not want them. One of the main problems of hoarding behavior is that severe clutter may threaten the health and safety of those living in or near the home, causing health problems, structural damage, fire etc..

It is not easy to treat hoarding, however, it is possible to overcome this behaviour. The most common treatment for hoarding is psychotherapy. The therapist focuses on building a good relationship with the person who struggles with hoarding so that the client might then be willing to discuss what makes it difficult to throw things away. This is then usually paired with practical exercises which can be done to start overcoming this problem. Sometimes medication to relieve anxiety and depression might also be useful.

Claire is a gestalt psychotherapist at Willingness. She works with adolescents and adults. She has a special interest in mental health. She can be contacted on claire@willingness.com.mt.