Shows about hoarding have become some of the biggest hits in reality television. Shows like “Buried Alive” on TLC and “Hoarders” on Lifetime draw large audiences. Although both do address the challenge of living with a family member who hoards, shows also use this type of family conflict to increase ratings.
In reality, hoarding is considered a disease by the American Psychiatric Association. Collecting items is typically more about a particular interest or even measurable value in the materials themselves. Collectors tend to have a productive goal in mind, whether it is bragging rights or the high value of the objects. On the other hand, hoarding does not focus on the objects themselves, but the inability to let them go.
The next time you turn the channel to one of these popular shows, try to stay with the struggle that is going on in the mind of the hoarder.
Does your favorite collection make you a hoarder?
Think about it this way—are you willing to give up your collection or to pass it down to the next generation? Why exactly does it have sentimental value to you? On a personal note, I collect first editions. Over time, these books have increased in value.
I do not want to part with the collection, because I know it acts as an investment, becoming more valuable over time. Does this make me a hoarder? Not if I am willing to eventually part with my collection.
The American Psychiatric Association explains that those who suffer from hoarding disorder often save things that have no use or value. This inability to part with items can lead to a disruption in daily life due to the lack of space from all the items.
The association states: “Hoarding is not the same as collecting; collectors look for specific items [while people] with hoarding disorder often save random items and store them haphazardly.”
What do the hoarders on TV shows actually feel?
Some of these shows focus on the end result of the disorder. When you see how it has become impossible for someone to walk around their house, you may find it difficult to understand how someone could let this happen. The truth is, hoarding disorder does not leave the person with another option. Due to their inability to dispose of items, piles naturally build over time.
Many of these people feel as if their disorder is not as big a problem as their family and friends tell them. The Mayo Clinic claims that treatment can be a challenge, since many hoarders do not see an actual problem to fix.
When the disease might move past sympathy
Although hoarders only make up between 2-5% of the population (according to the American Psychiatric Association), their disease can actually cause danger to many around them. This is why you may often find it hard to empathize with the hoarder featured in a TV program. Their disorder does not just affect themselves—families may be forced into the position of taking care of this individual, as many hoarders tend to become more reclusive over time.
One of the worst things a hoarder can do is collect animals instead of just mindless objects. Some hoarders may feel the urge to also collect things that have sentimental value or make them happy without ever having to give them away. When hoarders begin to collect animals for this reason, the disorder moves far beyond the individual suffering from the disorder.
Animal shelters are often packed to the brim with animals. Even no-kill shelters must turn away many animals due to a lack of space, and this is just on a regular workday. Imagine, then, what happens when dozens or hundreds of animals are found living in one small space without proper care.
This occurred outside of Cleveland, Ohio, where Rescue Village was able to find homes for many of these pets with the help of grants and neighboring shelters. It becomes much more difficult to find homes for such animals (who likely deserve a good home more than most), because of the high influx of animals during one time period.
Should you be worried?
If you have your suspicions that someone you know is a hoarder, then chances are you have confronted them. Since many do not see that there is a problem (even if they do experience some amount of shame), it may be difficult to implore them to seek help. Most of the calls regarding the mistreatment of animals come from neighbors who spot the large amount of creatures living in one space.
If someone’s habit moves beyond just collecting old newspapers, then do not hesitate to call animal control or animal welfare agencies. The one suffering from hoarding disorder will likely not mean to cause any suffering, so they may need some neighborly help.