We asked experts about the psychology behind hoarding and why it’s important to purge. Here’s what they had to say

Many of us either have it or know someone who does—the love for hoarding. It’s very common to see full-to-the-top storage rooms, cupboards bursting at the seams, filled with articles. But if you were to take a closer look at all the belongings, many will realise or already know that perhaps most of it is unnecessary.

A hoarding disorder can be mild or severe. In mild cases, hoarding does not have much impact on the hoarders’ lives. Whereas, in severe instances, hoarding leads to cramped homes and the clutter may even spread to cars, backyards and storage facilities, resulting negatively on the hoarders’ daily functioning. Mostly people hoard common possessions, such as newspapers, books, clothing, boxes, and bags. Experts offer tips to understand the beliefs and behaviours of hoarders and how they can be treated.

Understanding Hoarding
“A hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty in discarding or getting rid of possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with a hoarding disorder experiences serious distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. The value of these items does not matter,” says Dr. Milan Balakrishnan, Psychiatrist, Masina Hospital.

Emotional Attachments
In most cases, people tend to hoard items that have important emotional significance or serve as a memento of good times. “We hoard things for both positive and negative reasons. The positive reason is that we like having real objects that reinforce our sense of having lived life. Objects associated with real people or clothes worn on a day we want to remember help us to hold on to memories. The negative reason is that we are insatiable and can’t give up things. Acquisitiveness forces us to be smothered by our own greed and yes, dirt. It doesn’t allow us to move on, be mobile and grow. We get as rooted in the things we hoard as we do by our past. In fact, when people pull out the things they have hoarded, they find that they are no longer what they want,” states Dr. Rashida Mustafa, Clinical and Psychoanalytic Psychologist.

As emotional beings, we have the tendency to infuse our belongings with emotion. “In many ways, we perceive these items as being a part of us or an extension of ourselves. As odd as it may seem, given that many hoarders’ homes are piled with junk and garbage, the hoarding disorder is associated with perfectionism, tied to a fear of making the wrong decision. The behaviour usually has deleterious effects—emotional, physical, social, financial, and even legal—for a hoarder and their family members,” remarks Psychologist Dr. Roma Kumar.

Psychological Reasons
The psychological causes for hoarding is not entirely clear, although possible factors could be genetics, brain functioning or stressful life events. “Hoarding is a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It is estimated that one in four people with OCD are also compulsive hoarders. Hoarding is accompanied by varying levels of anxiety and depression. Recent studies using neuroimaging have identified that hoarders have abnormal activity in the decision making region of the brain, which is also a cause for severe emotional stress. Additionally, people who suffer from compulsive hoarding tend to personify and attach meaning to the hoarded items. In some cases, they also give human characteristics to them,” says Sana Rubiyana, Counselling Psychologist, Fortis Lafemme Hospital.

“Many compulsive hoarders are socially withdrawn or isolated and may begin to hoard as a way to find comfort. The person who is hoarding does not deem the hoarding a problem. They think the issue is that their loved ones have a problem with it, or society has a problem with it. This false notion is because their stuff is treasured and precious to them. Moreover, empty spaces can feel like a void that needs to be filled,” states Dr. Sneha George, Counseling Psychologist, Fortis Malar Hospital.

Cultural Reasons
Additionally, there could also be cultural factors that cause a hoarding disorder. “I believe as a culture, we have been hoarding for generations. A lot of this has got to do with our history, as invasion by foreign rulers ensured that we always held on to what we had. Thus, this hoarding culture has passed onto us over generations,” remarks Rohini Rajagopalan, a certified professional organizer and Founder of Organise With Ease.

How to Treat Compulsive Hoarding?
The good news is that compulsive hoarding can be treated. “Hoarding is an issue that is best challenged at its base. This implies, firstly, understanding our relationship with our belongings. Are we over-identifying with our possessions? What is the resistance we feel in parting with these objects? Psychologists often speak of transitional objects that children may use as they transition to sleeping alone, such as soft toys. This emotional support derived from objects is true for adults too, but needs careful examination,” states Psychologist Dr. Shoma Chakrawarty.

“Compulsive hoarding is a very complicated disorder, and sufferers can be resistant to treatment. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), combined with counselling, is a therapeutic approach that has probably gained the most success in helping compulsive hoarders to gain control of their lives. This therapeutic style focuses on confronting unhealthy thinking and behaviours, and learning new, more acceptable methods while working with a professional to get through the purging process,” adds Dr. Sneha George.

Why is it Important to Purge?

A hoarding disorder can result in a variety of complications. In contrast, decluttering is linked to a number of positive psychological effects. “Compulsive hoarding can lead to negative consequences and also destroy personal relationships. It can also disturb harmony in the house or at work. It leads to a deterioration in physical functioning as well. On the other hand, purging of items is followed by a sense of improved self-worth!” says Dr. Parul Tank, Consultant Fortis Hospital, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences.

“Purging, cleaning and organising decreases stress and anxiety levels, it helps in boosting productivity, allows you to become more focused, gives you more time to work on your goals, and reduces levels of tiredness, frustration and fatigue. Moreover, decluttering improves your decision making and problem solving skills, which in turn creates a sense of confidence and self efficacy,” concludes Dr. Rubiyana.

By : Dr. Roma Kumar
Ref. Architecture Digest

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