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They’re Creepy and they’re Cooky, the Hoarding Family!

After watching one of the recent episodes of House MD, I realized an unfortunate truth which I should’ve known about years ago; my Dad has hoarding-like features. Let’s reference Wikipedia, shall we?

Compulsive hoarding (or pathological hoarding or disposophobia)[1] is the excessive acquisition of possessions (and failure to use or discard them), even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary. Compulsive hoarding impairs mobility and interferes with basic activities, including cooking, cleaning, showering, and sleeping.

It is not clear whether compulsive hoarding is an isolated disorder, or rather a symptom of another condition, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.

While there is no clear definition of compulsive hoarding in accepted diagnostic criteria (such as the current DSM), Frost and Hartl (1996) provide the following defining features:[3]

  • The acquisition of and failure to discard a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value
  • Living spaces sufficiently cluttered so as to preclude activities for which those spaces were designed
  • Significant distress or impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding
  • Reluctance or inability to return borrowed items; as boundaries blur, impulsive acquisitiveness could sometimes lead to stealing or kleptomania

Thankfully, my dad only has the first two of the aforementioned defining features. I have to admit, there are times in which his hoarding patterns may be useful (a collection of batteries, light sources, and candles for when the power goes out), yet most of the time it’s just a lot of useless old stuff which he values for some reason. His tendency is to keep them wrapped in plastic bags, which are scattered in drawers, the top of his closest, and under his bed. When you confront him about it, he gets really defensive. Last last week a found bags of smelly old spices stuffed in a drawer, some of which had a colony of ants snacking within. I immediately through all that away without his permission. Thank God he doesn’t even notice that my mom and I do some spring cleaning from time to time. It would’ve been a disaster if he constantly checked up on his stuff.

It’s just frustrating to see him like that. I have no idea how to break his bad habit. Confrontation only makes things worse, and I don’t want to upset him. Don’t get me wrong; he’s a really cool dad, but it seems to be that he inherited this hoarding-like signs from my grandfather (God bless his soul)…and as they always say, old habits die hard. He does have an attitude of pushing illnesses away though, constantly in denial about his high cholesterol and torn knee meniscus. I try to act like a Doctor, but he just won’t let me in.

Sadly, I also found out that my brother is a hoarder, too….featuring the first two criteria as well in addition to reluctance to return borrowed items. How did I find this out, you ask? Well…he recently traveled abroad to continue his studies, and that’s when my “spring cleaning” itch came in handy. We share the same room so I obviously have to go through everything…and lo and behold, I find a pack of empty shoe boxes, unused pharmacy meds which are way past their expiration dates, a weird spice in the bathroom, useless papers, shoes, sandals, and clothes…and the list goes on! Again, I knew that he kept a lot of stuff, yet confronting him about the boxes didn’t help at all. Gathered all the shoes and clothes he won’t ever use so that I could donate them or something. My dad kindly offered to help out…but not before his hoarding instincts kicked in, deciding to go through all the old stuff and see which ones he would keep for himself. I tried reasoning with him, but to no avail.

I have a tendency to hoard at times, but my habit is out of laziness and the desire to be a collector…because every time I “spring clean”, I’m not reluctant to throw useless stuff away. Just a few months back I got rid of my old videogame packaging boxes (n64, PSP 1000, n64 controller, GameCube, PS2, PS3) since I won’t be using them for  anything anytime soon. I threw out my outdated medical books and papers as well. I wonder if there’s a fine line between collecting and hoarding though? ’cause I’m very protective of my videogame collection which dates back to the SNES days. I have a lot of mint condition PS2 and GameCube games it just looks silly. Same case with the next-gen console games. I find them to be valuable, yet the logic of the passerby may think otherwise and frame me as a hoarder.

Any advice from the internet on how to deal with family members who hoard? Have you been in the same situation with friends and/or family? I want to hear your story!

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