A recent conference presentation suggests that the extreme emotional attachment of a hoarder to their stuff could stem from an excess of empathy—particularly affective empathy as measured by their response to others’ distress. Collecting and saving are normal, useful and evolutionarily adaptive human traits, buffering against hard times and building up trading stock. Children start collecting as soon as they can gather a few rocks and twigs. But you can definitely have too much of this good thing.
Is your home a cluttered nest or a minimalist zen zone? Do you subscribe to William Morris’s golden rule: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”? Or do you love your stuff—every useless, ugly bit of it? I confess I have something of the squirrel about me. I wouldn’t call myself a hoarder but I am comfortable with a degree of clutter that might make some people unbalanced.
So when does clutter become hoarding—and when does that hoarding become a hoarding disorder (HD)? HD is due to join the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in the forthcoming 5th edition—as a separate condition to its kissing cousin, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Estimates put the rate of HD in the general population at 2 percent to 5 percent. The key signals for DSM inclusion as used here are "causing distress and disability." We’re not talking about collections of Star Wars figures in a cupboard or saving a couple of hundred cans of beans for Armageddon here (that’s a whole other blog)—this is the kind of hoarding that renders a place almost uninhabitable without a third party clearing a trench between the sofa and the fridge.