Redheaded Rant: Stop Misusing the Word Hoarder
Note: when I started writing this, I meant for it to be a quick little pep talk. Instead, it's turned into a full-on redheaded rant. Turns out misuse of the word "hoarder" pisses me off even more than I realized. As with all redheaded rants, it comes from a place of love and desire to help, but if you chronically misuse the word "hoarder" or tend to say it with a sneer you may want to don a crash helmet.
And a disclaimer before we begin: I've studied hoarding research and successfully rehabilitated borderline hoarders, but I'm not a licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. All of the following is based on my studies and personal experience with clients.
Do you call yourself a hoarder?
I have $5 that says you're not.
Why am I so confident you're probably not a hoarder?
In my experience of all the people who have called themselves or a loved one a hoarder, less than a handful were.
Literally less than 5. (And we're talking, I've been doing this since 2010, and that's a LOT of people calling themselves hoarders.)
Over my years in the industry, hoarding shows have grown in popularity. As they have, so have the number of people either calling themselves a hoarder or accusing someone else of being one.
(Pssst...I say "accuse" because the majority of the time I hear it, the person says it with an undertone of nastiness. Which is understandable as hoarding is a little studied, little understood illness that can tear families and communities apart. Most family members feel deep resentment because it feels like the hoarding loved one is choosing their things over people. In theory they are, but it's the illness choosing. Real hoarding is MUCH more complex than "My mother won't clean her house" or "My brother has a lot of stuff.")
So while it's fabulous that all of the hoarding shows on television have brought this disease to light (because things can't be fixed until they're brought to light) it doesn't mean that every person with a bunch o' schtuff is a hoarder.
P.S. - If you're one of these people that calls a loved one a hoarder with a sneer in your voice because they have more than you deem "appropriate" then you really need to stop. You're being an asshole.
Pro tip: We all have a clutter threshold. Just because someone's things have exceeded your personal threshold doesn't automatically make them a hoarder. Learn more on clutter thresholds here.
Hoarding is a mental illness that was listed on it's own (instead of under OCD) in the DSM-V in 2013.
(DSM-V = the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association to provide standardized criteria to the diagnosis of mental health conditions. Learn more about it here.)
True clinical hoarding has it's own specific traits, and there is SIGNIFICANT difference between true clinical hoarding and just having too much stuff.
How do know if you're a true hoarder? Can you answer "yes" to all of these things:
- Do you have an obsessive need to acquire things or acquire excessively? This can mean anything from shopping to dumpster diving to even outright stealing. (Don't recommend stealing but it is in some clinical hoarding makeup.)
- Do you have the absolute inability to throw anything away - including trash? I'm talking you literally can't get rid of anything - empty sugar wrappers, junk mail, even sometimes used toilet paper. Hoarders see *everything* as having equal value, and it's all high. (Example: an apple core and a grandmother's wedding ring hold the save value.)
- Do you have one or more rooms in your home that you cannot use in the manner in which they're intended? This doesn't necessarily mean the "spare room of doom" if you have one. (Many people do.) This criteria looks more like having to pee in the sink or outside because the bathroom doesn't work, or washing dishes in the bathtub because the kitchen sink doesn't work. (Note: this is over the long term, not you noticed something didn't work and are doing this for a day or two while waiting on the handyman.)
- Is your home life greatly impaired because of the build-up from the three prior things? Often, these things sneak up so slowly that you may not even have noticed. We humans have an amazing capacity to adjust and adjust quickly. So think to how you used to live vs. now - entertained a lot vs. not at all. Or if there are too many things you're putting off "until the house is clean" like inviting friends over or if you are only able to sit in one chair in your entire home or only sleep on part of the bed, etc. and you've been saying that for years or more.
If you can't say yes to all 4 of the above, you're more than likely NOT a hoarder in the clinical, mental illness sense.
(It's possible you're borderline, and that can be turned around more easily then full-blown hoarding. One key to look at is if you're willing or not to let go of things. All the people I work with are willing and often have a great desire to let go of what's no longer serving them. However, they're so overwhelmed they don't know what to do or where to start...which is where I come in with a game plan and guidance.)
So this is great info and all, but why do I want you to stop calling yourself a hoarder?
- Self-fulfilling prophecy. If you say something is true, even when it isn't, then it often comes to pass. And trust me, if you're not a hoarder, you don't want to become one. If you're borderline, this could very well be something that pushes you over the edge.
- It isn't true. Stop lying about yourself or making up lies about yourself. That isn't fabulous and, quite frankly, it feels like shit. Don't do that to yourself.
What do you call yourself instead?
Nothing. Labels suck and, in this instance do more harm than good.
It's as simple as this:
Do you like the state of your house? Fabulous! Own it! Nothing to say other than you love your house and if someone else doesn't, they don't need to come over.
Do you hate the state of your house? Do something about it! Set some goals, remove what is no longer serving you, and don't stop until you have the house you want.
Got it? Good.
I would be remiss if I didn't give a few resources if you are a hoarder or want to learn more about hoarding, so here are a couple of my faves:
- "Stuff. Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things" by Randy O. Frost & Gail Steketee. In depth research conducted two professors of psychology and social work respectively. What I most enjoy about this book is that the material is presenting in a clear and organized way, and written for anyone to easily understand. (As opposed to most studies I've read that feel like they're written in an entirely different language akin to legalese.)
- "Dirty Secret. A daughter comes clean about her mother's compulsive hoarding." by Jessie Sholl. I assign this as required reading to any and all children of hoarders. Having a hoarder parent and trying to help them can feel very isolating. This will help you know you're not alone. (Side note: Jessie interviewed me a few years ago and is really nice, open with her experience, and very knowledgeable. Great author.