The rise of hoarding

Richard Wallace of Channel 4's Obsessive Compulsive Hoarder

At Christmas, many of us feel overwhelmed by the influx of inanimate objects - but for a minority, compulsive hoarding is a serious problem that takes over a person's life as well as their home. So why are television viewers fascinated by compulsive hoarding disorder?

Channel 4's Obsessive Compulsive Hoarder this week is the latest small screen offering detailing the devastating consequences of the compulsive hoarding condition.

The documentary focused on Richard Wallace, whose 30-year hoarding habit has prevented him from having a bath and a single night's sleep in his bed for years. "It's getting a bit silly now," he admits, and yet he appears to be unable to stop the compulsion to hoard.

It's a pattern of behaviour with which television viewers are familiar. Previously, they followed the story of Edmund Trebus, the Polish-born, compulsive hoarding war veteran, whose battle with his local council in north London for his endless rubbish collection made him the most memorable star of BBC One's A Life of Grime series in 1999.

Across the Atlantic, the television coverage for hoarding seems to be bigger and brassier. American documentary series Hoarders, which introduces interventions into sufferers' lives, started in 2009 and is now in its fourth season.

Edmund Trebus in his rubbish-strewn back garden in north London Edmund Trebus's rubbish-strewn home introduced hoarding to many UK viewers

Hoarding: Buried Alive, another documentary series that launched in the US last year, has faced accusations of exploiting this debilitating condition for entertainment value. Titles for individual episodes include This is Where You Sleep??, It's A Freaking War Zone, and Is That a Goat?

Hoarding might often be thought of as an amusing quirk, a regular bone of contention between couples or a familiar did-you-see-that-documentary-last-night conversation in the office.

But compulsive hoarding can dramatically reduce the quality of life for those affected by it and can even result in death since sufferers have been known to be crushed by their clutter.

And yet hoarding in its most extreme form seems to engage television viewers - perhaps because many people have at least some tendency to hoard themselves. Moreover, watching compulsive hoarders may make spectators feel fortunate that a parent, a partner or even themselves do not suffer such acute symptoms.

Rachel Goacher Rachel Goacher likes being surrounded by her belongings

Clinical psychologist Dr Simon Rego at the Montefiore Medical Center, New York, who specialises in anxiety disorders including hoarding, believes such programmes are both a blessing and a curse.

"The positives are that they shed light on a condition that affects a lot more people than you think, which can lead to an understanding, and eventually, better treatments for the sufferers," he says.

"On the negative side, what we see is certainly some of the most extreme examples with hours of footage edited down to draw the audience in like any other entertainment show. So ultimately, viewers don't get the full picture of what can go on with this condition."

But how does an inclination to hold on to things develop into compulsive hoarding disorder? As with a lot of psychological conditions, Dr Rego believes the causes are many and varied.

"It's a combination of genetics, environmental, biological and psychological processes. For some, there is an acute stress trigger that causes the hoarding to start and once it takes hold, it builds up into a bigger and bigger problem.

"There is a higher likelihood to be a hoarder if it's in the family. We might pick up the condition by learning it's important to keep things just in case from observing a family member who does exactly that."

An example of this very tendency is Rachel Goacher, 19, an advertising student from Leeds, who acknowledges that she appears to be following in her father's footsteps when it comes to hoarding.

Self storage warehouse The storage industry thrives upon a society which accumulates more and more personal possessions

Goacher admits she has hoarded all her life and has always had an attachment to objects. She insists she keeps everything in boxes because she wants to make scrap books containing her mementos, although she hasn't got around to doing it yet.

"My dad is exactly the same," she says. "He still has boxes in our house that he hasn't unpacked since we moved here 15 years ago but claims it's stuff he needs. I keep things, like ribbons and boxes, because they might come in handy.

"I've run out of space for any more storage solutions. The clutter doesn't really bring me down. I get fed up when everyone else comments. I like being surrounded by things. It's quite homely and my personality shines through all my possessions."

For all that such behaviour seems extreme, some believe such behaviour is merely at the furthest end of a spectrum comprising most of the Western world.

It is the hoarders' need to own more possessions that our society thrives upon - a process encouraged by successive British governments, according to psychologist Oliver James, author of Affluenza.

"We place too high a value on money, possessions and appearances," he says.

"Hoarding can be pathologised as a sickness of a minority but the vast majority of people are forever buying things they don't need and are then reluctant to throw it away," he says. "Meanwhile, the substantial increase in private storage companies is not helping this very real problem."

Whichever way you look at it, hoarding, in its various forms, is a modern affliction that's not going anywhere.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    BlueBerry there should be a new disorder added to the DSM; that of compulsive shopping and chucking out. But of course this won't happen as this habit is conducive to generating profits for big business. Just as nobody has agoraphobia if they can get to the local supermarket or to the city centre without problems; other areas aren't so important.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Even sicker than extreme hoarders are those shopaholics and freebie collectors who have a huge clear out every now and then. This is so wasteful. If you want to have a minimalist home shop less and accept fewer freebies. The charity shops are full of stuff nobody wants to buy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    Hoarding= immediate gratification/stress avoidance imagining a future use or need. Thoughts about items so reinforcing, until not linked to use. Pathological if concequences (physical, social, health, $) are negative. Similar immediate comfort/deferring stress from planning exercise/lifestyle/diet, or owning paraphinalia. Ultimate risk of failure/procrastination stress and reactive purging/binging

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    My mild hoarding condition (mainly magazines) probably stems from a childhood love of collecting, a busy life and loneliness. So long as I have these piles of magazines to read and discard, I will always have something to do at home. The fact that this task is tedious and I have enough to engage my interest from one day to the next is irrelevant. By contrast my mother lives in a show-home...

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    My father was a hoarder. Drove my mother crazy.
    I remember on one occasion she secretly donated a piece of his "clutter" to a local jumble sale only for him to go out that weekend and buy back the very same article!
    She asked him why he had done it and he replied "I have a pair now..."
    I try not to store up stuff but have to confess, sometimes the urge is there - what if I need it later?

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    my wife used to hoard things then i hoarded her ....mmmwahhhh

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    4 Hours ago
    I hoard books... and moreover I can lay hand on any book I possess.

    Absolutely Brilliant!

    At least one lady who dies not subscribe to V Beckham's that the only redaing matter necessary are fashion comics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    59. lornamd you I believe in the "1 in, 1 out" adage. I mostly buy good long-lasting or attractive items (including a superb 14 year-old car). If I am in a shop and see something nice, I think 'now what I am going to throw away, to make room for that?'. Then I think 'well what I have is actually good enough, or even better'. So my wallet stays in my pocket. Money saved and no hoarding!

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    As a boiler engineer I get to see an awful lot of houses like these and quite often I have to access every room in the house, the most surprising thing is how many of them acknowledge their problem as they help me clear a path to the radiators.
    Usually male and often well educated, they always love to watch me work and always have some 'tool' that would help me out that they never manage to find.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    on a a serious note many of these people are mentally ill, some of them keep bottles of urine in there fridges

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    185.Sweet Blue Toffees

    "173 Chris, I think you simplify this a little. Hoarders are people that collect junk others would bin of no value..."

    I think the thing with hoarders is what you would see as "junk" and "of no value" they see differently.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    173 Chris, I think you simplify this a little. Hoarders are people that collect junk others would bin of no value, but they also keep the stuff that most throw away with a value and use. Buy a new tv, even though the old still works, give the old away, bin it, they keep it in case the new one breaks. When it gets out of hand is when they have lots of working tvs not being used, as well as junk...

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    Perhaps hoarders are wannabe Wombles!!

    Green Man - I noticed some comments from people commenting on clean and tidiness, to many, clinically clean and immaculately ordered houses are cold, lack personality. There is probably a condition that expresses itself as a phobia of such places. I prefer something in the middle, a partly cluttered home with character, but clean and space to move about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    Perhaps hoarders are trying to make up for the criminal waste of the rest of society - throwing perfectly good and useful stuff out because we are :

    - bored with it
    - it isnt't the "latest thing"
    - some marketing bod has decided we "need" the lastest gizmo
    - everybody else has something newer

    Note that none of the above implies the "new" things are any better or more useful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    The next revision of Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
    (DSM-V) is due in 2013. DSM-IV listed hoarding as symptom of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) i.e. 'compulsive hoarding'. Researchers found hoarding did not respond to OCD treatments. Result = move to redefine hoarding in DSM-V as a discrete disorder, severing it from OCD & giving it a new name 'hoarding disorder'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    Hoarding is a mental disorder, in 2013 it will be diagnosable. It can be helped.Richard Wallace should be applauded for his bravery in appearing on the TV, the aim is to educate people and act as a message of hope to hoarders who suffer in silence and ignorance. Why is there a need to sneer at people's problems.Watch and learn how compassion and community can help....

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    I hoard books... despite now having switched to e-books for regular reading purposes. There are piles of them everywhere, and every wall capable of supporting one bears a bookshelf. Even had social services complaining about 'clutter' - no it's not, and moreover I can lay hand on any book I possess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    There are pros and cons being a hoarder. They do tend to keep items which prove to be useful later on in life. But an excessive amount is just crazy? Rule of thumb, we tend to use 20% of our belongings, so the rest is either a keepsake or sitting idle for a charity bag or the rubbish bin. Hoarders should sift through and itemise three separate piles as listed above.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Whats the problem? If people want to hoard, then its up to them. If people want to walk or make model ships, its up to them. Why is this an issue? (no I don't horde)

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    Of course if it wasn't for hoarders a lot more vintage television would have been lost forever. In fact its debatable whether younger people today would even know they put men on the Moon if no one had kept the tapes and equipment to play them on. So arguably hoarding may actually be man's greatest achievement. lol


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