it's not so bad. but, fair warning, this is kind of a random post. well, ok. they all are.
i was reading an article several weeks ago about an American man whose home was being torn down by any american city due to severe (read: *severe*) and chronic hoarding. as is the case with every news article i read, i became more immersed in the comments than the article. the news article shows the viewpoint of just the author; what's interesting to me are the opinions of the masses. over and over and over again i read well thought out, articulate, well informed and gracious comments like,
"Nasty. They should have torn it down and kicked him out a long time ago. Obviously he has a serious mental illness!"so let's think about that - hoarding as a mental illness. of course it is.
only. it's not.
television shows like TLC's "Hoarding: Buried Alive" and Animal Planet's "Animal Hoarding" are very good at creating very good, dramatic, shocking tv. it's enthralling, really. i don't mind sharing i watch shows like that all the time. but let's be careful, loved ones. these people are, in fact, people.
when need to be careful when we talk about categorizing people who hoard as having a diagnosis. hoarding is not included in the DSM IV as a diagnosis, and the work group for the DSM V is just now recommending it be included in the new manual. (this should be a testament to how fluid the DSM is and, while it can be a very good tool, it is just that: a tool. as a side note, the DSM is the same manual that removed homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973. it is also inherently American. and some would argue white American. in short, it is a tool. read again: it is only a tool.)
in addition to that, the work group is still considering whether to recommend it for inclusion in the manual or in the appendix as an issue for further research (by the way, i lifted that wording almost verbatim from the link above - check it out - i'm not passing it off as my own.)
hoarding? it's kind of scary, depending on how dangerous the clutter is. as a social worker, i've been in some homes that were very much affected by hoarding. we won't go into detail (watch TLC like i do if you're curious!). but who is the clutter and collecting scary for? the home owner? or family members? what's the line between bizarre collections and dangerous clutter? see, now i have you thinking about your aunt martha, who just can't seem to throw anything away.
the question for aunt martha should be, is she safe? can she safely exit her home in the case of a fire? is her kitchen sanitary (and i mean sanitary, not just it rubs up against orthodox notions of cleanliness)? if the clutter is a nuisance, consider who it's a nuisance for. and don't take my word for it - i'm not really trying to do a safety assessment on your aunt martha. get a counselor who's not a grad student writing a rambling blog post half asleep for a professional opinion ...
so let's say that aunt martha's china doll collection is overtaking every room in her house. but let's also say that she so are her belongings from every family member since said family members were children. and let's also say that garbage is also piling up in her home because she can't stand to throw things away. now what?
consult a professional. chances are you're pretty emotional. a little scared. beyond frustrated.
which is 1/100th of what aunt martha is feeling.
and you're probably also asking why, which is a question only aunt martha can answer. it's also a question that might be better asked by somebody outside your family, because i'm pretty sure aunt martha knows how you feel about her collecting and may not answer from a place of trust or honesty. lots of potential reasons: being emotionally attached to objects, the items feel a void, not wanting to be without, the items give her a sense of control ....
and while hoarding doesn't, right now, exist in the DSM IV, interestingly, it often occurs with other diagnoses that do: Depression, OCD, Autism, Anorexia, Personality Disorders (the list goes on for awhile ...). but this is just correlation, which, i don't have to remind you dear hearts, is certainly not causation.
it's complicated. just like everything in our lives, there's not an easy answer.
i'll leave you with some web resources in case you're concerned about aunt martha (or you are aunt martha) and you would like some additional reading.
also, if you would like some help tracking down additional resources, please let me know and we'll look together.
i have now have this strange, overwhelming urge to clean out my own hall closet ... ;)