Pack Rat or Hoarder? 6 Signs That Tell The Difference

As a downsizer, organizer, estate seller I’ve been working in the People and Their Stuff Business, intensely for 18 years. Here’s a great article from HP.

If you’re on the fringe, take a step back and go see a doctor for a OCD prescription. Not kidding. I’ve worked with so many people who are incapable of letting go of “junk” because of an Obsessive Compulsive “Cling On”, “Love My Stuff” Mentality. Without medical help nothing is going to change for long, garbage collection or not! By the way, I don’t work with hoarders or serious packrats anymore. Did my time!

How Do You Know if You are a Packrat?

Hoarding is a serious issue that goes far beyond being disorganized. It’s estimated that between 2 and 5 percent of the U.S. population exhibits some hoarding behavior, though some figures vary (one estimate puts the number of people with a full-blown hoarding disorder in the United States at 4 million, but it could be as high as 15 million). But the question has always remained, especially to those of us who have struggled to keep up with the tide of stuff in our homes: What’s the difference between being a “pack rat” and being a full-on hoarder?

“All of us can have more possessions than we really need and wrestle to keep our stuff organized, yet for those with a hoarding issue, it’s to an extreme, where it interferes with their life and ability to use their space effectively,” says Dr. Annette Perot, a licensed psychologist who specializes in anxiety issues and hoarding.

While many of us think of the extreme cases, such as the ones featured on shows like A&E’s “Hoarders,” there are a few everyday signs that you, or someone you know, might have hoarding tendencies.

1. They keep acquiring things, but don’t have a use for the items and/or a reason to display them.

This goes beyond bringing in a random vintage find that you intend to use as a holiday decoration, for example. But for those who have hoarding tendencies, acquisition is an emotional experience. “[…] Many of us buy things because it feels good, even though that feeling is only temporary,” says Dr. Perot. “So, for people with hoarding issues, buying or saving items can be done in order to create more positive feelings.” It’s also a habit that can’t be stopped easily. Hartford Hospital’s Anxiety Disorders Center notes that those with compulsive hoarding have feelings of distress when they see something they want, and can’t feel better until the object is in their possession.

2. Their collection has taken over.

There’s a difference between “collecting” and hoarding. Randy O. Frost, a professor of psychology at Smith College and author of “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and The Meaning Of Things,” says that the difference is in how the collection is stored and organized. “For the person whose collecting has become hoarding, possessions become unorganized piles of clutter that are so large that they prevent rooms from being used for normal activities,” Frost says.

3. Their chairs are too cluttered to be used, or there’s one room that cannot be used as intended.

Though extremely uninhabitable homes often come to mind when we think of hoarding, a more common example are chairs and pathways that are piled with so much stuff that they cannot be used. Some also designate at least one specific room or space in their home to the accumulation.

4. They had strong attachments to objects at a young age.

old toy

Though most of us had collections when we were young, a Scientific American article says that children might “reveal a proclivity to hoarding in their emotions.” Attachments can manifest in a few ways. Dr. Perot names a few examples: “Someone might feel guilty about discarding an old toy for fear that he is hurting the toy’s feelings. Or, someone might have difficulty getting rid of her daughter’s baby clothes because she feels like she is getting rid of her daughter.”

5. It’s a huge challenge to get rid of unwanted items.

The difficulty of finally weeding through your closet is universal. The difference is when you can’t seem to get rid of anything (even if it’s in your way) because you might “need it someday.” “People who have hoarding issues are very creative and can see limitless possibilities for the use of an item as simple as a bottle cap,” Dr. Perot says. “Yet more time ends up being spent saving items than in actually creatively using what is saved.” She also says that individuals with hoarding tendencies have a hard time letting go of items, since possessions are perceived as a part of their identity. “Imagine being told to part with a dear friend or part of your identity … That’s how it can feel to someone with hoarding issues.”

6. There’s so much stuff, they don’t want to have visitors over.

Those with hoarding tendencies tend to keep accumulations a secret. Often, it’s because they’re concerned about someone touching the collected objects. Many admit that clutter causes feelings of “shame” and don’t want others to witness the accumulations.

If someone you know needs help, Dr. Perot advises that respect is key. “It’s important to remember that each of us has the right to govern our own lives and make changes if and when we’re ready,” she says. And though it’s tempting, she recommends not “helping” the individual by throwing things away without their permission.

To read more about hoarding and the effects on family, visit Children Of Hoarders. And to learn more about hoarding, check out the interview with professor Randy O. Frost and hoarding expert Dr. Gail Steketee on NPR’s “Fresh Air.”

Less-serious roommate situations still need to be dealt with a gentle hand. Here’s what you should never say to someone you live with.

Things You Never Want To Hear From A Roommate

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hoard·er hôrdər/Submit noun

hoard·er
hôrdər/
noun
 
  1. a person who hoards things.
    “I’m a bit of a hoarder”

    Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.

    Hoarding often creates such cramped living conditions that homes may be filled to capacity, with only narrow pathways winding through stacks of clutter. Some people also collect animals, keeping dozens or hundreds of pets in unsanitary conditions because they can’t care for them properly.

    Hoarding ranges from mild to severe. In some cases, hoarding may not have much impact on your life, while in other cases it seriously affects your functioning on a daily basis.

    People with hoarding disorder often don’t see it as a problem, making treatment challenging. But intensive treatment can help people with hoarding disorder understand their compulsions and live safer, more enjoyable lives.

    • Symptoms
    • In the homes of people who have hoarding disorder, the countertops, sinks, stoves, desks, stairways and virtually all other surfaces are usually stacked with stuff. And when there’s no more room inside, the clutter may spread to the garage, vehicles and yard.

      Clutter and difficulty discarding things are usually the first signs and symptoms of hoarding disorder, which often surfaces during the teenage years. As the person grows older, he or she typically starts acquiring things for which there is no need or space. By middle age, symptoms are often severe and may be harder to treat.

      Hoarding disorder affects emotions, thoughts and behavior. Signs and symptoms may include:

      • Persistent inability to part with any possession, regardless of its value
      • Excessive attachment to possessions, including discomfort letting others touch or borrow them or distress at the idea of letting an item go
      • Cluttered living spaces, making areas of the home unusable for the intended purpose, such as not being able to cook in the kitchen or use the bathroom to bathe
      • Keeping stacks of newspapers, magazines or junk mail
      • Letting food or trash build up to unusually excessive, unsanitary levels
      • Acquiring unneeded or seemingly useless items, such as trash or napkins from a restaurant
      • Difficulty managing daily activities because of procrastination and trouble making decisions
      • Moving items from one pile to another, without discarding anything
      • Difficulty organizing items, sometimes losing important items in the clutter
      • Shame or embarrassment
      • Limited or no social interactions

      People with hoarding disorder typically save items because:

      • They believe these items will be needed or have value in the future
      • The items have important emotional significance — serving as a reminder of happier times or representing beloved people or pets
      • They feel safer when surrounded by the things they save

      Hoarding disorder is different from collecting. People who have collections, such as stamps or model cars, deliberately search out specific items, categorize them and carefully display their collections. Although collections can be large, they aren’t usually cluttered and they don’t cause the distress and impairments that are part of hoarding disorder.

      Hoarding animals

      People who hoard animals may collect dozens or even hundreds of pets. Animals may be confined inside or outside. Because of the large numbers, these animals often aren’t cared for properly. The health and safety of the person and the animals are at risk due to unsanitary conditions.

      When to see a doctor

      If you or a loved one has symptoms of hoarding disorder, talk with a doctor or mental health provider as soon as possible. Some communities have agencies that help with hoarding problems. Check with your local or county government for resources in your area.

      As hard as it might be, you may also need to contact local authorities, such as police, fire, public health, child protective services or animal welfare agencies, especially when health or safety is in question.

    Hoarding disorder

Notes From ( the Packrat’s ) Nest…Reflections on Messy Minds

Notes from the Nest:

Common Characteristics of “Pack-Rats”- 

(in no Particular Order.) 

Note: These symptoms can be telltale signs of Mental Illness: OCD,  Depression, etc, and other physiological degenerative disease. Alzheimers, Dementia in general.

  • Denial and Resistance to change
  • Obsession with Minutia
  • Complete blindness to overall ( mess) disarray but will fixate on things like arrangement of art on a wall or objects on a shelf
  • Does not get rid of things that no longer serve them on any practical basis.
  • Clothing that does not fit, stashed away, in graduated sizes, for years.
  • Holds onto mounds of their children’s clothing
  • Holds onto mounds of papers, of all sorts: newspapers, old bills, cancelled checks, etc
  • Can sleep in a bed, having mounds of mixed items and their pets sleeping with them, night after night: this is called the “Rats Nest”
  • Mildew, Mold, Cobwebs and Dust is not an issue, although they might complain about it.
  • Every room might look alike because each room has the same piles of boxes and stuff (extreme cases)
  • Surfaces are unattended: countertops, shelves, tables, desk, bed, and on.
  • Lots of small framed photos on many surfaces. Too many to focus on. Used as decoration.
  • Obsession with “keepsakes” as if they are the event where they came from, itself.
  • Full Suitcases with tiny scraps of things in them, clothes, medicine, forgotten for weeks, months or years.
  • Duplicates of many items…lost track of posessions
  • Old Rotting Food in Fridge and Cabinets
  • General shoving of things to the back of cabinets, closets and piling on top of surfaces and shelves
  • Resistance to moving things out that are no longer useful or are in bad condition
  • Collecting of things, for the sake of collecting stashing them here and there. No specific interest in what is collected, just that things have “value” in their mind, for whatever emotional reason, and perhaps buy them because they know they have true market value but hold onto them, and never liquidate.

Add your own observations in the notes area…