Possession Pile Up: Hoarders

Hoarders – people who don’t own their stuff, their stuff owns them – have been around for centuries. And right now there could be as many as 12 million hoarders living in the United States. But what makes a hoarder, and what happens when they’re forced to address this behavior?

Several symptoms that can differentiate a compulsive hoarder from an everyday pack rat. Hoarding behavior is frequently associated with indecisiveness, perfectionism (they may feel that nothing short of perfection is worthwhile, therefore gives up with addressing the issue), procrastination and avoidance. Hoarders excessively acquire new things, and they usually have difficulty discarding/giving away stuff. They’ll make excuses to keep items or just move stuff around to different piles, which results in a tremendous amount of clutter in the home (often taking over surfaces, stairwells, hallways and rooms).

blog post photo

Being forced to clean up can be traumatizing to the hoarder, and hoarding conditions are one of the leading causes of eviction (homes of hoarders are especially vulnerable to a fire). To many people, hoarding is an out-of-control, dirty, taboo behavior. So to avoid shame, some hoarders will hide their behavior from society and have limited social interaction (but there are hoarders who will not acknowledge there’s a problem). 

Hoarders collect a wide range of things. Some individuals are compulsive shoppers and feel a sense of happiness when purchasing new things. Other hoarders feel emotionally attached to their belongings and therefore have difficulty discarding any property. And some people even compulsively collect animals – hoarding is the number one animal cruelty crisis facing pets in the United States (it’s estimated that 250,000 animals per year are the victims of hoarders).

What drives someone to accumulate and stockpile their belongings? Some studies have revealed that hoarding begins around 12-13 years of age and, if untreated, increasingly worsens with age. It’s long been associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but some aspects of hoarding don’t match up with the OCD pattern, so experts are considering that hoarding may be a distinct medication condition. But while the true cause for hoarding is unidentified, the major symptoms are biologically-based rather than psychological.

Tonight, hear the stories of four hoarders whose lives are swallowed up by their possessions – like a woman who lives with nearly 400 pigs and a man who’s apartment is filed with three-foot-high piles of clutter – to learn more about hoarding.

Watch Taboo: Hoarding at 10 pm ET/PT TONIGHT on the National Geographic Channel!

VIDEO PREVIEW: Emotions run high when a hoarder is forced to clean up his apartment before his landlord evicts him.