Got a Hoarder in the House?

As an asthma educator, I am always on the lookout for any information that could help other people. My latest attempt to expand my knowledge was listening to a webinar about hoarding. You may be looking around your place and thinking, "I'm not a hoarder, am I? I mean, I just collect stuff!"

Collecting vs hoarding

Some people collect baseball cards, stamps, dolls, etc. When I travel, I collect aprons and reusable grocery bags. Sounds weird, right? As a mom to a family of 5, I do a lot of cooking and end up with a lot of dirty aprons. My Paris apron gives me hope that someday I will be able to travel back to Europe again. And I always use my Hawaii apron on cold, snowy days. It can help me remember the beach. My reusable bags are handy for groceries and it's fun to see my shopping cart full of bags with photos of the Washington Monument, Liberty Bell, Space Needle, and other landmarks.

"Collectors are proud of their collections and enjoy displaying them. Hoarders, on the other hand, are ashamed."1

I am proud of my aprons and display them on a pegboard near the kitchen for easy reach. I'm not a hoarder.

Hoarding happens when you can't "use a room as intended." You may have so many tall piles that you can't sleep in bed, sit on the couch, cook on the stove, wash dishes in the sink, etc.2 Those are examples of when collecting moves to hoarding.

Hoarding is considered a mental health behavior, and there can be many things that cause it. Major depression, dementia, impulse control problems, ADHD, etc. Finding out what causes hoarding is the first step to helping someone.1

Hoarding hazards and asthma

  • Health hazards - piles of clutter are hard to clean around, and when piles sit for too long, that can lead to moldy walls and carpet (and the piles can also start to mold). Mold and asthma are never a good mix. Rotting food can lure in cockroaches and mice, which can cause problems for those with allergies and asthma.1 Piles can also gather pet hair, pollen, dust, dirt, etc.2
  • Safety hazards - when there is only a small pathway to get from one room to another, that can be a tripping hazard. This can be especially hard if someone is elderly or disabled.
  • Fire hazards - clutter is often piled in front of doors and windows, which can make it hard to escape a fire. Some of the things that are hoarded can also add fuel to the fire (literally) - such as newspapers, boxes, clothing, etc.
  • Other hazards - injuries from tripping on piles, problems with family and friends and social isolation.3

Treatment for a hoarder

Many people don't get help because they are ashamed. It's not a personality fault, it's a mental health disorder.1 Finding the right treatment is important and can improve all of the hoarding hazards, which can be vital for someone with asthma. Having mold, rotting food, mice, pollen, pet hair and dander and pollen in the home can trigger asthma attacks.

There are various techniques counselors use, including establishing goals for how much they are willing to throw away. They also can use acquisition exposure (driving by their favorite store, then walking by it, then going in - but not touch anything, going in - and touching things, but go back later to buy).1

Getting help

It was interesting to learn a few of the ways to help someone who is a hoarder. You can read more in the reference section below.

It can be hard to talk to someone about hoarding, but if it can help everyone in the home be safer and healthier, it might be worth a try. Having a counselor help is vital, as is checking on the person with asthma to see how they are feeling and if they need to change their asthma inhaler.

Has anyone helped a loved one who is hoarding--especially a loved one with asthma? How did it go? Did they feel healthier after you helped?

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