Opening the why-box. Part 12. Hoarding compulsions

“Hoarding/collecting compulsions” is the behavior one associates with a hoarding problem. This behavior might contain either or both of two separate features; additionally, the term “save” can have at least two different meanings. First, the person might actively and excessively collect things, especially useless objects. For instance, the person might acquire newspapers or magazines, or useless items to which one ascribes sentimental value (like straw wrappers from a particular lunch, or tree leaves from a beautiful walk). In these cases, the word “save” implies “to retain”, as if the item had value or would have value someday. Many times, this behavior will involve acquiring things on sale, even if the person doesn’t use them him/herself. In other cases, this acquisition might include anything the person believes needs to be “rescued”; this is the second meaning of the word “save”. These might include items rescued from the landfill, old books rescued from recycling, or even animals (like cats) rescued from the wild.

The second behavior is a failure to discard things that come passively into the person’s environment. This might include things like junk mail, old gifts or leftover items from childhood (one’s own or that of one’s children), even things like hair or nail clippings, urine or feces.

Hoarding compulsions are usually paired with hoarding obsessions, but are sometimes the result of fears that harm might come to these objects, or that they represent a contamination danger. Recording of information is often paired with an obsessive need to know, or obsessive indecision. In other cases, hoarding behavior is a result of other medical or psychological conditions, and is not truly compulsive. Examples include hoarding as a result of dementia, psychosis, trauma or deprivation.

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