DRHOOK- Trash talkin': Compulsive hoarding disorder hard to ditch

the handsome doctor John Hong

"Car Wash!" You know who sang it? Rose Royce. Now talk about a bad pun! I used to wash and hand-wax my car and my parents' cars when I was a teenager. Ugh, did I hate doing it! I think that's why I now infrequently have my car cleaned. 

However, I always throw away my trash from the car– in the garbage, of course.

A long time ago I was going to ask my neighbors to remove the couch, garbage bags, and who know what else from their back yard. When I walked to the front of their house, their car was filled to the brim– with trash. Every variety of flotsam, from fast-food soda cup to pink flamingos, filled the entire car except for the driver's seat.

Do you know a hoarder?

Professionally and personally, I don't know anyone who suffers from the affliction of compulsive hoarding. On the other hand, I've known people who live with a hoarder or have a family member with this disorder.

According to the world-famous Mayo Clinic, hoarding is "the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them." Unless a hoarder lives in an expandable house, sooner or later it becomes difficult to walk around or even take a shower. Everything from newspapers to baby diapers clutters up the house and makes it uninhabitable, although the hoarders usually don't think of it as a problem. Maybe that's why I have yet to meet a hoarder– because they don't see it as a problem. 

Carrie Bradshaw in Sex & the City put her clothes in the oven because she didn't cook. It was funny in the movie, but in a hoarder's real life, the kitchen can be so cluttered with stacks of things that there is no room to cook.

I've always wanted an attached garage like my parents had. I could pull up into a nice dry space and unload the groceries on a rainy, cold day– bliss! But hoarders might invade the garage with clutter when the house is full.

Hoarding happens to include animals. "Pets" is probably not the word to use in the case of hoarding. I don't think taking care of 101 Dalmatians is realistic, because who can love, care, bathe, and keep a bunch of animals healthy? Hoarders house dozens to hundreds of animals in unsanitary conditions. I'm sure you've read or heard of stories about cats, dogs, pigs, and other animals living in filth under the same roof with a disturbed individual. 

What are some signs of compulsive hoarding syndrome? The inability to discard items might come from certain rationalities: a belief the items will be worth something in the future, or that the item might be needed someday, or for sentimental reasons. Hoarders might feel safer when surrounded by their clutter.

Keeping stacks of newspapers, magazines, and even junk mail is a sign of compulsive hoarding. I admit I allow things to pile up, but when they become an eyesore, it's Mr. Toss-Away Time! Some hoarders, though, will collect not just useless items, but trash.

 Others don't like to share or even let people touch their items because of their extreme attachment. So it's not surprising hoarders are often loners. 

Other traits of hoarding include perfectionism yet difficulty with organizing items, problems with managing daily activities, procrastination, and having trouble making decisions.

Saving vital things vs. hoarding might be like art vs. pornography: it's in the eye of the beholder. A psychiatrist can help a person figure this out and treat compulsive hoarding.

And that's a thought to definitely hold onto.


Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a renowned physician with an interesting website, drjohnhong.com. Email him with your questions.


1 comment

"Compulsive Hoarder" is just a nice way of calling someone a "Lazy Pig"