This is a great question and the answers I get from people are usually wrong. It’s ok – we just have a lot to learn as a society about hoarding. Which reminds me, hoarding is a disorder that is an issue for a lot of countries – pretty much all developed countries have an issue with hoarding. I’ve never heard of hoarding in Africa or Greenland, but just about everywhere else. Where you have a culture of things, and success being shown by having things, you’re likely to have a hoarding concern. Other countries struggle with an effective response to hoarding – and also don’t have the funding to put toward treatment. I met a woman a few years ago who was the one person – one – in her country charged to figure out a response to hoarding. What a job.
I love to answer this question because understanding what kind of person hoards helps people get clarity about the misunderstandings and stigma that are attached to hoarding. You’d be surprised! The more people understand the facts, the sooner we’re going to get rid of unhelpful ways of thinking and acting! Let me say this here – there is no “look” to hoarding. You cannot look at someone and say they hoard or they don’t. Generally, the assumption is that older women with low incomes hoard more than any other group. Not true! So who does hoard?
Women and men equally hoard . . . they tend to hoard different types of things, but they are equal in their behaviors.
All ages hoard. Children and adolescents are as likely to hoard as seniors. And all ages in between. One thing we do know is that often people start hoarding when they are young, and if there is not an intervening treatment to help them stop, they will continue to hoard as they age, and as they age, the hoarding behaviors increase. However, not everyone begins hoarding at a young age. In a future post, I’ll discuss why people hoard, and a major reason is due to trauma and loss. Obviously, situations of trauma and loss can happen at any age, and sometimes people experiencing those situations begin hoarding at that time.
All income levels hoard. Of course, if you have a three-level home and a large income, it will take you longer to fill up that home than if you live in a studio apartment. Nevertheless, hoarding can happen at any income. The difficulty for people without a large income is that they can fill their space fairly quickly and use the storage unit option to keep the stuff that doesn’t fit in their homes. A senior on a fixed income paying monthly storage unit fees is on a scary track not to have enough to pay her bills.
I’ve worked with a lot of hoarding clients in the last 10 years – at every income and education level – and I’ve heard stories from colleagues who have worked with a lot of hoarding clients at every income and education level and the learning we’ve all taken away is that a medical doctor and a lawyer can be just as prone to hoarding behaviors as a person with a high school diploma. Education and money don’t make any differentiation. You probably work with someone who hoards – you just don’t know it. People who hoard show up for jobs every day in which they need to be put together and presentable. They usually can keep their offices clean and neat.
So . . . no more assumptions! Anyone can be a person who hoards.
Janet Yeats is a marriage and family therapist and writer who specializes in issues of trauma, grief and loss. Janet consults, speaks and writes on hoarding disorder as well as other trauma and loss-related topics. Visit her youtube channel (Janet Yeats) to see videos and webinars on these topics.