How does hoarding disorder affect young people? By Janet Spittlehouse
- 8 July 2021
A few years ago I wrote a paper about hoarding and personality (Spittlehouse et al 2016). This was the first paper to estimate the prevalence of hoarding disorder in those age 50 and over in NZ. We concluded that approximately 35,000 New Zealanders (2.5%) may have the disorder and a further 56,000 (4%) may have significant but subclinical symptoms which are likely to worsen as people age. Unfortunately, as far as I am aware, this is still the only study of hoarding in Aotearoa.
When I was working as the Research and Evaluation manager for The Collaborative Trust, I wondered how hoarding behaviours affected young people. People assume that hoarding is an older person problem but for many people hoarding behaviours begin in adolescence and young adulthood and progressively gets worse over the life span. Often partners, family members or others who live with someone with hoarding tendencies keep the hoarding behaviours at bay. My grandpa was a hoarder but there was no way my grandma would have allowed that in her house so his hoard was restricted to his bedroom! Most people don’t look for assessment and/or treatment for hoarding until middle age.
This made me think that very few young people will present with clinically problematic hoarding behaviours. However, there will be lots of young people who are living with whānau/care givers who hoard. Generally speaking, friends and family members of hoarders spend many years trying to persuade their loved one that their hoarding behaviours are a problem, often to no avail because a feature of the disorder can be lack of insight into the behaviours and their consequences.
One of the main criteria of a hoarding disorder diagnosis is that parts of the house are unable to be used for their intended purpose because of clutter. Sometimes the clutter can become squalor with obvious implications for anyone living in the house. Also, young people living with parents that hoard are unlikely to be able to have friends come to the house because of the shame they feel with the disorganisation within the home. Shame and distress are another feature felt by those who hoard and this is often felt by their family too. Relationships between parents and children can become strained by traits often shown by people who hoard such as; anger if an object is touched, moved or discarded, a need for control over possessions that may result in an unwillingness to share with others including their own children and neglect and/or lack of nurturing from the parent. Additionally, those with hoarding disorder are highly likely to have other mental disorders that are often untreated.
It would be great if I could end this reflection with a list of local organisations who can help young people who live with hoarders. However, the help available to those with hoarding disorder is almost non-existent never mind those who live with them. However, there is an abundance of resources and information on the web (although none that are specific to New Zealand, see below for a few) which may help someone who is living in this situation and feels isolated, unsupported and that they are the only one in this situation. Despite a lack of ‘formal’ help, there will be many other young people living in similar circumstances in Aotearoa.
Spittlehouse JK, Vierck E, Pearson JF, Joyce PR. 2016. Personality, mental health and demographic correlates of hoarding behaviours in a midlife sample. PeerJ 4:e2826
Children of hoarders (USA based but lots of good info)
Family and friends of hoarders (private Facebook group for those aged 21 and above):