Stories of hoarders date all the way back to Dante’s epic poem, Inferno, first published in 1317. Yet while we have long heard stories about hoarders, it wasn’t until the 1990s that psychologists started to truly examine the condition.
We also know that Andy Warhol was a compulsive hoarder; his Manhattan town house was crammed full of junk, to such an extent that only two rooms in the four storey house had clear walkways – the kitchen and the bedroom. When Warhol died in 1987, the iconic artist left behind over 600 boxes of items. But it wasn’t until the early 1990’s, when Randy Frost and Gail Steketee authored the first study into the mindset of the hoarder, that we started to begin to understand this bizarre condition.
Understanding the Condition
Frost and Steketee conducted hoarding-specific studies, as an extension of their research on obsessive-compulsive disorder. They expected to encounter difficulties in finding willing subjects, but when they sent call-outs for participants, the pair discovered just how widespread the disorder is, receiving thousands of responses from families of hoarders from all over the US.
“One of the questions we get all the time from people is, ‘What’s the difference between someone who has a hoarding problem and someone who is a collector? Says Frost. “What we’ve noticed is a couple of major differences. First of all, when people collect things, they typically organise them in a systematic fashion — and that doesn’t happen in hoarding. The other thing is, when people collect things, they typically want to display them to other people … Hoarders want to keep things hidden because of the shame they have.”
Hoarding vs. OCD
Following the groundbreaking research of Frost and Steketee, hoarding was eventually categorised alongside obsessive-compulsive disorder as an anxiety disorder. This classification came about as a significant number of OCD patients tended to hoard. However, in recent years the use of brain scans has come to reveal a different truth. Although hoarding is associated with obvious abnormalities of brain function, much like OCD, different areas of the brain are affected by each disorder, making hoarding very much distinct from OCD.
The vast majority of hoarders also experience other mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of hoarding disorder contact your doctor or mental health professional, or alternatively, visit Anxiety Treatment Australia for more information about treatment options.