Q: My mother is constantly shopping and buys things she doesn’t really need. Her closets are overflowing and I doubt she even knows what she has anymore. The basement is filled with containers of clothes as well. She is extremely generous to family and friends so this is not always just about what she wants. Whenever I have mentioned her shopping habits she tells me she finds enjoyment in this activity and can afford her shopping sprees so I should mind my own business. Could she be reaching the hoarding status?
A: Without meeting your mother and viewing the home environment it is impossible to definitively “label” her behavior. It sounds more like a tendency to compulsive shopping than actual hoarding. It appears she can afford her outings and they fulfill a personal need she has. People often confuse collecting with compulsive hoarding, the first may not present any real threats to the person’s well-being while the second creates numerous problems. The act of hoarding can result in a person’s deterioration in physical health, result in safety and health code violations, as well as threatening their emotional, social and psychological well being.
Hoarding is a complex issue and is more common than the general public would think. In an attempt to define this issue there are 3 components typically present 1) failure to discard a large number of items which are useless or limited in value, 2) living spaces are cluttered to the point the intended use is non-existent 3) there is an impairment in functioning as a result of the hoarding. Individuals have irrational emotional attachments to items and are often convinced they will be needed at some time in the future. Hoarders struggle with organization or making any decisions about throwing anything away. It is estimated 15 million Americans have fallen into this pattern of behavior. In Massachusetts it is one of the leading causes of eviction from housing which sadly leads to an increase in homelessness.