Hoarding, while around for centuries, has recently come into the spotlight with the advent of two television shows--Hoarding: Buried Alive and Hoarders--and thus voyeuring into the lives of sick people helpless to resist the compulsion of the disease.
"Hoarding disorder" is being considered for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), used by doctors around the world. Randy Frost, co-author of a new book Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things. "Perhaps the abundances of inexpensive and easily accessible objects makes it the disorder of the decade."
Hoarding is a hidden activity and hoarders often do not allow even family members past the front door. It is mostly social services, mental health, fire prevention and police who get a first and sometimes a last glimpse of the conditions inside.
In 2005, a Japanese newspaper reported on a 56 year-old man whose apartment floor collapsed under the weight of 20 years worth of newspapers and magazines.
American write E.L. Doctorow based his latest novel Homer & Langley on the real-life story of two wealthy and reclusive hoarding brothers in Manhattan. After receiving a call about a dead body in 1947, they broke into their five-story building. Squeezing through tunnels in the tightly packed house, they discovered the body of 65 year-old Homer. Blind and paralysed, he had died of starvation. After nearly three weeks of searching, workers found Langley's body, not more than 10 feet from his brother.
Cleaners removed 170 tons of clutter, including 14 grand pianos, a Model T Ford, the remains of a two-headed fetus and an early X-ray machine.
There are other dangers facing those who suffer from this disorder. Homes become fire traps and rooms unsafe to live in and can lead to increased risk of falls and may led to rodent and insect infestations and mould. Fires and cleanup means there is a cost to the public especially when apartment fires result in structural damage and relocation of residents.
In one woman's apartment that was so clogged with newspapers, plastic bags and books that it was considered a fire hazard and had led to a bedbug infestation. She was also collecting and storing her body waste.
If hoarding is soon classified as an official mental sickness in the DSM--an enormously influential catalogue that is undergoing its first major revision in nearly 20 years--two to five per cent of Canadians could be labelled as having a mental illness. Hopefully this will increase public awareness, aid in identifying sufferers and the development of effective treatments.
. The Regina Leader-Post October 9, 2010 by Maria Cook of Postmedia News for the Ottawa Citizen.