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Consequences of Compulsive Hoarding Exceed Unsightly Junk Piles

A Beautiful Home Exterior Can Hide a Hoarder's Shameful SecretCompulsive hoarding is a behavior disorder characterized by the obsessive need to collect and accumulate large quantities of items. The items are often trade waste worthless and hold no useful purpose for the owner. A dangerously cluttered home filled with junk and boxes piled from floor to ceiling is only the beginning of a list of consequences that are a direct result of hoarding. To fully comprehend the magnitude of hoarding behavior, it helps to first understand the profile of a hoarder.

The Profile of a Compulsive Hoarder

Anyone can be a hoarder, regardless of financial status, level of education, gender or social class. Age doesn't seem to be a factor; signs of hoarding can be present in school-age children, teenagers and adults. Hoarders often see themselves as collectors, even though items may be ruined by dust, careless handling and neglect. The worst offenders have no functioning kitchen or bathroom, and no place to sleep because of the extreme clutter.

There are different ways to hoard:

Organized hoarders store items piled high in bags, boxes or bins. There may be a small path to walk, but the hoard takes up much of the living space in the home.

Disorganized hoarders have things strewn everywhere. There's no pattern to their collection. Home occupants can't move without walking on or crawling over piles and piles of stuff.

Trash hoarders not only collect useless "stuff", but they also hang on to things like used diapers, garbage and rotting food in the refrigerator. They are oblivious to the stench and the sight of roaches.

Animal hoarders are people who collect animals with the intent of giving them a good home. Eventually, there are so many creatures that the job of caring for them has become overwhelming, not to mention expensive. The pets take over and the house reeks of animal droppings.

The Consequences of Hoarding

Living among piles and piles of trash and junk affects mood and lifestyle. It's stressful, depressing and shameful. Most hoarders and their family members are secretive - unwilling to allow anyone into the home, including relatives, friends and repairmen. The house begins to fall apart from neglect. Neighbors begin to complain about bad odors and an increasing problem with mosquitoes, flies, mice and other intruders.

Not all hoarders recognize the dangers of hoarding. Common consequences of hoarding that are obvious to outsiders:

Hoarders can lose their children. An unsafe, unhealthy hoarding environment is grounds for child neglect.

Children of hoarders don't enjoy a social life with friends visiting. The emotional and psychological impact of hoarding on children and teens can last a lifetime.

A house filled with papers, boxes and clutter is a firetrap. Medical emergency teams can't access victims in need of help. Apartment hoarders are a threat to their neighbors' safety.

Mold and mildew ruin furniture and clothing, and can destroy walls. Mold spores - even hidden mold behind the walls - can lead to asthma and other serious respiratory conditions.

Dust, dust mites and accumulating dirt can cause respiratory illness and aggravate asthma. Pet dander - including that of birds - and fur shed from animals also contributes to bronchial infection and other respiratory illnesses. Infants, small children, elderly persons and occupants with compromised immune systems are most at risk.

Extreme filth can put anyone at risk for dangerous infections, particularly if the victim has a cut or open sore that could quickly become infected.

Animal Hoarding Has Serious Consequences

You don't have to be an animal hoarder to have your house destroyed by unwanted creatures. Rodents, wood ants and termites can eventually destroy a home structure by eating through the walls. You can also catch nasty diseases from vermin that could result in permanent damage to health or, at the very least, be very costly to treat. Be aware of:

Animal droppings, including dried airborne toxins, can cause a host of nasty diseases and illnesses from parasites passed from pets (dogs and cats) to humans., in the article "Diseases from Animals: A Primer", offers a list of both rare and common ailments that include, but are not limited to, toxoplasmosis (cats), tapeworms (from infected fleas) and roundworms.

Ringworm isn't a worm, but is a fungus that passes from infected animals to humans and appears on the skin as a ring-shaped rash. Many parasitic and fungal infections spread by animals (pets and vermin) are contagious.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the article "Diseases Directly Transmitted by Rodents", house mice can transmit a virus called Lymphocytic Chorio-meningitis (LCM) to humans. Direct contact with mouse urine or feces, or simply breathing in dust particles contaminated with dried mouse excrement are the two most common ways of becoming infected with LCM.

Flies and roaches are common insects that spread bacteria and germs in a home. Bedbugs may or may not carry diseases harmful to humans, but the itching causes scratching. Wounds can easily get infected in a filthy environment. Mosquitoes can breed indoors in standing water, they carry diseases, and scratching bites can put victims at risk for infection.

Major Consequences of Hoarding Can Ruin a Life

A home is a huge investment to lose to a massive pile of junk. Hoarders have been known to lose entire life savings as a result of out-of-control spending and collecting. What else does a hoarder risk?

Fines and jail time. The authorities will get involved when home and property aren't cleaned within a set time limit.

Charges of animal cruelty. Pets not properly cared for and suffering from neglect and/or illness can be forcibly removed from the home. Cooperate with authorities or end up paying hefty fines. Those who don't comply can also end up in jail.

Eviction. An apartment or home rental tenant who is evicted for hoarding can expect trouble when qualifying for a new place to live. Landlords often check an applicant's past rental history.

Why Hoarders Hoard

The reason a person begins to hoard isn't always obvious. The behavior could possibly stem from a family tragedy, personal crisis or other trauma. There may be some genetic factor that contributes to hoarding behavior. A child who lives with a parent who hoards doesn't necessarily become a hoarder, too.

Genetics may very well be involved. As one who grew up with a mother and brother who were hoarders, and now has a son who hoards, I can see where the behavior disorder has passed from one generation to the next.

Hoarding has no specific cure, but counseling or other professional intervention (a professional organizer, for example) can usually help. Compulsive hoarding has lasting and devastating consequences for everyone who lives in the home. If you or someone you know has a hoarding problem, address the problem immediately. Get help now before it's too late to prevent costly and irreparable damage.

Sources (Online): "Diseases from Animals: A Primer" (Daniel DeNoon, 2003).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Online): "Diseases Directly Transmitted by Rodents" (Staff, 2011).

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