Hoarding In Seattle: A Hidden Mental Health Concern

Hoarding In Seattle: A Hidden Mental Health Concern

345,000 people in Washington struggle with hoarding disorder according to Governor Jay Inslee’s proclamation for Hoarding Disorder Week, October 18-24. Inslee presents the case for lifting awareness and understanding family members and neighbors who hoard. What is hoarding disorder? What causes it? Who is at risk? What can we do about it? Are you or someone you know living with hoarding disorder?

HOARDINGHoarding disorder is marked by a major difficulty letting go of possessions, the inability to organize them, and the acquisition of so many belongings that much or all living space becomes impeded or unusable thereby causing distress. Hoarding disorder exists on a spectrum from the sensational cases seen on television or in news to isolated incidences that grow more out of control with time. It shows up in young adulthood but can intensify in later years when age related problems interfere with functionality, memory or motivation.

Hoarding disorder is a complex stand alone or co-occurring psychiatric disorder with public health implications. It isn’t eccentricity or laziness and people with the disorder aren’t gross or simply unmotivated. Those are myths of the past. It’s distinct from collecting or cluttering. Collections are ordered and usually have a designated place. Clutter is disorganized yet doesn’t block movement or overtake necessary spaces such as a stove or a bed. Neither have a major drive to collect stuff or major difficulty letting it go. Hoarding is much more complex. So, who are hoarders? Society is just beginning to understand. In the video below you’ll see a profile of a former business woman in Orange County. She and her family talk about their perspectives on her hoarding disorder as they try to understand. She’s the subject of her daughter’s documentary, “My mother’s garden.”

What causes hoarding disorder? It’s driven by a complex set of social, psychological and biological factors. It has a genetic component and is often associated with unresolved loss or trauma. Jennifer Sampson, M.S. and co-founder of The Hoarding Project, tells Rachele Belle, blogging for MyNorthwest.com, “”We know that hoarding is genetic, it runs in families similar to other types of mental health issues, like depression. We also know that the brains in people who hoard tend to look different. The front part of the brain that’s responsible for executive functioning; those just don’t tend to work as well in brains of people who hoard. So, like, decision making, categorization, organization.”

When hoarding is experienced or discovered by family members their reactions can be complex. “Hoarding can evoke deep emotions, feelings and unresolved issues, for the person struggling with hoarding and their family members and friends,” Jennifer Sampson told  Susan G. Dailey, blogging for AgeWise King County. Ceci Garrett, of Spokane’s Lightening the Load, a faith-based hoarding education and support group, explained to The Hoarding Project’s 2nd Annual All Day Conference in Renton this week that children growing up around hoarding disorder face challenges of their own such as: the need to protect the secret, feelings of shame, embarrassment and anger, lack of personal control and self determination over their own environment, and feelings of “not fitting in.”

Hoarding is usually practiced behind closed doors in isolation so the symptom of excessive acquisition is often realized when it causes an accident, public health problem, or illness. A typical reaction to hoarding from public health or a landlord is to require or force downsizing. Research shows, however, that forced clean-outs create additional trauma and intensifies the behavior in weeks and months to come. Evicting someone with hoarding disorder creates the more imminent peril of homelessness and increases the emotional cost. In her keynote address to The Hoarding Project’s 2nd Annual All Day Conference, Janet Yeats, Director of Programs with The Hoarding Project, stated that forced clean-outs are: not sustainable, not effective, not financially sound , and traumatizing. She advocates a compassionate and collaborative approach involving public agencies and mental health professionals such as the King/Pierce County Hoarding Task Force.  Gradually communities across the nation are developing compassionate task forces. In the video below two staff members of the Washtenaw County Task Force discuss tips for helping people with hoarding disorder let go of belongings.


Are you or someone you know at risk of hoarding disorder? Get involved. Get help. King/Pierce County’s Hoarding Task Force is a multi-disciplinary collective consisting of mental health professionals, law and code enforcement officials, emergency responders, protective services (animal, adult, child), professional organizers, cleaning companies, the health department, and housing officials waiting to help. The Hoarding Task force offers multi level support for people living with hoarding disorder. Your care and compassion can make a difference. Contact the task force: info@thehoardingproject.org

Shawn D’Amelio

In her role as the Director of Business Development at With a Little Help, Shawn enjoys the process of bringing resources and people together, creating relationships that give peace of mind to families and their loved ones. With a passion for education Shawn is a leader in providing excellent trainings for our caregivers and community with the goal of providing care that is meaningful for both the giver and the receiver. More About Shawn