Hoarding, Compulsive Shopping and Overwhelming Clutter

Several of the providers at Psych Choices of the Delaware Valley have been trained in the treatment of hoarding disorder and related conditions.

If you are concerned about your own or a loved one’s collecting, compulsive shopping, cluttering, or hoarding, you are not alone. Please reach out for help.

As many as 1 in 20 Americans have serious problems with hoarding. Still others have trouble with compulsively buying things they do not need or even want, while others are chronically disorganized and may have difficulty with daily tasks because of their inability to keep track of notes, documents, bills, or possessions.

Hoarding becomes a “disorder” when it prevents normal use of living space, causes significant distress to the hoarder and/or family members, and has a negative impact on health and safety.

People may hoard food (long past its expiration date), clothing, packaging materials, or animals, even when the number of animals makes it impossible for the animals themselves to stay healthy. Hoarders may become isolated, when family and friends begin to avoid visiting them. Homes may become unsanitary or dangerous because of blocked exits or falling objects. Often, the person who is hoarding becomes depressed, and yet seems to be unable to part with their “collection” or even to admit it has become a problem.

Treatment for hoarding, compulsive shopping, and chronic disorganization is available, but a complete “cure” can be hard to find. Often, what we can best hope for is to create safer and more sanitary conditions, in order to reduce harm to the person and their family.

What we know doesn’t work is a forced cleanup. It will be far more effective and safer to gradually help the person to agree to the need for change. If they are forced to clear out clutter, or someone does it without their permission, they may become extremely upset and refuse further help. And the hoarding is likely to begin all over again.

A psychotherapist can help guide the individual and family members to take gradual steps to reduce clutter. The therapist will usually take a very practical approach to changing behavior, and try to help the person begin to challenge their own thinking patterns. They will help the person set small goals and accomplish them one by one.

Psychiatrists can also prescribe medication that may help with the depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms that are typically associated with this condition.

Often, a professional organizer can visit the home and provide one on one support as the hoarder begins to organize and part with possessions. There are also support groups and 12-step programs for those with hoarding, cluttering, and compulsive shopping problems.

black and white picture of crates that were hoarded
building blocks to signify treatment of compulsive shopping disorder

Online resources:

Books about hoarding:

  • Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and The Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee
  • Cluttered Lives, Empty Souls: Compulsive Stealing, Spending and Hoarding by Terrence Shulman

To make an appointment for therapy,please use our Make An Appointment page or call the Intake Coordinator at 610-626-8085 xx 213.

Behavioral or cognitive-behavioral therapy can teach you to change your behavior in order to change your feelings. For example, you may practice exposure treatment: very gradually exposing yourself to what you fear, until it no longer provokes anxiety – kind of like walking into the pool at the shallow end, one toe at a time, until you are finally swimming. You will also be taught strategies such as breathing exercises, guided imagery, and relaxation techniques that can help alleviate symptoms.

Everyone can benefit from slow, deep, even breathing. Try it now: breathe in slowly, with your mouth closed, while you count silently to 5. Then breathe out slowly, mouth still closed, while you count again to 5. Do this a few times, and you may notice your heart rate slowing and your body relaxing.

Psychodynamic (or insight oriented) therapy treats anxiety by helping you explore the underlying feelings that may have led you to develop anxiety symptoms. By exploring the feelings you have not been able to recognize or express fully – such as anger or grief – you can learn to master these feelings, and have what is known as a corrective emotional experience. This therapy is usually goes deeper into underlying feelings and past memories than cognitive or behavioral work, which allows it to have deeper and more lasting effects. Therapists who use this approach will often include cognitive and behavioral techniques as needed, to help prepare you to face deeper feelings.

Your therapist can explain these treatments in more detail, and may be able to suggest other treatments, such as EMDR and biofeedback, that may be very helpful as well.

Psychodynamic (or insight-oriented) therapy can help you by enabling you to talk about key events in your past that may have led to your Anxiety. When you share these past events and relationships in the safe, supportive environment of therapy, you can often release years of hurt, grief, guilt and shame that have kept you from experiencing joy and success in life.

Medical Treatments: Anxiety symptoms can be reduced with medications and supplements that your doctor or nurse practitioner may prescribe or recommend. These treatments directly affect the brain chemistry that underlies anxiety symptoms. When your symptoms decrease in intensity, it will be easier for you to develop new ways to cope with them. Medication generally works best in conjunction with one or more of the psychotherapy options described above.

If you have further questions about the treatment of Anxiety, please feel free to contact us.