After dealing with my aunt and mother, I realize that hoarding *is* a type of mental disorder. The term 'mental disorder' needs clarification because many people with a mental disorder are highly functional *except* for in one area in their lives. We often think of a mentally ill person as a deranged, dangerous person but most often, this is untrue.
My relatives are extremely functional, productive, typical members of society. No one would ever believe that they had any type of mental disorder. And in areas where people live in abundance today, it seems that we have attached emotions to things so many people collect, cling onto and keep stuff.
What makes this process become a disorder is when people cannot live safely, healthfully or happily due to their inability to stop the over-keeping and it takes over their lives.
My relatives' hoarding is nothing like the hoarding you see on those television programs. My aunt is a clean and organized hoarder. She cleaned, categorized and labeled everything from toothpaste tube caps to chicken wishbones. My mother just overbuys and doesn't throw out anything. I cleaned out both of their houses. It took three city dumpsters plus countless trips to the dump, toxic waste disposal center, Goodwill, etc.
I spent my last weekend cleaning out my mother's room--again. She was always shocked to see what turned up.
In my experience with hoarders, these television programs are handling it wrong. The hoarder cannot be involved in the clean-up process. It is too unbearable for everyone involved, including the hoarder. I start them off with a clean slate and then work hard with them in understanding what not to bring in and what to keep. They are always thrilled--and relieved--to see the final cleaned home.
Going back with them into each layer of junk is traumatic for them. They are incapable of making rational decisions about stuff. Each item is torture for them to let go of.
It helped tremendously for me to rent storage units for anything I thought they might want. They know the stuff is there for them, like an extended closet. No trash, no ruined or broken items. Only usable appliances, collections or souvenirs. They've never visited their storage units so it seems to a more rational mind that this is a waste but it gives them peace of mind for the time being.