If you have a family member, a friend, or a rental unit tenant who is hoarding, you undoubtedly and understandably likely have a number of questions. At the top of the list of these questions is why do hoarders develop pathological relationships with objects and things? 

In order to have a clearer understanding of why hoarders have a pathological attachment to objects and things, you first need to understand the patterns that exist in regard to people desiring to save items. Researchers have identified three object saving patterns:

  • Sentimental relationship
  • Esthetic relationship
  • Intrinsic relationship

In some instances, each of these different object saving patterns have the potential of becoming pathological. A result of such a pathology can be hoarding. 

These different object saving patterns can occur in isolation. In addition, it is possible for a person to experience more than one of these object saving patterns at the same time. 

Understanding the Basics of Hoarding

In advance of digging deeper into how a person forms deep attachments to objects and things, you need to have a basic understanding of hoarding more generally. According to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, hoarding is defined as:

Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.

Hoarding is a recognized mental health condition. Technically it is called “hoarding disorder.” Hoarding has been identified as a specific or unique mental health condition since 2003.

Sentimental Relationship

One way in which a person develops an attachment to an object or thing is through what is known as a sentimental relationship. A sentimental relationship occurs when an individual uses a particular item as a representation or symbol of a time in a person’s life, an experience, or another person. Through an object or thing, a person is able to keep a point in time, experience, or individual “alive” in some manner. 

There is an element of “if I keep this object or thing, that I’ve not really lost a time of my life, an experience in my life, or a person who was part of my life but who is no longer here.” The object or thing fills a void that an individual believes not keeping the item would otherwise leave. 

The bottom line is that holding on to an object or thing and the development of a sentimental relationship can become pathological. A sentimental relationship of this nature can prevent a healthier grieving process from occurring in a timely manner. The unresolved grief which then occurs is, in fact, a highly destructive emotion. 

Esthetic Relationship

An esthetic relationship can also develop in regard to objects and things, a situation that can become pathological. In an esthetic relationship with objects and things, a person experiences what fairly can be called a “rush” when looking at or touching an object or thing. Biologically, a person experiences the flow of adrenaline, dopamine, or serotonin into the system. This results in a pleasurable experience. 

When an individual has an esthetic relationship with an object or thing, when that item is seen or felt, that person can have a true rush that can accurately be described as going from zero to 100 in a flash. A person ends up feeling that the object or thing must be obtained or kept or an individual will feel tremendous, if not overwhelming, negative physical and emotional response. 

Intrinsic Relationship

An intrinsic relationship is one in which an object or thing is believed to have an excessive current value or an extreme potential future importance. This type of relationship can devolve into a pathological situation more easily than the other two previously discussed. When an intrinsic relationship with objects or items becomes pathological, an individual is apt to find any and all items to have an intrinsic value – even garbage.

Professional Assistance for a Person With Hoarding Disorder

If a family member, other loved one, or tenant is discovered to have hoarding disorder, multiple professionals typically are needed to address that individual’s situation. Research has demonstrated that in the absence of professional assistance, a person with hoarding disorder nearly always will return to a pattern and practice of hoarding objects and things. Examples of the types of professionals needed to assist a person with hoarding disorder include:

  • Mental health professionals, including a therapist with a specific background in working with people with hoarding disorder
  • Organizational specialist
  • Hoarding property cleanup company

In addition, trusted family members or friends also need to be involved in the comprehensive team of people committed to assisting an individual with hoarding disorder