There are three main streams of human science seeking to explain individual behaviour. The first of these is psychology, which examines the role of the individual mind. While the second, sociology explores the influence of groups to which the individual belongs.
But the third approach is more embracing. It says both forces are at play, and we need to recognize this to obtain full understanding of humanity. Today we investigate whether compulsive hoarding is a reflection of broader social norms, and we reach the conclusion it possibly is.
Compulsive Hoarding in a Wider Economic, Cultural, and Historic Context
Sociologist Megan Schaeffer wondered whether compulsive hoarding is a reflection of the world around us. Her paper, published 3 April, 2017 assesses this behaviour in the context of a consumer society. And uses it to explain how hoarders acquire objects, clutter their homes with them, and have difficulty discarding them.
Schaeffer concludes ‘transformation of shopping into a leisurely pastime has created a cultural context in which the acquisition of objects is normal and expected’. Moreover, broader social norms can help us understand ‘how hoarders and non-hoarders alike navigate the social and economic landscape using material culture’.
Is Compulsive Hoarding a Reflection of the Mind or the Market?
Mental health professionals are now viewing hoarding through a broader lens. They believe psychology alone cannot explain this particular form of behaviour. The fact it is more common in consumer societies suggests that the promotion of consumption also plays a part.
The American Psychiatric Association picked up on this theme when it viewed compulsive hoarding behaviour against a backdrop of obsessive buying, spending, drinking, and gambling. It’s become evident those conditions may well be nurtured by anxiety or bipolar behaviours.
But compulsive buying, drinking, gambling, spending, and hoarding are also extreme forms of ‘normal consumer behaviour’. What’s the link between them?
Is There a Trigger that Flicks the Compulsive Switch?
Many of us have lived through phases when we accumulated too many possessions, or were swept up in other obsessions that preoccupied our minds and behaviour. We may have shaken these off, however some people have been less successful.
What causes some of us to become compulsive hoarders? While others muddle along as untidy people with messy cupboards, and no space to park the family car in the garage? Is compulsive hoarding a reflection of social norms taken to excess?
Some commentators believe anxiety disorder is the trigger behind excessive hoarding, buying, drinking, gambling, and spending. But that this behaviour may only become evident as we age. Perhaps this is because we have more disposable income then. Or should we view the process the other way around?
Are Social Values Driving Compulsive Hoarding Instead?
There’s a good case for this approach. British society has become increasingly materialistic in the past few decades. Many are deep in debt as a result of wanting to possess expensive cars, houses, clothes, and electronic gadgets of all kinds.
Society drives us in the direction of expecting more and more of the good life. Because in our materialistic society our possessions are what define us, and afford us our status in other people’s eyes.
However, most of us have no scruples in disposing these possessions when they are no longer state of art. A visit to the local recycling depot – or even dump site by the roadside – provides enough proof of that. But it is equally true we are loathe to part with those possessions that have personal value, because of their special role in a past phase in our life.
Hoarding As An Extreme Form of Consumer Consumption
There’s no general consensus on a common trigger for compulsive hoarding, we could find. However, there’s ample evidence some people turn to hoarding after experiencing an unusually stressful event they could not cope with.
Here we think of an event such as death of a loved one, divorce, eviction, or losing possessions in a fire according to Mayo Clinic. These could lead to extreme anxiety, or ignite latent obsessive compulsive disorder.
Compulsive Hoarding as a Reflection of Deep Anxiety
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America links hoarding to compulsive buying, acquisition of free items, and the compulsive search for items which may not appear to others as unique, but are of personal value.
Such collections appear to provide comfort to people caught up in hoarding behaviour. That’s why Avery Associates has learned to tread carefully when clearing hoarded houses.
Related Avery Associates Services That May Be of Interest
Avery Associates provides a home clearance service to solicitors, relatives, and executors of deceased estates. We understand the trauma of dismantling homes once occupied by loved ones who passed, or fell victim to hoarding disorder. If we find items of value we hand these to our clients, and we are available to value them for a fee.