We have become accustomed to information signs guiding us through airport terminals and along highways. Moreover, when we lose our way in a computer app, we click on the question mark and all is revealed.
Hence it follows – or so we think – there is a one-size-fits-all reason why some people can’t resist hoarding things. We came across research by Randy O. Frost, Gail Steketee, David F. Tolin, Nicole Sinopoli, and Dylan Ruby on Pubmed that suggests there is more than one answer to the paradigm.
The Three Main Motives for Acquiring and Saving in Hoarding Disorder
Hoarding disorder, Frost and Hartl believe in a separate study “is characterized by acquiring and failing to discard a large number of objects along with difficulty keeping them organized. The resulting clutter inhibits the use of living spaces and leads to significant distress and / or impairment in day-to-day functioning.”
Three Possible Answers to the Paradigm
First Motive: Emotional Attachment to Objects
People with hoarding disorder say they keep things because of their perceived value. Emotional attachment to objects cropped up often in Frost, Steketee, Tolin, Sinopoli, and Ruby’s study.
Hoarders appreciate them for the sense of comfort and security they provide. Indeed, they become “extensions of the self” and sentimental reminders of important life events.
Some hoarders reported extreme emotional responses like “wanting to die” when facing the prospect of having to abandon their hoard. Others describe the experience as “losing a part of oneself”.
Second Motive: Sense of Duty for Preserving Things
Frost and Hartl found that some hoarders assume responsibility for being custodians and saving their objects from harm. They feel that discarding them would be wasteful because they may still have a useful purpose.
Their subjects spoke of having a noble desire to save them, as opposed to “wasting a useful opportunity”. Some translated this feeling into recycling for a future purpose. Anything was better than simply throwing them away.
This association with recycling presents an opportunity – where it exists – to clear a hoard without causing deep trauma. Frost and Associates found hoarders “scored significantly higher on a measure of environmental consciousness than did non-hoarding controls”.
Third Motive: The Informational Content of Objects
Both Frost and Hartl, and Sticketee et Al concluded some hoarders “fear that they will lose or forget important material if an item is discarded”. One subject expressed concern “that information will be lost. I’ll never be able to retrieve it”.
They found people were keeping books and newspapers they had never read just in case they contained information for a future need they were currently unaware of. There are also indications their “aesthetic” appeal was sufficient reason to hang on to them in some cases.
The Overall Conclusion and the Primary Motive
At the end of their study Frost, Steketee, Tolin, Sinopoli, and Ruby concluded each of the motives (information value, emotional reasons, avoiding waste, and aesthetic reasons) was more frequent among hoarding disorder participants than obsessive compulsive or community control subjects.
However, the intention to avoid waste emerged as the most prominent motive among people with hoarding disorder. This is a noble objective in the purest sense, although perhaps maladjusted in terms of the imperative for a sustainable society.