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It’s common for clutter to pile up in a garage, closet or attic. But for some, it goes beyond the casual accumulation of stuff over time. The need to keep possessions can be pathological, and is sometimes known as compulsive hoarding.

Hoarding is widely documented, but not that well understood. It’s thought to be connected to obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as anxiety disorders and delusional disorders. And it’s expressed in many different ways, ranging from collecting trinkets to keeping huge numbers of pets.

Hoarding sometimes makes the news when heaps of stuff are found swamping a house after the occupant’s death. Sometimes the stories are more exotic: recently, a Hillsboro woman named Miriam Sakewitz was arrested in violation of her probation after pleading no contest to charges of animal neglect in 2006. Police originally arrested Sakewitz when she was discovered hoarding more than 150 live rabbits in her home, as well as dozens more dead rabbits in freezers. 

How have you been affected by compulsive hoarding? Do you collect particular objects, or experience anxiety about throwing things away? Is there a hoarder in your family? If so, how has the family dealt with it? Where do you draw the line between a normal desire to acquire and hold on to material things, and a compulsion?

UPDATE: During the program several people called in looking for resources to help deal with hoarding issues. Psychiatrist Dr. James Hancey of OHSU leads a free bi-monthly OCD support group in the Portland area. You can learn more about that through his clinic. For general help he recommends the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation, which lists doctors focused on this disorder and support groups by state. The foundation also maintains a webpage focused on hoarding.


  • MaryBeth Heironimus: Obsessive-compulsive hoarder, and member of the OCD support group at OHSU 
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