When Jo got divorced 14 years ago, she walked away from her marriage with next to nothing. The then 43-year-old senior account manager bought a three-bedroom house for herself and her eight-year-old son and set to work furnishing it. But within 12 months, her home was “overflowing”.
As clutter accumulated, she’d gather her stuff together and shove it into garbage bags or boxes before tossing it into her spare bedroom. Soon, Jo’s possessions became too numerous to fling into another room. Her hallway began swarming with stuff, and Jo even had to navigate a path to reach her own bed.
But she didn’t think she had a problem with hoarding. After all, she would occasionally clear out her closet, or throw away unwanted items. Besides, she reasoned, none of her belongings were “garbage”. For example, there were the 10 air mattresses she bought her son when they first moved in, “just in case he wanted to have mates sleep over”. Then there were all the things she’d bought for DIY projects she never got around to doing, and the regular household items, such as sticky tape, she kept buying when she couldn’t find the originals.
Last year, things came to a head when Jo’s friend Rachel told her about a course through Lifeline designed to help people with hoarding disorder. One of the main things Jo learnt through the course was that people with hoarding disorder often don’t notice their own mess. “I’d see these hoarding shows on TV and think, ‘Oh god, how can they not see that?’ ” she says.
Professor Jessica Grisham, a clinical psychologist who specialises in hoarding disorder, says its key feature is an “excessive emotional attachment to possessions, leading to an intense difficulty discarding them”. To gain a clinical diagnosis, the hoarding also needs to have reached the point where those doing it can’t use their house properly and the condition interferes with their life.