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Question
Posted by: Sam | 2011/05/09

Is this an illness?

My mother keeps EVERYTHING! She has 10 old toothbrushes that she will not throw away as she " might use them one day" . She washes out cereal packets and reuses them. She does not throw away expired food and still has some in her cupboard that expired 10 years ago. She keeps metal ties from cables, foam from an old chair, telephone books from 15 years ago, magazines from 10 years ago. I recently went to visit and asked if I could throw out old stuff but was told no.

Is this an illness? We did go through a patch where money was tight, but it is not that tight anymore. How can I convince her to throw out stuff? She has rats living in her sofa......... Need I say more?

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Our expert says:
Expert ImageCyberShrink

Yep, compulsive hoarding. Some of us tend to keep lots of stuff, but at least limit the hoards to stuff of value, financial or sentimental. I found my late mother had carefully kept all my school reports, for instance.

But hoarding useless stuff has more of an obsessive-compulsive flavour, and can become a fire and health hazard. And old toothbrushes are a good example. They're relatively cheap to buy, you don't need more than one at a time, and old ones are unhygienic. And the expired food can lead to food poisoning.

The habit can form when money is tight, and be hard to give up.

The main issue in trying to deal with all this, is whether she can recognize that there even might be a problem. If she can be persuaded that this is not altogether healthy and that she might be better off if she could find better ways to handle this, then seeing a psychiatrist for assessment, if she can be persuaded to accept, could be useful, as treatment really can help.

The habit may also start to develop if there is early dementia present. If there is a significant health hazard, one might even possibly evoke the legal provisions for compulsory assessment and treatment, but she would probably resent that. Is there a GP who know her, with whom you might be able to discuss the problem?

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2
Our users say:
Posted by: Maria | 2011/05/09

Google " compulsive hoarding" 

Reply to Maria
Posted by: cybershrink | 2011/05/09

Yep, compulsive hoarding. Some of us tend to keep lots of stuff, but at least limit the hoards to stuff of value, financial or sentimental. I found my late mother had carefully kept all my school reports, for instance.

But hoarding useless stuff has more of an obsessive-compulsive flavour, and can become a fire and health hazard. And old toothbrushes are a good example. They're relatively cheap to buy, you don't need more than one at a time, and old ones are unhygienic. And the expired food can lead to food poisoning.

The habit can form when money is tight, and be hard to give up.

The main issue in trying to deal with all this, is whether she can recognize that there even might be a problem. If she can be persuaded that this is not altogether healthy and that she might be better off if she could find better ways to handle this, then seeing a psychiatrist for assessment, if she can be persuaded to accept, could be useful, as treatment really can help.

The habit may also start to develop if there is early dementia present. If there is a significant health hazard, one might even possibly evoke the legal provisions for compulsory assessment and treatment, but she would probably resent that. Is there a GP who know her, with whom you might be able to discuss the problem?

Reply to cybershrink

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