10.11.2005

Hoarding and humiliation on Cross Street

You've probably seen the news reports on TV or in the paper about the two Waltham brothers who were thrown in jail after being unable to clean up their Cross St. house, which was filled with junk, sick animals, sludge, and animal waste. The brothers aren't just pack-rats. They're hoarders.

There's obviously some sort of mental or social issue involved, and Marhsa King of the Seattle Times has an interesting report on the nature of the problem:
One of the most common causes of hoarding is obsessive-compulsive personality disorder — whose sufferers exhibit traits such as trouble finishing projects, difficulty throwing things away, exaggerated conscientiousness, perfectionism and poor decision making, according to Kent.

Other causes can be obsessive-compulsive disorder — a like-sounding, but different problem — that involves persistent thoughts, impulses or images that cause anxiety and lead to hoarding.

Hoarding also may be caused by attention-deficit disorder, psychosis, depression or dementia.

New brain-scan studies have shown abnormalities in hoarders' brains in the area involved with decision making and the ability to concentrate.
The items that are hoarded seem unusual to most people, but hoarders rationalize their decision to keep them:
The most frequently hoarded items contain information — books, newspapers, magazines, sweepstakes offerings, junk mail.

"They think they're going to read them. They have creative plans about what they're going to do with them," said Karen Roehl, a local clutter coach and professional organizer who has helped many hoarders over the past five years.

But just about anything gets saved. Kent has known hoarders who collect their own feces or chewed bits of meat wrapped in foil. And who hasn't heard of the house overflowing with filthy, poorly cared-for animals?
It's unfortunate that the two Waltham brothers were sent to jail, and were subjected to this kind of public humiliation at the hands of the media. I agree that their house needs to be cleaned, but they also need professional help, which both the authorities and media seem to have overlooked.

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