Two to five percent of Americans are hoarders, according to the fifth edition of the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-5) so there is a chance that you may find a potential partner who happens to be a hoarder. It’s crucial that you understand hoarding if you want to be romantically involved with a hoarder because it is a huge part of his life that will end up affecting yours.
1. Understand the Disorder
Understand that hoarding -- collecting items and having trouble letting them go -- is a mental disorder related to obsessive compulsive disorder, according to DSM-5. The book, "Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things” by Randy O. Frost, a psychology professor, and Gail Steketee, dean of Boston University's School of Social Work, notes that theorists believe hoarders get attached to their possessions, which is why some are anti-social -- they prefer to spend time with their possessions instead of people. However, not all hoarders are socially withdrawn, and no known cause exists, but it is common for a hoarder to have another hoarder in their family. For some patients, a link to brain injuries and some hoarding symptoms exists.
2. Don't Take His Hoarding Personally
Don’t take it personally if he doesn’t invite you over to his place right away, says psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo the article "What it's Like Dating a Hoarder" on Match.com. Hoarders usually avoid having visitors over because they are ashamed of their hoarding behavior and cluttered house. Also don’t be upset if he doesn’t want to talk to you about his disorder. Many hoarders keep their hoarding life a secret. Just because he continues to hoard, does not mean he doesn’t love you, says Lombardo.
3. Think Before Moving In
If you decide to take the relationship to the next level and move in together, be prepared for the challenges that may accompany living with a hoarder. Also consider your kids. Kids who grow up with a hoarder parent often suffer distress because of living in a cluttered environment, according to Frost. They can feel resentment toward the parent, who usually neglects the child for their possessions, which takes up more space and gets more attention. The messy environment also causes safety concerns for the child.
4. Be Supportive
Don’t attempt to help him by organizing or throwing things away. This won’t fix the problem, it will just make him anxious, stressed and frustrated, and he will continue to hoard again. Encourage him to seek professional help if he isn’t already. Seeing a therapist who understands hoarding can help him get to the psychological root of the problem, give him the tools he needs to get better, help him feel understood and can even improve your relationship. A psychiatrist may be able to provide appropriate medication (some hoarders are prescribed antidepressants) as well as Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which is used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder. Steketee developed a cognitive and behavioral treatment specifically for hoarding, in which she states that three-quarters of patients who have participated feel they have improved. Compulsive hoarding is generally a chronic disorder, but with the right help and support, it can be managed.
- Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things
- DMS-5: Obsessive Compulsive Related Disorders
- Match.com:: What It’s Like Dating a Hoarder
- The Wall Street Journal: When Hoarders Make Life Miserable for Others
- American Psychiatric Association: Hoarding Disorder
- Compulsive Hoarding: Treatment Options for Compulsive Hoarding
- PR Web: Boston University Dean Discusses Possible Cure for Hoarding
- Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images