I’ve always been very open about my struggles with mental illness. I talk about my depression and anxiety, and I made no qualms about sharing my PTSD and agoraphobia diagnoses in October. I’m a big advocate of self care and am not ashamed to take time away from things that exacerbate any of those problems. The only way we can end the stigma surrounding mental illness is to talk about it.
However, there has been one thing I’ve struggled with that I’ve yet to share: Hoarding.
It’s not that I’ve been particularly ashamed to admit it or anything like that. Rather, I haven’t felt like I really have hoarding disorder. I certainly have hoarding tendencies, but I never felt as though my life was impacted enough by my collected clutter to call myself a true hoarder.
About a month ago, I decided to look up the official symptoms of hoarding disorder. After my PTSD diagnosis, I was sitting on my bed one evening, thinking about how much my back hurt from staring down at my laptop and wishing that my desk and chair were clear enough for me to work on my desktop. I’m not sure what specifically made me look up hoarding—maybe subconsciously I knew I had a problem.
After a quick search I found out that hoarding disorder is defined as “a mental health disorder where people have difficulty getting rid of possessions that are no longer useful,” is linked to OCD, and is marked by three primary requirements:
- A person collects and keeps a lot of items, even things that appear useless or of little value to most people.
- These items clutter the living space and keep the person from using the rooms as they were intended.
- These items cause distress or problems in day-to-day activities.
I ticked box 1 immediately. I had a lot of stuff, especially for the amount of space I have. I saved scraps of paper and old stickers which have lost their stick because I was sure I was just a little glue away from a beautiful scrapbook page. I have so many things that sometimes I would find things I’d completely forgotten about—things like books and clothes.
I also knew that I hit the second requirement. After all, I’d just been lamenting not being able to use my computer desk because it was so cluttered. I had to move piles of boxes, pillows, and other assorted madness to get to my dresser (and occasionally would just lean over it, or spend the day in my pajamas and forgo clean clothes completely). Obviously, I couldn’t use my space as intended.
I hesitated at the third requirement. I mean, yes, technically, I found the amount of clutter I had distressing. Who wouldn’t be bothered by being unable to use their desk or put on clean underwear, after all? But, was it distressing enough? I really gave this one some thought.
Not being able to use my desk in the last three years has left me sitting with my laptop on my bed to do everything from minor web surfing to completing my homework. That’s given me back and neck strain, as well as shoulder problems, from my poor posture. Okay, that’s a serious problem, but it’s just one serious problem.
Occasionally, I will get “wearable” clothes out of my dirty clothes hamper because I can’t get to my dresser. I’ve also had washed my dainties and dried them with a hair dryer for that same reason. …yea, that’s a pretty big issue, and also disgusting.
Often when Pup comes over to visit, I insist on going out shopping or doing something else out of the apartment, because I can’t stand being in my room. The clutter feels overwhelming.
…I leave the apartment because I can’t stand being in my room.
I can’t stand being in my room.
I can’t stand it.
I admitted to myself that, technically, I hit all three requirements for hoarding disorder. But, they are vague requirements. I could still walk through my space (granted, only on a specifically clear path). I didn’t regularly store things on my bed that needed to be cleared off for sleep.
At what point did “a lot of items” become “too many” items?
Luckily, there is a handy visual guide called the Clutter Image Rating Scale.
Honestly, it’s difficult to properly assess from this scale, because that shows just one corner of a room featuring a bed. Now, if you look at my bed, I’m neat as they come. I make my bed almost every morning and never store anything there that I’m not immediately using. My bed looks like the first image. But, if instead of a bed that image showed, say, my craft table and desk, then I would hit a solid four. The floor in front of my dresser? Easily a five. Bookshelves? Four. Not every area of my room looked like a single picture.
So, I did the only rational thing and I assessed those four areas individually, then averaged them out. I determined that my bedroom ranked at a 3.5. For reference, it’s suggested a person seek help for hoarding problems if they hit a four or higher. I knew that I had at least the beginnings of a problem.
Now, I want to share a video with you that I took of what my bedroom looked like in mid-October. I had intended to share it with my therapist, but ended up being too embarrassed. I’m still embarrassed to share it here, but I want to be open about this struggle. I want you to know where I’m coming from.
I started looking into hoarding disorder in conjunction with my PTSD. Though there isn’t much of a definitive link between the two, people who have suffered from traumatic experiences can develop hoarding disorder in response.
But living like that? It can be traumatic just by itself. Walking into my room, feeling crowded out of my space—an area where I’m supposed to feel the most relaxed—felt traumatic to me. I hated living like that and I hated myself for letting it get that way.
So, I decided to make a change. I got together with Pup, who has hoarding issues of his own, and we made a plan. Which I will save for next week, because this has already gotten much longer than I anticipated.
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