It’s the holiday season, and Christmas is fast approaching. If you struggle with hoarding behaviors then you might find this time of year to not only be exciting, but also quite challenging.
Hoarding disorder (HD), recognized since 2013 as its own condition rather than a subtype of OCD, is a problem that afflicts millions of people in the United States, as well as millions in other countries. Contrary to popular belief, HD it is not a disorder caused by laziness or inextinguishable greed. It involves differences in how one’s brain functions, including issues with decision-making, categorization, attention, information processing, and a variety of unhelpful beliefs. It is a myth that hoarding solely involves the saving of items that others would consider garbage. It can also involve the excessive saving of highly valuable items. It should also be noted that not everyone who struggles with hoarding has difficulty with excessive acquiring, but many do.
Now, during the holiday season, those of you with lived experience of HD may be thrilled by all the enticing deals and sales this time of year, hoping to obtain the perfect gifts for your loved ones (and yourself). Unfortunately, though, what this season may also bring to you is stress, frustration, guilt, indecision, or even disappointment, feeling ashamed of yourself. To add to that, with every item you purchase you might also experience ever-increasing financial strain while also creating more congestion in the place you call home. Even though the pandemic may have put a natural damper on the ability for most people to acquire items, you still might experience some difficulties to limit your shopping online or acquiring in some other form. Furthermore, during the early stages of the pandemic when people rushed to stock up on non-perishable foods, cleaning products, PPE, and paper goods, you may have acquired so many items that your home could almost be mistaken for a supermarket stock room.
While the tasks of reducing acquisitions and decluttering may seem more impossible than a portly, white-haired Santa fitting into a narrow chimney, it is quite doable. It does take a concerted effort, though, which ideally comes from the person struggling with the clutter. Here are some tips and information to try to help get you get through the holiday season without adding more to your clutter and working toward reducing it:
1.) Go shopping with the goal of not buying anything.
- Yep, that’s right. Similar to some good old window shopping, the premise here is to give yourself opportunities to work on resisting the urge to buy items you want. It may be the case that you have worked on resisting these urges by simply avoiding places where you like to acquire items, whether it be physical stores, websites, or places/people you get free stuff from. Avoidance, however, is not the answer, at least not in the long-term. You will need to work on resisting the urges when they come up so that you are not continuing to fall into the same pattern of acquiring items you do not need. One of the best ways to create those opportunities is to visit the places you acquire from while not actually acquiring anything. When at that location, you can browse through and find great things you love and want, but the goal is to leave them where they are. Do not acquire them. This will help you build up your resistance to these urges, giving you firsthand experience in seeing that you can tolerate the discomfort and that you do not need to get the items you want.
2.) Whenever you do need to shop, focus on meeting your needs.
- In general, it will help immensely to focus your acquisitions on what you truly need rather than what you want. Acquiring what you want rather than what you need plays a significant role in the accumulation of clutter. It is important to also keep in mind that you should limit these acquisitions to items that you are going to use in the near future. Thus, it would help to acquire fewer items than what you might typically get, even if it is something you think you will need. For instance, if you want to acquire 10 cartons of your favorite eggnog during the holiday season when you typically only drink one or two cartons in December, then do yourself a favor and only buy one or two. (And get some Pepto Bismol while you’re at it.)
- Now, if you are gift shopping for others, again, focus on what you truly need and what you can actually hand over or send to the gift recipient(s). If you acquire a gift for someone but the likelihood of giving it to them is slim to none, guess who just added more to their clutter. Be honest with yourself here and limit your acquisitions to what you need.
3.) Keep your goals in mind.
- Use your goals as a source of motivation to help reduce acquiring and engage more in decluttering. For instance, if a goal of yours is to have family/friends visit your residence at some point, think about whether acquiring an item is truly going to help you reduce your clutter. If it is unlikely to help, you are better off walking away and letting yourself experience the feelings that arise. Whether you expect to feel regret about not acquiring the items or you feel as though you lost an opportunity to feel positive emotions from having the item, it is better for you to feel those feelings rather than avoiding them. Yes, this is easier said than done, but allowing yourself to experience your emotions rather than trying to control them will help you develop your “emotional muscle” and see that you can tolerate them better than you thought.
4.) Try not to acquire to feel better.
- Acquiring items has likely been a great mood booster for you, experiencing the “thrill of the hunt” and feeling great about getting an item you like. Or maybe you get a rush out of knowing that you got a great deal on an item and love the feeling that you saved money. These are feelings that almost anyone likes to experience, but if you use acquiring as a way to boost your mood over and over again when you are not feeling so positive, then you can find yourself stuck in that cycle of acquiring over and over again to chase that rush. Find a healthy alternative to replace the “thrill of the hunt.” Engage in other activities that are healthy and meaningful to you that won’t contribute to your clutter or debt.
5.) Invite people over for the holidays!
- …or maybe later in the future. This may be hard for people to imagine while their home is actively cluttered, but having a person over, particularly one who you trust to be understanding and non-judgmental, can be a great motivator to work on reducing your clutter. That person may also act as a helpful, calming presence for you and they can help you maintain focus during the decluttering process.
Now, of course, these tips are not going to be all you need to overcome hoarding disorder, but, hopefully, they help you to not add to your clutter and tackle half of the battle of this debilitating disorder. Happy Holidays!
By: Jelani Daniel, MA, LPC