Do you know someone who collects things? Do you know someone who collects animals? At what point does a cluttered house represent a mental disease known as hoarding? It is definitely a fine line between crazy and eccentric. Generally the more money you have the more indulgent people are to collecting. It also seems to depend on if the objects are expensive antiques or broken down junk. Theoretically the action is the same, however it is more socially acceptable if the things in question have a high value.

My first husband would probably consider himself a collector. He had a messy house. I had no idea how odd he was until we moved in together. Several friends were moving his boxes and one dropped by accident revealing a pile of old mail from the 1980's. It was bulk mail, or junk mail. We were all surprised. The man who dropped the box was even angry, that we were wasting our time moving heavy boxes filled with nothing more than junk mail. My first husband got very agitated and defensive. He explained he wanted those flyers because he had ideas for his business that he got from slogans and advertisements he read. We dutifully parked the boxes into the new garage per his request. In the next five years I lived with him, I never saw my first husband open the boxes or review the contents.

I believe now that his need to keep and store his old mail was due to an obsessive compulsion. The inside of our house became quite messy as well. From time to time he would read an organization book and attempt a new filing system. Sometimes he would buy clear bins, other times metal filing cabinets, often it was about new software, but no matter what he did the end result was the same: he didn't use the stuff he was hoarding, he just continually rearranged it, and increased the overall bulk of it.

His older brother was also a hoarder. "Steve" lived in a group home, and was often kicked out of facilities where he lived due to his hoarding. It rarely took him more than a few months to fill his room floor to ceiling with items. I was told by one of his workers "Steve" would be forced to sleep sitting up on the edge of his couch because the rest of the room was so filled with stuff. In an effort to help him family members would occasionally band together and remove some of "Steve's" things. It was never with his consent. He would quickly reassemble an equal number of things. As with his brother, my first husband, "Steve" didn't even use the things he hoarded. They ran the gamut from cheap plastic toys to women's clothing. He just liked having lots of stuff. I was told their mother's apartment was similar, so cluttered that I wouldn't be able to sit down inside. I never was invited to visit so I can't attest to that fact. We always met in public places.

It did get me thinking that there is probably a genetic component to hoarding. To my knowledge there is no cure. Some of the people start out with the good intention of saving cats or dogs or some other kind of animal. By the time they are being shown on the 6 o'clock news, it is clear that they are no longer seeing their inability to care for the huge number of animals they have collected. In one case in my little town a lady was collecting Chihuahua dogs from shelters, and breeding them in her home. The dogs when rescued were sick and starving. In another case a Shelter called "Cause for Cats" was closed down when nearly three times the amount of cats allowed were found on site. The odor of the urine was eye watering, yet the family in question really felt they were doing the best they could for the cats. They were upset and defensive about being closed down.

Hoarding larger animals is less common, and yet it happens. In Lockwood Valley neighbors of mine were found guilty of cruelty to animals for hoarding horses. They had so many animals some of them had trampled each other and the rotting carcasses were in the corner of the yard! Some of the starving animals were beyond repair and had to be put down. As with the cat and dog lovers the Bors maintained their innocence. They honestly were blind to the animals' suffering.

A person on queried what causes hoarding behavior. It is sometimes caused by bad parenting. I have witnessed the children of drug addicts hoarding food. It is usually because the kids have a past experience of not getting fed consistently. As a coping mechanism they tend to hoard food when it was available. My first husband was not the child of a drug addict, but he was the child of an alcoholic. One can see how growing up in a chaotic environment might make a person lean toward "controlling" behavior as a coping mechanism. Hanging on to things, whether you use them or not, speaks to at least having the choice to use them if you want. A person used to chaos, may welcome the idea of having choice.

What can you do if you know someone who hoards? Unfortunately very little. If it is animals you can call the authorities. If the animals are not being taken care of, the human society or SPCA may come and rescue the animals, and the hoarders may even face criminal charges. Unfortunately most hoarders of animals simply move up the road to the next obscure town and start all over again. As with my former brother in law, getting rid of their stuff periodically does not attack the problem at the root cause. As there is no agreed upon treatment for people with this mental disease, there is little chance of curing it.