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Forcing Hoarders to Clean Up Won't Solve the Problem

A USA Today article described the Seattle home and lawn of an elderly man as resembling a junkyard. After many complaints by his neighbors, relatives of the man finally moved the man out of state and sold the house. The new owner discovered the inside of the house was worse than the exterior. Workers removed enough clothes, books, magazines, spoiled food, car parts, tires, and 50-year-old paperwork to fill seven dumpsters.

The article depicted hoarding as a serious problem, and one that some municipalities have addressed by forming task forces. These agencies insure the collaboration of public services in helping people with hoarding tendencies, and in cleaning up their properties.

Hoarding is now considered a symptom of the obsessive-compulsive disorder. Hoarders don't just save stuff, they constantly acquire new stuff —to the extent that it interferes with everyday life and safety. The weight of possessions buckles the floors of their houses. Overflowing piles threaten, and sometimes do, bury the residents alive. Rotting food draws insects and rodents. Combustible materials ignite to destroy buildings and sometimes kill the occupants.

According to Randy Frost, a psychology professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, 2 to 3 percent of the population has obsessive-compulsive disorder, and up to a third of those exhibit hoarding behavior.

Sadly, Frost admits that even when a hoarder's home is cleaned up, the hoarding behavior usually begins again almost immediately. The person involved in the self-destructive behavior will not change until they themselves decide to take responsibility.

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