Hoarding can be such a big issue that television programs have been made about helping people whose homes have been overcome by this kind of useless detritus, and when it happens that someone who has died was a hoarder, the clean-up process can be intense – check out this article about how a crime scene cleanup company handles hoarding.
Researchers in Ireland have recently been conducting a study into what triggers people to become hoarders, and there is actually a fairly convincing hypothesis that in many people's cases, it is as a response to bereavement.
It is thought that bereavement can make some types of people more afraid of letting go of things – even things that add no value to their lives and are not important. In the research done in Ireland, people reported doing things like keeping hold of old mail that was sent to a deceased person, even if it was just unimportant circulars. Psychologists involved in the study proposed that to people in a state of grief, letting go of these items felt like letting go of things that actually did have sentimental value like photographs of the person or belongings that were important to them.
Another reason psychologists believe hoarding and bereavement may have a cause and effect relationship in many cases is that by holding on to old items, people feel they have an easier connection to their pasts – past times before they experienced grief. This is why they may hoard things that don't actually have anything to do with the person they are grieving for and have no use or value, such as expired coupons or old phone books. When they have to throw these things away, their emotional connection to the past feels like it is diminishing, and this is hard for them to do.
The research also showed that some people kept on hoarding many, many years after the event that sparked this change in behavior, and saw no association between this habit and the bereavement. These people may claim they have always been hoarders, and it is only when they receive help or look into their problem that it is possible to piece together where and why it began.
Of course, everybody is different and there can be other reasons why people develop hoarding problems, but this research does certainly suggest that in many serious hoarding cases, losing a loved one has been a significant factor.
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