Many of us struggle to get rid of treasured belongings, but for years Stephanie Evans felt obliged to cling to almost everything she had bought.
As a result, his corridor and living room were crammed with piles of books and magazines. His room, meanwhile, was so full of piles of clothes that, until recently, he had to sleep on the sofa in the living room.
"I hated the way clutter made me feel, but I could not throw anything away, even if something broke, I could not get rid of it," says Stephanie, 51, an assistant teacher in Birmingham.
You got it? Hoarding disorder is defined as having excessive elements that can not be separated
"I just told myself that I needed more shelves and storage space and that someday it would solve everything." The family sometimes helped me clarify it, but it filled the space again and that made me feel even more like a failure ".
Stephanie, who is divorced, has a 28-year-old daughter, and only close relatives and friends had any idea of her problem, as she made sure that she always looked immaculate when she went to work.
"When I went out the front door, nobody would have guessed that I lived in such chaos," he says. "It was as if I were leading a double life, but I was afraid I would have to return to the apartment at the end of the day.
Stephanie suffers from accumulation disorder, which is believed to affect an estimated 3.4 million people in the United Kingdom to some extent.
But, like many, she did not think it was something that the doctors tried, so she did not seek help.
In fact, hoarding is a recognized medical disorder, previously classified as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), where people repeat certain behaviors or thoughts. But the hoarding last month was recognized as a psychiatric disorder in itself by the World Health Organization.
Fact: may be related to other mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety
The hoarding disorder is defined as having an excessive number of items, having persistent difficulty in throwing away possessions and storing them in a chaotic manner, in such a way that this interferes with daily life and causes significant distress or affects the quality of life.
Those affected will pick up anything, such as clothing, newspapers, photos and even prints from emails, to receipts and lawn clippings, says Dr. Stuart Whomsley, a clinical psychologist at the National Health Service who practices in Corby, Northamptonshire.
While some cling to almost everything they have, others collect specific items. "The hoarders fear making a wrong decision about what to save and what to throw, so they keep everything," says Dr. Whomsley, who was one of the authors of the British Society of Psychology guidelines on hoarding compiled in 2013.
"It's a psychological condition and not a lifestyle choice," he adds. "It can be associated with other mental health conditions, such as depression and social anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or OCD."
The hoarders may also have perfectionist tendencies, be prone to procrastination and have problems planning and organizing.
"Many of those affected will have had accumulation tendencies since childhood, but living with their parents or with a partner meant that they could not escape from their hands," says Dr. Whomsley.
I was ashamed of my hoarding, but I could not stop. I felt very isolated because I felt that I could not accept invitations, since I would not invite anyone
"The most common time for it to reach a critical point is when people are middle-aged or older and live alone." The condition is often triggered by a traumatic event, such as a grieving or divorce.
"One theory is that having experienced a loss in the past, a person is prepared to resist more losses, therefore, their reluctance to separate from things," adds Dr. Whomsley. Hoarding can have far-reaching effects on a person's life. Heather Matuozzo, who heads the Clouds End hoarder support group in Solihull, West Midlands, says people can lose their children and their homes due to hoarding.
"It can be very serious, and yet, people with this condition do not feel very sympathetic as it is considered self-inflicted rather than a disease, hopefully, that will now change."
Stephanie believes that her buildup is rooted in the depression she experienced after the traumatic birth of her daughter, who has cerebral palsy as a result of lack of oxygen during delivery.
"I developed severe postnatal depression after I was born and I was hospitalized for several months," she says.
"My marriage broke five years later and we moved to this apartment where my hoarding began.
"When my daughter lived at home, I was able to keep up, but when she moved to the university 11 years ago, I lost control because I did not have anyone to keep the house tidy.
"Buying new things that I could not afford made me feel good for a few fleeting moments, and with the benefit of hindsight, I see it somehow masked the pain I felt after my divorce and my daughter's difficult delivery. home with my new purchases, I felt sick and angry with myself and the way I was living in. I had a lot of clothes, around 40 pairs of pants, some identical, others still had price tags and they were never used.
"I was ashamed of my accumulation, but I could not stop, I felt very isolated because I felt I could not accept invitations, since I would not invite anyone," he adds.
Stephanie only discovered that she had a recognized condition in August 2011 when she saw a documentary made by television host Jasmine Harman about her mother's hoarding Vasoulla.
"Some people might say that we are medicalizing eccentricity if we consider hoarding as a distinct form of recognizable mental illness," says Dr. Cosmo Hallstrom, a consultant psychiatrist and member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
"But if the hoarding has an official diagnosis, it means that it should be easier for people to get help," he says. "If the hoarding is not treated, the affected person is unhappy and has to face this constant burden, their home becomes a danger to others because it is a fire or health hazard and could face eviction in some cases "
Treatment options include a combination of gradual cleansing and psychological therapies, including individual and group cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a conversation therapy to encourage people to think differently about their reactions to everyday events. Research published in the journal Clinical Psychological Psychotherapy last year by researchers at Deakin University in Australia found that a third of the hoarders who attended a 12-week CBT program developed to reduce hoarding experienced an improvement in the symptoms.
Cleaning someone's messy house is rarely effective on its own, says Dr. Whomsley.
"That will not solve the problem because they will fill it again, and there is almost always an underlying psychological cause that needs to be addressed," he says.
In fact, Jasmine Harman's mother gradually filled her home once she was cleared for the television documentary.
"They cleaned my house for the documentary, but my head was not there and gradually my house began to fill up again with disorder," Vasoulla told Good Health.
"My living room and dining room are currently unusable again, but I attend the group cognitive therapy group therapy and I see an addiction specialist and I am eager to live in a home without mess with a lot of space in the future."
Two years ago, Stephanie's daughter cared so much about her mother's problem, found a local support group for the hoarders and persuaded her to leave. "The first time I went there I started crying," says Stephanie.
"Everyone talked about being embarrassed and overwhelmed by the mess in their houses and I knew how they felt.
& # 39; What the group has taught me is to forgive myself. Most of us have suffered some kind of loss in the past, a grief or a trauma.
"One of the best advice I was given was that I had to set a timer for 20 minutes once a day and try a cleaning job, which made me feel overwhelmed."
Stephanie still attends monthly support group meetings and not only has she managed to mess up her home, but she has also stopped acquiring things she does not need.
"It's very nice to be able to invite my mom and sister to a meal now, something I could never have done in the past," she says. "I hope that if more people talk about hoarding, the stigma will disappear and more people will get help."