How do you deal with hoarding

When objects replace social control

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Messie Syndrome

08/25/20 (ams). Too lazy to clean up? No, messie syndrome is the effects of a mental disorder that experts call compulsive hoarding. But not everyone who is messy is a "messie". When is clutter in the apartment no longer normal? Why are the accumulated things so important to those affected? And what can help? This is explained by Birgit Lesch, a qualified psychologist from the AOK.

Read newspapers, books, old calendars, handicrafts, shoes, clothes, boxes with photos - all kinds of things pile up in the rooms of so-called messies. Some apartments are so crowded that those affected can only move in narrow passages. "Messies are not too lazy to clean up," emphasizes psychologist Lesch. "But for deeper psychological reasons it is extremely difficult for them to part with objects." The things around them have a high emotional value for those affected: They give support and security and the feeling of being in control of their own life. It is therefore of little help if others tidy up or clean the apartment. "That can trigger panic fears," the psychologist continues. "For some, it feels like their lives are being thrown away."

It could be everyone

Messie syndrome is not that rare: it is estimated that every 20th person in Germany is affected. The disorder also occurs in all social classes: Not only the social benefit recipient, but also the CEO can be affected. Contrary to popular belief, only a minority live between leftover food, dirt and rubbish. Most of the time, you don't look at messies at the chaos in their home. Outwardly, they can function well and be successful in their jobs. Paradoxically, they have a tendency to perfectionism, which, however, downright overwhelms them when it comes to order in their own four walls.


Ready-to-broadcast o-tones with Birgit Lesch, graduate psychologist at the AOK

Some disorder is normal

A certain amount of disorder is normal and can even bring life to life and encourage creativity. And collecting objects is a human need. So when does the disorder start to become pathological? "The transition is fluid," says the psychologist, citing an example: A technology enthusiast collects engines and machines, brings all kinds of devices with him from his world trips. "If the passion for collecting leads to the person concerned being ashamed of the mess and not inviting anyone to their home, then the limit has been exceeded."

When are you a messie?

  • An overpowering need to pick up the items.
  • Massive tension up to panic when objects are to be thrown away.
  • Social difficulties up to isolation. Hobbies and interests are given up.
  • The symptoms cannot be better explained by other mental illnesses.

In the American classification system of diseases there is now an independent diagnosis under the term "pathological hoarding" - even if overlaps with, for example, depression, addiction or obsessive-compulsive disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are not uncommon. Medical or psychological psychotherapists usually check whether the symptoms can be explained by another mental illness or not. However, little research has been done into the clinical picture. Obviously, the chaos outside reflects the chaos inside. "The accumulation of objects should be seen as an attempt to suppress unbearable feelings," explains AOK expert Lesch. "Unresolved inner conflicts should be overcome through uncontrolled collecting." Often those affected have already experienced drastic separations in childhood. "When the objects are thrown away, deep feelings of loss come up again," explains the psychologist. Many sufferers have problems with their self-worth, they feel worthless. It is also noticeable that those affected often find it difficult to concentrate - for example on tidying up - and are very afraid of making wrong decisions.

Handling buried feelings and conflicts

On the one hand, psychotherapy can provide pragmatic and empathetic help in helping those affected clear the chaos. On the other hand, "messies" and "hoarders" can tackle deeper causes with psychotherapeutic support. A sociotherapist or psychiatric nurse may also be able to provide home support. Those affected learn to make better decisions about what can and cannot go. Once a box is sorted out, this positive experience can encourage you to move on. Often the uncomfortable feelings of throwing it away diminish with practice. Those affected can also train to increase their attention, which is necessary for organizing and sorting. It is also important to think about self-harming thoughts like: "I am worthless", "I have to be perfect." - to make conscious. Even buried feelings and conflicts can be dealt with. A self-help group makes it possible to discuss the problems with other people affected. Ultimately, you can experience that you are more than a "messie" - namely, a versatile person with many positive and negative sides.

Additional Information:

Psychotherapy Information Service (PGD)

Support and self-help groups:


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