Steketee, G., Frost, R. O., Kyrios, M. (2003).
Cognitive aspects of compulsive hoarding.
Cognitive Therapy and Research 27(4), 463-479.
Hoarding has been defined as the acquisition of and failure to discard possessions that are useless or of limited value, resulting in the clutter that renders living spaces unusable for their intended purpose and causes significant distress and impairment (Frost & Hartl, 1996).
The purpose of the current study is to examine whether beliefs play a role in the development of compulsive hoarding, and whether hoarders differ in their belief systems as compared to non-hoarders (i.e., other participants with OCD and also community controls). The study adds evidence to the theory that hoarders are influenced by several cognitive deficits that may lead to compulsive behavior.
Not only did the researcher find that hoarders tend to be older, but they also found that their small sample of hoarders were primarily women. Self-report and data analysis show that exaggerated beliefs about the the importance of possessions, the increased emotional attachment they feel toward their possessions, problems with memory, and the need for control play a part in the development of compulsive hoarding behavior.
People who hoard are more likely to believe that their possessions are part of themselves and feel distress when faced with the decision whether to discard their possessions. Hoekstrata, Visser, and Emmelkamp (1989) found limited data showing that people experiencing OCD had histories of attachment problems, as displayed by parental rejection and overprotection), and recent evidence points out that hoarders have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships with people.
It has also been found that people with OCD disorders display an increased need for control. (I would imagine this might be a consequence of the disorder, as well as a condition involved in the formation of the disorder). Kyrios (1998) proposed that those with OCD lack a basic sense of security, so that, fearing disorganization and losing control, they establish unrealistic and unattainable strategies to feel certainty and control over their world. It is proposed in the current study that hoarders attempt to gain a measure of control over their environment by controlling their possessions.
The study also adds evidence to our knowledge base that people who hoard experience memory and organizational difficulties, and therefore fear making decisions about discarding possessions. They report being worried about making the wrong decisions and forgetting, feeling overly responsible for remembering things, the need to keep a record of information which helps them in "being prepared" , and finding emotional comfort in having their possessions under their direct control or in plain sight.