Image courtesy of Chris Stacey
Image courtesy of Chris Stacey

Hoarding disorder: why is it hard to part with stuff?

“I’m fascinated by why people love objects so much,” says Dr Melissa Norberg, Director of the Behavioural Science Laboratory at Macquarie University.

“What is it about the items (or the person) that makes objects so appealing?”

While we’re all guilty of holding on to a few sentimental things, Melissa’s interest is in studying those who meet the criteria for hoarding disorder.

With Associate Professor Jessica Grisham at the University of New South Wales, Melissa has been investigating how mood affects peoples’ ability to throw things out.

When in a neutral mood, only a person’s attachment to objects predicted how many objects they discarded during an experimental task.

But for those people who the researchers put in a ‘sad’ mood, their ongoing distress and inability to tolerate that distress were also predictors.

“This tells me that in clinical practice if someone currently feels okay, I may only need to focus on lessening object attachment to increase discarding. But if they feel distressed, it’s more complicated,” Melissa says.

Melissa is now studying whether a cluttered environment, similar to that of a patient’s home, affects their ability to part with more things. This will help to decide where treatment should take place.

For Melissa, the Holy Grail is to work out why people hold on to objects in the first place.

“It’s possible that if people learn throughout their life that others will not be there for them, they might start to rely on objects instead.”

This article was originally published on Stories of Australian Science and is republished here with permission.