Are you a collector or a hoarder?

A collection of lego

After a trip to the supermarket, we usually have a pile of plastic bags, which we’ll stash somewhere safe in the kitchen. We probably have fewer plastic bags these days because we’re into recycling and using our own cloth or non-woven bags. And you can save 10 cents by bringing your own bag. But we typically get a bag when we buy something. And we’ll stack these neatly in a pile somewhere at home. And that something that we’ve bought often comes in a box, which we’ll keep because it’ll come in useful some day.

Or perhaps you’re the sort that just throws everything away and recycles all the paper and cardboard products as soon as you get home to unwrap your new toy. Because you’re afraid of accumulating too much stuff and of becoming a hoarder. Because you know someone who is one.

It seems hard to imagine how one can keep so many things that the home becomes too cluttered to move or clean, even to the extent that a clean-up team from the Housing Development Board and National Environment Agency is required. But it’s a problem that’s much more common than you may think. As many as 1 in 50 show hoarding behaviours in Singapore, according to a 2015 study. And it’s a problem not simply solved with a clean up. Those who hoard have “a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them” (Mayo Clinic). As such, they usually need professional help.

Although hoarding was previously categorized as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD, experts now recognize hoarding to be distinct from OCD (see also the DSM-V).

A 2012 study found that the brains of those who hoard were overstimulated when tasked with deciding whether to discard or keep junk mail that was addressed to them. In contrast, the same brain area was inactive for the same task involving junk mail addressed to a third party — a research lab. These findings speak volumes about the crippling indecision that those who hoard face when forced to clean up their homes.

Those who compulsively hoard tend to place much greater value on things that they keep and they place value on many more things that others would. And their anxiety which stems from trying to make discard-or-keep decisions, is a huge obstacle to gaining control over their cluttered homes. It’s no surprise that hoarding is without exception “always accompanied by anxiety“.

Perhaps we’re not quite there yet. We can claim to be collectors of plastic bags and cardboard boxes because they’re still sitting neatly in a drawer and a cupboard. But it may be useful to acknowledge when our collecting behaviours are turning into hoarding ones (refer to this Fact Sheet for signs and symptoms). Ask yourself these questions:

Do you feel overwhelmed by the clutter in your home?
Is the clutter preventing you from using your furniture or appliances?
Do you avoid having visitors so that they won’t see the clutter?

If yes, it may be time for you or your loved one to seek help. Professional help in the form of intensive cognitive-behavioural therapy or CBT, with a therapist who has experience with hoarding behaviours, has been shown to be effective in helping hoarders.

Here are some resources for helping those who hoard to help themselves: Start by setting realistic and small goals (e.g., aim to clear one shelf). It’s never too late: Here are some top tips to help contain the clutter.

Advertisements

Shortcuts to a happier life with your partner

Shortcuts to a happier life with your partner

There’s one day in the year we’re especially nice to our loved ones. There’s also another day we’re patient and generous with our time. And yet another that we’re considerate, amiable, sociable and conciliatory. We try to be our best selves on birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. But what about the other days in the year?

Life in the fast lane often leaves us with spare precious time for romantic gestures during the ordinary work week. So what are some things we can do about it?

Based on recent research, there are actually a few small steps which can make all the difference. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

1. Am I picking a fight because I’m hungry? 
A 2014 study found that couples were more likely to choose to subject their spouse to irritating or annoying sounds (fingernails against a blackboard or ambulance siren) when they were hungry (and having low blood sugar levels). So, have a meal or snack before you engage in verbal battles!

2. Am I punctual? Do I do what I say I’ll do?
A recent study found that couples who intentionally gave as much as priority to their partner as to their work, were less physically and emotionally stressed. Having a relationship work ethic means investing in your relationship, “putting the same kind of energy into active listening, planning time together, finding a workable solution for sharing household tasks, and handling personal stress so that it doesn’t spill over into the relationship” (sciencedaily.com).

3. Do I appreciate my partner and express my appreciation to him/her?
Research shows that successful relationships are rooted in a culture of trust and intimacy. These couples seek to express appreciation for their partner; they also respond in such a way as to meet their partner’s emotional needs. In contrast, the silent treatment — where one responds to demands from one’s partner’s by withdrawing — is a sign of distress within a relationship. The key to a successful relationship is kindness. So practice kindness, starting with this resource list and these ideas.

4. Would I watch and talk about these movies with my partner?
A recent study found that having couples watch and discuss one relationship movie a week over a period of a month, was as effective as conflict management training and compassion and acceptance training in reducing divorce-and-separation rates. Couples trained to manage conflict were encouraged to use active listening when communicating with their spouse, while those trained to communicate with compassion and empathy were encouraged to practice random acts of kindness and affection and to communicate effectively. So if attending therapy sessions is daunting, get comfy on the sofa and discuss these questions with your partner after the movie ends.

Finally, here are some tips for small problems and the basics to building a strong relationship. There are no real shortcuts to the happy life. Kindness takes practice.