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How to Differentiate Between a Hoarder and a Classic Pack Rat and What to Do

hoarder cluttering a kitchenHoarding can be an emotionally devastating disorder. The effects of obsessive hoarding can be hard on the hoarder themselves, and equally as troubling for friends and family. There is a distinct difference between someone who is a pack rat and someone who would constitute a hoarder. Let’s start by providing information you can ponder to see if you or someone you know might be a hoarder, followed by some suggestions for what to do.

Hoarder vs. Pack Rat – Is There Actually any Difference?

One of the most definitive differences between someone with hoarder disorder and someone who is just a pack rat is the reasoning. A pack rat will clutter up their home or apartment with a lot of stuff, but when pressed for a reason, they’ll insist they may have a use for it somewhere or at some time.

A hoarder simply absorbs anything and everything without any definitive purpose for the largest percentage of the stuff they acquire. Pack rats insist they keep things because they will need them. A hoarder gets things to satisfy a subconscious need to just have more stuff. If asked, a hoarder may be hard-pressed to explain why they keep many of the things they keep.

Many times pack rats are also obsessive compulsive organizers. All of their stuff must be stored in an orderly manner. Usually, a pack rat will insist that everything must have a set place where it can be found. Either that or it loses much of its luster and purpose.

A hoarder’s obsessive tendency to keep acquiring massive collections of useless stuff eventually takes over their lives. Chairs and tables are unusable, and there is often little more than a narrow path cut through their dwelling to pass from one point to another.

Pack rats are often proud of their acquisitions, eager to show visitors the fruits of their success, albeit a bit on the neurotic side. Hoarders are prone to isolating and avoiding visitors.

Both of these problems can create dangerous situations. However, since the pack rat will notoriously strive to organize their stuff, the potential hazards are usually minimal. Hoarders, however, do not exhibit this type of sense of order.

A hoarder’s surroundings often present multiple hazards. One is pest infestation, and the other is a fire hazard. There is also the risk of falling because pathways that are normally free and clear are cluttered.

What to Do if You’re a Pack Rat or Hoarder?

A pack rat’s tendency to collect more things than what they really need can become an overbearing problem. However, someone with hoarding disorder can create a serious problem that can dramatically impair their life. First thing to consider is finding help to determine if you fall under either category.

Both situations can be addressed using similar measures. However, if you believe you’re a hoarder, you will quickly know how serious your problem is. When you absolutely refuse to part with things that are damaging your life or are potentially dangerous, you may have an underlying problem that fuels your tendency to hoard.

Like hundreds of emotional disorders, there are welcoming organizations who not only can help, but identify with the problem. Seeking help for hoarder disorder will at least allow the person to discern between the more serious issue of a hoarder and just a rather obsessive pack rat.

In either situation, you or a friend can get help. There are support groups that provide helpful solutions, not just condemnation. One thing that seems to be important, no matter which category the person falls into, is to begin gradually.

A pack rat may not experience intense emotional discomfort when their stuff begins to evaporate. But, since a hoarder’s condition often stems from underlying emotional issues, the anxiety can cause problems to become even worse.

Compassion and patience are essential when trying to help a pack rat or a hoarder. Again, no matter how serious the problem is, there are helpful ways to change the behavior.

Individuals who have a tendency to hoard or be akin to a pack rat can get help for their problems. Friends and family members should be wary that often there can be underlying emotional problems that fuel the obsessive behavior.

One group of people who often end up dealing with the wreckage of an obsessive compulsion to hoard is landlords. Property owners may not realize they are engaged in a rental relationship with a hoarder.

Thankfully, if that happens there are professionals who can clean up the devastation left behind by a hoarding tenant. Once it’s determined whether the problem is a result of being a pack rat or a more serious hoarding disorder, thankfully there is a solution.

Thanks to Jessica Kane for these ideas on helping hoarders.

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