Hoarding and the Holidays

December 20, 2015 by

xmas1The holiday season can be a difficult time for those who suffer from Hoarding disorder. Television commercials, movies, and shopping advertisements build up the holiday season as a wonderful time to gather with your loved ones, sharing an abundance of food and gifts, in exquisitely decorated homes. But in reality, people suffering from Hoarding disorder often feel depressed and isolated in their environment. They would love to entertain others, but are often ashamed, and unable to bring friends and family into their severely hoarded environments. They may also be cut off from loving relationships due to the chaos that surrounds them.

Throughout the year, the hoarder may have identified and purchased items that he or she thinks would be nice presents for others, but the presents get lost in the clutter. They either can’t find the items, or  they know where the items are, but can’t access them because of a buildup of piles. In the end, the person may go back out and spend more money to reacquire the items; this deepens the habit of buying and acquiring.

Quite often people suffering from Hoarding disorder get into trouble with credit. They are driven by their need to acquire. It is not unheard of, in Elaine’s experience, to see this need to acquire be replaced with stealing, because the person has run out of funds and used up his/her credit.

When people have had a lot of chaos and unhappiness in their past experience at this time of year, the season can create an emotional letdown for them. They often try to make up for their own sadness, by creating magical moments for themselves and others through extravagant gift giving.

christmas-messIt is hard not to get caught up in the hype of the holiday season. But ALL of us—even if we don’t suffer from Hoarding disorder—can benefit from the realization that “things” do not need to be the focus of our happiness and fulfillment.

Children in particular can be taught to fulfill their need for pleasure, their need for excitement, and their need for stimulus by building memories and sharing time together. If you can give your undivided attention to your child—listening to them, doing free activities, and teaching them to use their imagination, you are setting a good example. Sometimes we fall into the trap of buying many expensive gifts as an easy substitute for making happy, shared, lasting memories.

Elaine and I, and all the staff of Birchall Consulting Inc. wish everyone love and peace throughout the holiday season. Rather than spending time buying presents this year, we hope you spend some time remembering that you are loved and valued. Focus on yourselves as lovable and worthy, even if your histories are full of neglect and abuse.

And thank you all for your kind words and enthusiasm about our blog. We hope it has provided you with some perspective and encouragement. See you in 2016!


Check out www.hoarding.ca for more information about hoarding and watch for the new book entitled Clearing the Path: Take Back Your Life When Your Things are Taking Over by Elaine Birchall and Suzanne Cronkwright COMING SOON. Follow us on twitter @Clearingthepath or Facebook at Clearingthepathbook.

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About the Authors

Elaine Birchall MSW RSW

Elaine is recognized as the leading Canadian expert in the field of Hoarding. With over 20 years’ experience as a community based and clinical social worker, she has provided training and consultation to individuals, families, professionals, and community organizations across North America and internationally. In the last three years alone, Elaine has assisted 212 clients/families and over 130 peers, and offered more than 80 training courses and workshops on hoarding to individuals and professionals in North America. She is sought after as a keynote speaker and her work has received frequent acknowledgement in print, radio (U.S.A. and Canada), and television media, including features on W5, Canada AM, and 16x9 The Bigger Picture.  She recently hosted a six-part series with Canadian regional TV, Channel 22 in the Ottawa area.

Suzanne Cronkwright

Suzanne is a successful technical writer, editor, and instructional design professional with over 30 years’ experience in both high tech and government in Canada. She is recognized for her ability to translate complex technical subject matter into simple, clear procedures. Working with Elaine on Clearing the Path has provided a wonderful opportunity for Suzanne to fulfill a lifelong dream of using her writing skills to “make a difference” in the lives of those around her.