Whether it’s spending too much, or being too shy to invite family into their home, it’s a challenging time of year — but help is available
There are many things we associate with the holiday season – snow, carols, time spent with family, beautiful light displays, and more. But more and more, the holidays are synonymous with shopping. Right after Thanksgiving, Black Friday hits, and televisions, newspapers, and phone screens are filled with reminders to grab the best deals, buy the perfect gift, and maybe even sneak in some treats for yourself while the sales are still good.
People with hoarding disorder also see these messages, making the holiday season an especially difficult time to manage impulses to spend and acquire as they struggle all year.
“When someone with hoarding problems sees holiday shopping ads, they often think, ‘Wow, I can get a bargain,'” says Doug Brown, clinical social worker at the Benjamin Rose Institute for Behavioral Health Services in the Elderly. “They think, ‘I can get a gift for someone and not really have anyone in mind. It’s a deal; I have to buy it now.’ This will really pique their interest to buy.”
“Online shopping can be very difficult to control, so if people with hoarding problems can avoid it, they should.”
These days, it’s nearly impossible to avoid seeing holiday ads. So how can people with hoarding disorder overcome the urge to succumb to the pressures of holiday consumerism? Brown says your strategy will vary depending on how you want to shop.
“Online shopping can be very difficult to control, so if people with hoarding problems can avoid it, they should avoid it,” suggests Brown. “When buying things online, don’t hit the buy button right away; wait until the next day. Filling your cart and making a purchase gives you instant gratification. It makes you happy in no time.”
She adds, “But if you can delay it until the next day, you’ll often look at your cart and realize you didn’t want or need what you put in there. The good feelings you experienced came from the intention of shopping and buying, not the products.”
For in-store shoppers, the environment of holiday sales and limited inventory can lend itself to feelings of competition among in-store shoppers — which is why we often see Black Friday scenes descend into chaos. “A lot of people look at it as, ‘I got a bargain and somebody else didn’t,'” says Brown. “If you think you have to ‘win’ against other people, it increases the willingness to spend.”
To control these urges, Brown recommends taking preventative measures before you go shopping. “Keep only a certain amount with you, and if you can, don’t bring your credit card,” she recommends. “It’s so easy to pull out a credit card and think, ‘This is it.’, Any thing I want can be mine. Not having a credit card makes it easier to set limits on your spending.”
Holiday entertainment challenges
Another tidbit that people with hoarding disorder may struggle with listening to during the holiday season is that the home is integrated into holiday gatherings. This can be especially challenging for older adults, often key people in their families who want their children and grandchildren around.
“Many people with hoarding disorder avoid having a family, and as a result, feel angry and frustrated with their family for failing to give them the vacation they want,” says Brown. “For many, it’s another painful reminder that they don’t have full control over their environment.”
However, family connection is especially important for people with hoarding disorder, especially during the holidays. “Many of the people I work with put aside their feelings of embarrassment and carve out a piece for their family because that connection is so important to them,” Brown says. Others may find it easier to arrange to spend the holidays at another family member’s home.
Resisting the urge to completely withdraw from family and loved ones because of hoarding issues is key, Brown says. With the right support, feelings of shame and embarrassment can be managed; Being separated from family can be very difficult to adjust to.
Start the New Year off right
Although the holiday season can be a difficult time for people with hoarding disorder, the coming New Year can offer new opportunities to get the situation under control.
“Hoarding disorder is a mental condition, and dealing with a problem at someone else’s pace can be harder on a mental level than your own.”
“If you want to start the journey of managing your hoarding, a good place to start is to look at support groups for hoarders,” says Brown. “It really helps to see and relate to others who are going through something similar and to start in an environment where you don’t need to hide or feel ashamed can make it easier to face the situation honestly.”
Getting the right professional help is also important. “Before your situation reaches a crisis point, call an agency that specializes in hoarding and mental health support,” says Brown of the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging’s Behavioral Health Service. “It’s in your best interest to get help before the city’s health and/or housing departments get involved, because when that happens, you lose control over the timeline of your progress, and recovery becomes more about immediate cleanup than treating the underlying problem. Hoarding disorder is a mental condition, and your own It can be harder on a mental level to face the problem at someone else’s pace than the problem itself.”
As for the timeline for progress, it’s important to recognize that working on a mental state doesn’t happen overnight. It can be tempting to give up if change doesn’t happen immediately, but Brown emphasizes that successful efforts to manage hoarding are made with small efforts that add up over time.
“Your situation is not hopeless,” says Brown. “You can face it, too can Make progress — even if it’s not progress, it’s easily recognizable by others or even yourself. Even removing a small piece of clutter is change and should be celebrated. If you can now do something you couldn’t do before, wouldn’t that be progress?”