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Hoarding Vs Clutter Phobia, Which One Is Really OCD?

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Why is the media so fixated on OCD being about hoarding, when hoarding is the opposite of everything that OCD stands for? People with OCD tend to be organized, neat freaks and clean. Hoarders on the other hand are disorganized, messy and a general health and safety hazard. They could not be further from the definition of obsessive compulsive disorder if they tried.

The clutter phobes, however, really do obsess about their space and their stuff, organizing, counting, arranging, rearranging and purging, constantly feeling cluttered even though they live in minimalistic, Spartan conditions.

Do hoarders even have the obsessions and compulsions that are so integral to OCD, or is their hoarding mindless? Most hoarders will tell you that they don't even know how their hoarding got so out of hand. Is that the meticulous attitude of someone with OCD? I don't think so! It's a mystery how hoarding ever got labeled as OCD. Less than 1% of the population hoards, and 2.5% of the population has OCD. According to the Mayo Clinic, many people who hoard don't have other OCD-related symptoms. Furthermore, according to Dr Staab of the Mayo Clinic, "recent functional brain imaging studies suggest a different pattern of brain activity in patients with hoarding versus other OCD symptoms. All of these data support the separation of hoarding from OCD."

I therefore propose that we debunk the hoarding myth and get the world to understand that clutter phobia, when taken to it's extreme, is a real and distressing symptom of OCD that deserves to be recognized.

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I am using the term 'clutter phobia' to describe people who are so strict about what comes into and what remains in their home, that it causes major distress and/or disruption to daily living. I have also heard it called Obsessive Compulsive Spartanism, which is good news, as the first step to recognizing something is naming it. Sadly though, The American Psychiatric Association does not officially recognize obsessive compulsive spartanism as a psychiatric disorder. Even more frustrating is that, in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) IV, hoarding has been categorized as a symptom of OCD. T hankfully and finally hoarding will be classified as a separate illness in the DSM V edition, due to be published in 2013.

It is very important to note that obsessive compulsive spartanism has NOTHING to do with contamination OCD (cleaning, hand washing etc). And that just like cleaning and checking, clutter phobia can stand alone and cause plenty of distress as is.

I would suggest that clutter phobia (or obsessive compulsive spartanism) manifests itself as follows:
1) Need to have minimum things in your home.
2) Need to have specific numbers of everything that you do have in your home.
3) Everything must fit into a category, or you cannot have it at all
4) Everything has a very specific place.

The OCD part is the constant editing: Is this the right shelf for my books, why do I have 6 pairs of trousers, maybe I should have five? A screwdriver doesn't fit into any of my acceptable categories, so I won't have one even if it means constantly bothering the neighbor to borrow theirs. I know I'm about to miss my flight but I can't leave the house until I am happy that my kitchen cabinet doesn't look cluttered.

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Because this brand of OCD never appears in any of the textbooks, and is never spoken about, it is likely there are many sufferers out there struggling in silence and wishing they had any other more famous OCD symptoms instead, just so they wouldn't feel so weird and alone. Some unfortunate souls probably have no idea they have OCD at all, and that treatment is available, just as it is to other OCD patients.

Hoarders have recognition of their suffering, obsessive compulsive spartans do not. If there are enough out there, then we need to get together and raise serious awareness about this type of torment. Perhaps it is far less interesting or scandalous than hoarding, but it is torture, as only an OCD sufferer can know.

Think about it. There's:
  • Contamination OCD
  • Checking
  • Ordering
  • Counting
  • Hoarding !!!
  • Scrupulosity (religious OCD)
  • HOCD
  • Sexual OCD
  • Pure O
  • Skin picking
Everyone's pain is recognized, except for the obsessive compulsive spartans! If you are a clutter phobe, this should make you furious.

Time to come out of some very neat closets

And hoarders, please go away, get out of our space and get your own diagnosis. OCD belongs to the clutter phobes!!

Dr AnabelleRC


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I am a research scientist and a writer, with a PhD in neuroscience from University College London. I recently published the novel, A Life Lived Ridiculously, about a girl with obsessive compulsive disorder who makes the horrible mistake of (more...)

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