(EASTHAMPTON, Mass.) — Lee Shuer’s hoarding began a decade ago as he began collecting Atari video games, then progressed to vintage art work and musical instruments.
But soon, his apartment was overflowing with bobble heads, collectibles and anything he could get “free or [a] good deal [on].”
“It got to the point where more is better,” said Shuer, now 37, of Easthampton, Mass. “Eventually, they spilled off the shelves, onto the floor, down the hall, into the bedroom, off the bed — you could see the tide flow.”
Shuer’s acquisitions became part of his identity and self-esteem.
“If I had more fun and more toys, people might actually like me,” he said. “If I had enough things to play with, they might come hang out.”
When he finally met his future wife and they had to clean out the clutter to move in to a new home, she was horrified by the volume of things and begged him to call for help.
Shuer did, and this week he is one of the key presenters at the 14th Annual Hoarding and Cluttering Conference, sponsored by the San Francisco Mental Health Association. There, both clinicians and hoarders will attend an array of workshops on best practices and new treatments.
“I give my wife a lot of credit,” he told ABC News. “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be talking to you now.”
After participating in a study at Smith College in 2005 with pioneering hoarding expert Randy O. Frost, Shuer joined a hoarding task force and began to help others.
“Hoarding has been around a long time, all the way back to the 14th century,” said Frost, psychology professor and co-author of the 2011 book, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things.
Frost identified the three features of hoarding: excessive acquisition, difficulty discarding and disorganization. He developed the “Buried in Treasures” self-help program that gave Shuer his life back.
Compulsive hoarding is strongly associated with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), a condition that affects about four million Americans, according to the OCD Foundation. About 25 to 40 percent of those with OCD have hoarding symptoms.
Psychiatrists are now hopeful that hoarding will get its own category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V this year, distinguishing it from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio