Important to treat underlying condition: Expert

When dealing with hoarders, the work does not end with clearing out the junk in their homes.

It is important to treat the underlying condition to prevent the problem from recurring, said Dr Rajesh Jacob.

"Families and community agencies may spend many hours and thousands of dollars clearing a home, only to find that the problem recurs - often within just a few months," said the consultant at the Institute of Mental Health's general psychiatry department.

Hoarding behaviour can occur in two ways, said Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at the Dr BL Lim Centre For Psychological Wellness.

As a standalone illness, it is considered a type of obsessive compulsive disorder. It can also develop as a symptom of a psychiatric condition like schizophrenia.

"It is sometimes a misunderstanding that hoarders keep things because they are more sentimental. But it is an insidious illness," he said.

Evidence points to a "multi-modal treatment" involving health-care professionals, social workers and other relevant community agencies to treat hoarding, said Dr Jacob.

"It involves mainly four steps: discarding, organising, preventing incoming clutter and introducing alternative behaviours so that they spend less time hoarding.

"The person who hoards should be actively involved in the process along with the relevant community agencies," he added.