Her family called her a "Messy," which is German for"
compulsive hoarder." Sigrid (not her real name) had stowed so
much stuff in her home that when she died, it took her family a half-hour to
rummage through it until they found her body.
Sigrid was not an anomaly. About 1 of every 20 Germans is a compulsive
hoarder, a new study has found.
The study was headed by Astrid Mueller, M.D., director of the Psychosomatic
and Psychotherapeutic Department of the University Clinic Erlangen. Results
were published online May 4 in Behavior Research and Therapy.
This appears to be the first investigation into the prevalence rate of
compulsive hoarding in a nationally representative sample of Germans—in
fact, the first such look at the problem in a nationally representative sample
from any European country. Subjects were some 2,300 individuals from
throughout Germany. They were evaluated with the German Compulsive Hoarding
Inventory, which is a modified version of the American Saving
About 5 percent of the sample were found to be compulsive hoarders, a rate
comparable to what was found in the only American-based survey conducted on
the subject and published in the July 2008 Behavior Research and
Therapy. Although women were somewhat more likely to be compulsive
hoarders than men, the difference was not significant.
Mueller and her colleagues also evaluated their subjects with the German
Compulsive Buying Scale, which is a translated version of the American
Compulsive Buying Scale, to determine which subjects were compulsive buyers.
They then looked to see whether there was any link between compulsive hoarding
and compulsive shopping. Indeed there was—and a highly significant one.
About two-thirds of compulsive hoarders were also compulsive buyers, and about
40 percent of compulsive buyers were compulsive hoarders.
Mueller was not surprised by this finding, she told Psychiatric
News, since studies of treatment-seeking population samples have
harvested similar results.
Their findings have implications for psychiatrists, Mueller believes."
Patients with compulsive hoarding should be asked about their buying
habits, and patients with compulsive buying should be asked whether they also
hoard items." If compulsive hoarders are also compulsive buyers, of
course, then there is the question of how to treat them. Mueller will now
attempt to develop a specific treatment for those with both conditions, she
The reason or reasons why people hoard are in dispute. Some experts on the
subject argue that hoarding is a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder;
others postulate that it is a separate syndrome (Psychiatric News,
June 6, 2008). The reasons that people buy compulsively are also not clear.
Mueller believes that "shopping and buying are a means of escaping from
problems or negative mood states." Indeed, a French psychiatrist found
that all of the compulsive buyers in his study met DSM-IV criteria
for a major depressive disorder, and a number came from families with a
history of depression or bipolar disorder (Psychiatric News, July 19,
2002). However, the French psychiatrist also found that compulsive buying was
linked with excessive use of alcohol and gambling. So could compulsive buying
be an addiction disorder? Perhaps, he speculated—which is why more study
An abstract of "The Prevalence of Compulsive Hoarding and Its
Association With Compulsive Buying in a German Population-Based Sample"
can be accessed at<www.sciencedirect.com>
by clicking on "B," then "Behavior Research and
Therapy," "Articles in Press," and then check article