Ottawa Social Worker

ottawa social worker elaine birchallOttawa social worker Elaine Birchall can tell you all about people who keep way too much stuff, how you’ll know if you’re one of them and what to do about it.

There are a lot of misconceptions about hoarding, starting with the one that those who hoard are survivors of the Depression or other deep deprivation.

Not true, says Birchall. While there is such as thing as “adaptive hoarding” — people who acquire and save things because they know they’ll need them — the other kind is “maladaptive” or compulsive hoarding. Whatever that person intended to do with all those things, that has broken down.

Who does it affect?

Hoarding affects so many municipal departments — fire, police, bylaw and public housing, to name a few. “It was a lot bigger than anything we ever imagined. I was getting calls from the fire marshal’s office in Toronto. Hoarding has a direct correlation to homelessness and the risk of homelessness,” she said. “Not every hoarding situation is that severe. But it is a compulsive disorder.”

About 15 years ago, researchers believed that one or two per cent of the population hoarded. It used to be considered a syndrome of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but became a distinct disorder in its own right in the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual of psychiatric disorders, in 2013.

“Now we’re talking about five or six per cent. But that can’t be accurate. I can’t go anywhere without someone self-identifying as hoarding, or telling me they’re worried about someone. Even if it’s only five or six per cent, we need better research,” said Birchall.

To find out more about this story, and Elaine’s experiences, read on…


Remember, if you or someone you know is suffering from hoarding, you can contact us at for help.

To read more stories like this one, why not take a look at some of our other blog articles here.

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