Fear of Getting Rid of Things – Disposophobia

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I’m sure we have all tried getting a bit of “spring cleaning” done every so often in hopes of decluttering our homes or personal spaces, and we come across a few belongings that have no particular use, but we still find a reason to keep them. Maybe the item has some special memory attached to it. Perhaps, it is so old and insignificant that you don’t really know why you have it. You have kept it for so long, so why not keep it a bit longer. The guilt associated with "wasting" items may also contribute to gentle hoarding.

Most likely, if you have anxiety or nerves while sorting things out, you most certainly don’t have a hoarding disorder. We see this anxiety in TV shows like Tidying Up with Marie Kondo all the time! Other television shows, like Hoarders, show this behavior in extreme measures. When a person's home looks more like Hoarders than Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, they may have disposophobia. 

What is Disposophobia?

Disposophobia is simply the immense fear of getting rid of things and/or personal belongings regardless of significant meaning or value. For an individual with Disposophobia, all items, objects, belongings come with an emotional attachment and the idea of parting with any of these things is perceived as parting with a piece of themselves. 

Due to this belief, individuals demonstrate obsessive thoughts about their belongings which is why we see these hoarders with cramped living spaces. In order to keep a close eye on all their items, all belongings are out where they can be seen such as countertops, tables, and floors, usually stacked. Additionally, it may seem impossible to know if an item is misplaced, but these individuals with their obsessive thoughts can detect the displacement of their items which results in panic or anxiousness. 

Similarly, to other phobias, in order to be diagnosed with this hoarding disorder individuals must demonstrate persistent symptoms typically for 6 months as well as a clear effect on one’s daily lives. 

Where Does The Term Disposophobia Come From?

The words behind phobias are pretty strange but typically have Latin or Greek origins. Phobia is the Greek word for "fear." Dispos is the Latin word for disposing, or putting away. Put them together and you get the fear of putting things away!

Can Someone Be Diagnosed with Disposophobia?

Not exactly. Disposophobia is a rare and specific fear. The DSM-5 does not have specific diagnoses for every specific fear. (And trust me, there are a lot of them!) Instead, a certified psychologist may diagnose their patient by saying they have a specific phobia.

Here are the qualifications for a specific phobia, as listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition (DSM-5):

  • Marked fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation 
  • The phobic object or situation almost always provokes immediate fear or anxiety.
  • The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual danger posed by the specific object or situation and to the socio-cultural context.
  • The phobic object or situation is actively avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety.
  • The fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
  • The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting for 6 months or more.
  • The disturbance is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder, including fear, anxiety, and avoidance of situations associated with panic-like symptoms or other incapacitating symptoms (as in agoraphobia); objects or situations related to obsessions (as in obsessive-compulsive disorder); reminders of traumatic events (as in posttraumatic stress disorder); separation from home or attachment figures (as in separation anxiety disorder); or social situations (as in social anxiety disorder).

Symptoms of Disposophobia

Individuals with Disposophobia can also demonstrate many more symptoms not only psychological but physical as well as behavioral symptoms. 

Psychological Symptoms

To refresh, most known psychological symptoms demonstrated by individuals with Disposophobia include panic attacks and obsessive thoughts, but they can also include feelings of hopelessness and/or disconnect. As a result of these feelings, due to their hoarding behaviors, individuals can also develop depression. 

Behavioral Symptoms

Other, sometimes more obvious symptoms include the individual’s behaviors. Of course, a hoarding disorder is not a hoarding disorder without prominent and persistent hoarding behaviors such as cluttered homes with little room to move and the stacks upon stacks of hoarded belongings. This clutter can also include a buildup of trash and food to the point where it becomes incredibly unsanitary.

While these are the most obvious, other behaviors such as mood swings or irritability can also be common as a result of something being misplaced or thrown away, a behavioral indication of their anxiousness/panic. Lastly, to avoid any possibility of misplacing something or being parted from their belongings individuals can also be socially withdrawn. 

Physical Symptoms

Lastly, physical symptoms are also common as a result of the anxiety experienced if the individual perceives one of their possessions or items is missing or has been misplaced. Physical responses such as sweating, trembling, rapid heartbeats, as well as headaches and hot flashes, are common experiences. 

What are the causes of Disposophobia?

Genetic Factors

One potential cause for an individual to become phobic are genes, our biological script for who we are and will become. That being said, developing a phobia does not occur because of a single gene nor a set of genes rather an individual can have a set of genes that can make them more susceptible to developing a psychopathology such as a phobia. Particularly, genes associated with anxiety are those seen to make an individual more likely to becoming a phobic thus family history of anxiety or anxiety disorders is typically present for an individual with a phobia such as Disposophobia. 

Psychological Factors

Another type of factor includes psychological factors such as traumatic experiences or previously diagnosed psychological disorders. Like genes, these factors also increase the probability of an individual becoming phobic of losing or throwing away personal belongings. While it may be difficult to picture how a traumatic experience may cause one to develop this type of phobia, at a young age when abstract or difficult situations occur such as someone passing away or getting hurt it can be easy to create an association between things. For example, a recent accident was caused because of the action of getting rid of an old personal item. Lastly, prior psychological diagnosis, particularly those related to anxiety can also increase the likelihood of developing a phobia like Disposophobia. 

Environmental Factors

A final type of factor to take into consideration for influencing or increasing the probability of the development of Disposophobia are environmental factors. These factors refer to the environments in which we grew up in and how they themselves shaped us into our beliefs and our behaviors. The most common or influential environment is typically our home environment because our parents and families are some of the people, \we spend the most time with thus their beliefs and behaviors become our own. As a result, a behavior such as keeping old things whether valuable or not can easily become our own. 

Can Disposophobia Be Cured?

There is no magic pill or one method of therapy guaranteed to move disposophobia from someone's life. Instead, mental health professionals can help people manage their symptoms and possibly look beyond phobia to treat larger anxiety disorders. You do not need to see a therapist to manage symptoms, but a professional will certainly help!

How To Cope with Disposophobia

Treatments for Disposophobia as well as other phobias typically require multiple methods or forms of treatment and aren’t usually a one-size-fits-all method. Typically, a unique combination of treatment methods is needed to assist an individual in first coping and then hopefully overcoming a phobia such as the fear of getting rid of one’s personal belongings with or without value.  

Exposure Therapy

While not for all individuals, exposure therapy can be effective for some individuals. This type of therapy, in particular, exposes individuals to the triggering stimuli or situation until there is no longer a strong or debilitating reaction/behavior. While it does initially raise some ethical questions, exposure does not occur all at once rather in stages becoming more progressive stage by stage. 

This form of therapy requires a licensed clinician and strong communication between the practitioner and client so as not to cause any distress and lasting impacts. Additionally, each stage is planned and laid-out by the pair and begins with the least distressing form of exposure such as images or videos of the stimuli. Each stage that follows moves closer and closer to in-person confrontation with continuous communication between clinician and client to mark anxiety levels as well as work through cognitions and reactions towards the negative stimuli. 

Self-Help Groups

An additional method to overcoming Disposophobia is becoming involved in self-help groups. It can be nerve-wracking to put oneself out there. Joining a group, and finding that there are others with similar experiences, provides comfort and a sense of community. Simply, the individual realizes that they are no longer alone, or a single suffer which no one can understand. It is important to join self-help groups for the same phobias so that individuals in the group can discuss and share their similar experiences, thoughts, and even methods of coping whether good or bad. 

Hoarding Subreddit

These self-help groups don't have to be in-person. Online or virtual meetups can be a great start. I recommend checking out the "hoarding" subreddit for further information on Disposophobia from people who experience it every day!

Take this post, in which a user was "trying to find a cure." Many users responded with helpful examples and experiences:

  • "Being a hoarder in recovery takes emotional work. First you have to identify what is going on, and then get ideas on how to tackle specific issues. It seems weird that the therapists have no idea, but they're people and there's only so much they can know, so it might take one that actually studied hoarding."
  • "So, I didn't initially see a problem. I 'saw' my mess when a flood from the upstairs neighbor wrecked my storage room. Three days of crying and cleaning ensued...One thing that helped was giving my objects their own territory. For example, I have a couple of shelves of art supplies now. If the supplies go passed their space, I know I need to decide what I'm letting go of. I also find engaging with this sub really useful and reading about hoarding."

Self-help groups are not a replacement for professional help. Not everyone on online forums is certified to help. But speaking with other people can help you see that you're not alone!

Treating Other Disorders

Disposophobia rarely exists alone. People experiencing disposophobia likely also experience anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Treating these conditions can help alleviate the symptoms of disposophobia.

Similar Fears

Disposophobia is one of the dozens of specific phobias that affect people around the world. I have a list of 50 of those common phobias here. Below are some of the fears that are most similar to disposophobia:

  •  Phobophobia – Fear of Phobias
  •  Koinoniphobia – Fear of Crowds
  • Agoraphobia – Fear of Open Spaces

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2022, May). Fear of Getting Rid of Things - Disposophobia. Retrieved from https://practicalpie.com/fear-of-getting-rid-of-things-disposophobia/.

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