For the close relatives of hoarders, what does appear to be a genetic link can seem discouraging. The prospect of falling prey to the same disorder is a frightening one, especially for those who have grown up with or otherwise lived with someone suffering from the disease. It is not, however, a sure thing -- far from it -- and there are steps a person can take to dramatically reduce the risk of developing this particular mental illness.
First, awareness is key. People who are severe hoarders didn't start out that way. Hoarding typically starts small, with a few piles of stuff, and picks up either over time or else quickly as the result of a stressful incident. More often than not, they didn't see it coming. A concrete awareness of a predisposition can reduce the possibility of falling into the behavior mindlessly. At the very least, if the urge to accumulate starts to rev up, it will most likely not go unnoticed.
And then there are preventive measures, such as instituting a regular organizing/purging session. Perhaps once a month, one could target a specific room for clean-up, sorting through piles of random "stuff," organizing them, and removing and discarding useless objects. Tackling the task before it gets overwhelming can do a lot to avoid some of the particular anxiety associated with compulsive hoarding.
Even with these steps, the trait could kick in in the wake of trauma or in some generally anxiety-filled period, such as job loss or foreclosure or divorce. In that case, the trick to staving off the not-so-inevitable is to seek help quickly. Hoarding is so much easier to treat in its earliest stages than it is later on. Inherited or not, therapy, medication and behavioral training can all help to stop the disease before it takes over.
For more information on compulsive hoarding and other mental-health issues, check out the links on the next page.