Does my friend have a disorder or is he simply a lazy slob??

This is something that’s been bugging me for a while now. I know a man in his 70s who is physically active, mentally sharp and intelligent. However, he lives in utter filth and collects very odd things in huge piles such as plastic shopping bags and milk containers. He thinks he will need these someday. He has not cleaned his apartment in 18 years. The ceiling is caving in, all the lights are dead, the appliances are black with soot/grease and are useless, there is ivy growing on the walls, the place is knee deep in trash. I can’t imagine how anyone can live like this. He seems embarassed about it but he attributes this to the fact that he’s just a “lazy slob” and can’t help it. He has poor hygiene and does the bare minimum to get by. He gets plenty of income from his pension and social security, yet he skimps on everything…only buys things of the lowest quality, never buys new clothes or furniture. He also has a big dirty dog and walks around town with him into restaurants, shops, other peoples houses, and is completely oblivious to other people’s objections to this.

I’ve tried to help him clean up and throw away the garbage on numerous occasions but he is beyond help. He is resistant to change and quickly falls back to his old habits.

I’m wondering if this degree of sloppiness and ignorance of social standards is truly just “laziness” or if it’s something like a psychological disorder. I’m only asking this to satisfy my own curiosity… maybe someone knowledgeable in psychology could shed more light on the subject. Thanks.

I expect that this man has always been a “slob” (your word). I am 73 and certainly not messy nor a slob. It probably has something to do with the way he grew up.

Some people become like that in old age. Every so often you see one in the news when the city workers had to come in to clean their place up.

Here’s a useful fact sheet from the LA County Dept of Mental Health. Hoarding can be a symptom of OCD

This link looks like it could be helpful, but I can’t get it to work.

Apparently, it’s occasionally known as Collyer Brothers Syndrome or Collyer Syndrome after [url= famous pair of hoarders.

Fixed the link.


Although I’m sure it is, in the end, a form of OCD, I usually associate this sort of behavior with children of the Great Drepression. They save everything. Some are more organized about it and don’t wind up with a health hazard, but all of the 70 and 80 somethings that I know are pack rats to varying degrees.

And certainly, people both older and younger than this group have and will continue to engage in this behavior, but for my money, the trigger mechanism for these people was their experiences growing up in a time of extreme deprivation.

Another problem is that many older people’s sense of smell deterioate, allowing them to tolerate stench and filth more than younger people.

This likely didn’t start in his 70s. My mother-in-law had a neighbor in her 40’s, a nurse, who didn’t take her garbage further than the back porch for like 10 years. Healthy, intelligent, a nurse for goodness sake and she lives hip-deep in garbage!

As long as this gentleman isn’t suffering a health problem himself I doubt there’s anything you can do.

I just want to say that not all 70- and 80-somethings are like this. My Grandfather will be 84 a fortnight from tomorrow, and he is more of a minimalist. Somehow he manages to give away about half his stuff every couple of years. He dislikes clutter and won’t save anything. He even got rid of his photo albums, his departed wife’s wedding, engagement and eternity rings, and a lot of other things that should have sentimental value. He’s also nursing a resentment towards my uncle for giving him a microwave which he thinks he doesn’t need and is cluttering up the place. It’ll go in about 12 months I reckon.

My living grandmother is 70, and while she relates everything back to the depression, she doesn’t hoard things (that I’ve noticed anyway - come to think of it, her wedding gift to me was a bag of confetti from my mother’s wedding, but I don’t know if that counts). It’s obvious that it made a huge impact on her, but it didn’t cause her to madly save everything.

My 49 year old mother in law madly saves everything despite never living through a depression. She has cupboards full of margarine containers, plastic shopping bags and other junk. She also stocks up on things at yard sales because she likes to have spares “just in case”. She checks the garbage before it goes out to make sure people in her house haven’t thrown away things that she likes to keep, most especially empty boxes.

It’s just the way some people are. At least, that’s my professional opinion :slight_smile:

Yep cazzle, the age group is exactly right for him having lived through the Depression years, and many people of that generation find it extremely difficult to put aside the habits they acquired during that time (remember that rationing didn’t end here until the 1950s).

While that might explain the hoarding, I wonder if the general squalor is a symptom of depression. What is his social network like? Are his friends dying off one by one? Does he have reasons, beyond his own survival, to make an effort?

He’s certainly entitled to subsidised home help if he can’t be bothered taking care of the basics himself - perhaps you could make some enquiries about which agency offers it in his area.

It’s possible though, that he’s quite happy with the status quo and feels that at his age he has the right to live any way he damned well pleases.

Can you keep us updated?

Thanks for all the responses and links. You’ve all given me a lot to think about regarding my friend’s habits. I would agree that he has this OCD condition where he simply cannot let go of useless items. Although in his case I don’t think it has to do with the great depression because he has told me more than once that his family was very wealthy during that time and they had maids and cooks. Still, I can’t explain the filth…it is true that he cannot smell very well, I have noticed that before, but his vision is good. I would’ve thought that the sheets of spider webs hanging from his ceilings would’ve given him a clue…but no. Although he did seem genuinely happy once I cleaned it up for him.

Reprise, I think you are correct that he suffers some form of mild depression. Since he’s always happy to see me it’s difficult to verify this, but he has mentioned to me before that he is feeling “in the dumps” or “stuck in a rut” etc. Also I think he might have a drinking problem. He has a waist high mountain of wine corks that he collects from all the wine he drinks. I don’t know how long it’s been collecting but it’s impressive!