Dominik Molica, a 58-year-old gay man, spends a third of his income on storage. From comic books, to records, to every single postcard that has ever been sent to him, Molica can’t let go of his possessions. His storage space is stuffed with boxes and garbage bags of old clothes, high school yearbooks and audio equipment that he might need in case he decides to pursue a career in production.
“I end up having an emotional attachment to this stuff. I always think everything is gonna end up being useful,” Molica said.
Molica demonstrates the behavior of hoarding, which the National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines as “pathological collecting” characterized by the acquisition and/or the inability to discard large quantities of seemingly useless objects. Hoarding was officially recognized as a disorder by the medical community in 2013. A 2008 NIH study found that 4 percent of Americans suffer from hoarding disorder, but experts suspect that LGBT seniors like Molica hoard at a disproportionally higher rate.
Varian Pearce, who also suffers from hoarding, facilitates a support group for the Mental Health Association of San Francisco. When the initiative began in 2011, Pearce was surprised that 40 percent of attendees were LGBT seniors. “This was a disproportionate amount of people from our community,” he said. Pearce now runs meetings at San Francisco’s LGBT Center twice a month for seniors who suffer from hoarding.
There is no quantitative data to back up the relationship between LGBT seniors and hoarding. Pearce, though, said there may be a connection because hoarding is often triggered by traumatic life events.
“Being LGBT in a homophobic or transphobic world is a trauma in itself,” Pearce said.
Molica, who lost many friends to HIV-related illnesses and tested positive himself in 1988, said one reason he hoards is to cope with the many losses he’s experienced in his life.
“People were dropping like flies,” he said of the AIDS epidemic. “Some of these personal items remind me of people I knew.”
More research is needed to confirm the higher prevalence of hoarding among LGBT seniors, cautions Michael A. Tompkins, a psychologist and guest expert on A&E’s “Hoarders.”
“While this is for now conjecture, LGBT people do face a higher degree of stigmatization,” Tompkins said. “That might be a risk factor, but it’s important not to confuse correlation with causality.”
A large-scale quantitative study would be helpful to Pearce and his support group “so we can understand how to treat different populations in ways that work for them,” Pearce said.