BAXTER SPRINGS - The Cherokee Chicks FCE group heard a presentation from Cherokee County Extension Agent Martha Flanagan on the dangers and warning signs of hoarding.

Flanagan told the group, which assembled at the Soda Fountain in Baxter Springs, it's not always easy to spot a hoarder.

She said hoarders, collectors and packrats have a great deal in common, but it is important to understand the distinction. She said while many people are collectors, hoarding is when "the collection becomes an end-all."

Flanagan said it was important to watch out for the behavior in order to help a hoarder get treatment because hoarding can impact families, affect health and destroy finances.

She said hoarders are characterized by a large accumulation of "stuff" which could be anything from bottle caps to pets, an inability to discard anything and are generally chronically disorganized.

She said the behavior often starts very young as a response to some traumatic life experience like divorce, the death of a loved one or a fire in which the hoarder's possessions were destroyed.

"The clutter provides a feeling of safety," Flanagan said.

She said it's often not recognized early because the huge piles of possessions and the so-called "goat trails," which are the paths thorough the clutter in a home, generally take years to accumulate.

She said hoarding has come to national prominence recently through shows such as the A&E Network's "Hoarders" and there is hope for hoarders.

She said it takes intervention from neighbors, family and counselors and a lot of patience - it can take years to help someone overcome the disorder.