The time for Spring cleaning is here! For many of us, this means it’s time to do our dusting, mop our floors, and clean out our cabinets. In some quarters however, this is challenging. For people who suffer from hoarding, just the prospect of cleaning up clutter can be an anxiety-filled and distress-inducing endeavor. While many of us may have heard of hoarding or may even know someone who has suffered from hoarding disorder, misconceptions about hoarding are common. We’re here to dispel some of those misconceptions and provide resources for people who suffer from hoarding disorder.
What is Hoarding Disorder?
Hoarding disorder is a mental health problem. People who suffer from this disorder have immense difficulty discarding or getting rid of possessions. Oftentimes, the items that people hoard are of little value. Commonly hoarded items include newspapers or magazines, other paper products, boxes, food, clothing, household supplies, or photographs. Some people who hoard have a tendency to compulsively purchase items that are free or offered for a bargain.1 Another form of hoarding is animal hoarding, in which people collect lots of animals.2 For people who hoard, the quantity of the items they possess sets them apart from others who simply like to collect those same items. Hoarders possess things in larger, more extreme quantities.3
People with hoarding disorder struggle to part with the items that they have acquired. People who hoard may face tremendous anxiety at the thought of getting rid of any possessions. Common signs and symptoms include:4
- Inability to get rid of possessions
- Extreme stress about throwing items away
- Anxiety about needing items in the future
- Doubt about where to put things
- Mistrust towards others who touch your possessions
- Living in a home with unusable spaces due to the amount of clutter
- Withdrawing from friends and family
Hoarding can make life difficult for the hoarder and their family and can lead to a lower quality of life for those in the home. The extreme clutter that hoarding can produce can create unhealthy, unsanitary, and unsafe living conditions. Hoarding sometimes makes it difficult for a person to move around their home. Piles of clutter can fall on a person, causing injury, and can constitute a fire hazard. Many people with hoarding disorder feel immense stress and shame which can negatively impact their relationships with others.5
Who Struggles with Hoarding Disorder?
Approximately 2 to 6 percent of Americans suffer from hoarding disorder. Hoarding behavior can begin during a person’s teenage years. The average age of people who seek treatment for hoarding is around 50 years old. Experts predict that 1 in 50 people suffers from a serious hoarding problem, though this number could be as high as 1 in 20.6
What Causes Hoarding Disorder?
It is not completely clear what causes hoarding disorder. For some people who hoard, hoarding is a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder. Many people who hoard also have other mental disorders, such as mood disorders or anxiety disorders.7 Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is also thought to be a cause of hoarding disorder.8 Researchers believe that genetics and stressful life events can cause hoarding disorder. If you have a family member who has hoarding disorder, you may be more likely to develop the disorder yourself. For others, they start hoarding after a stressful life event with which they have difficult coping. This can include a divorce or an eviction.9
What Can you Do if You Suffer from Hoarding Disorder?
If you or a loved one suffers from hoarding disorder, don’t despair. Treatments are available to help those who hoard. People who suffer from hoarding disorder rarely seek help on their own. If you are concerned that a friend or relative is hoarding and that the person’s living situation is unhealthy or unsafe, contact a doctor or mental health professional. Doctors can treat people with hoarding disorder with therapy and/or medication. Many people who obtain treatment for hoarding disorder do learn how to better manage their belongings and experience a reduction in hoarding symptoms, leading to a better qualify of life.10
The International OCD Foundation’s website has resources for persons suffering from hoarding disorder. The website features referrals to local therapists, information about support groups, and lists additional resources for people seeking help. Go to https://hoarding.iocdf.org/ to learn more.
If you have a friend or family member who struggles with hoarding, you should recognize that until the person is internally motivated to change, they might not accept your offer of assistance. Motivation is not something that can be forced. Everyone has a right to make their own choices about their possessions and how they live. Often, people who hoard are ambivalent about accepting help and getting rid of possessions. If you want to have a conversation with a person who wishes to talk about hoarding, you should make sure to treat that person with respect and sympathy. Try to encourage the person and help them brainstorm ideas to improve the safety of their home. Act as a team with the person and try to help that person motivate to organize or get rid of items. Lastly, always ask permission to throw something away. Developing trust is a very important part of providing assistance and support to a person who suffers from hoarding.11
1 Anxiety & Depression Association of America, https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/hoarding-basics#:~:text=Hoarding%20is%20the%20persistent%20difficulty,a%20hoarder%20and%20family%20members.
2 The Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17682-hoarding-disorder.
3 Anxiety & Depression Association of America, https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/hoarding-basics#:~:text=Hoarding%20is%20the%20persistent%20difficulty,a%20hoarder%20and%20family%20members.
4 The Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17682-hoarding-disorder; Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hoarding-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20356056.
6 International OCD Foundation, https://iocdf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Hoarding-Fact-Sheet.pdf.
8 Anxiety & Depression Association of America, https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/hoarding-basics#:~:text=Hoarding%20is%20the%20persistent%20difficulty,a%20hoarder%20and%20family%20members.
10 The Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17682-hoarding-disorder.
11 International OCD Foundation, https://iocdf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Hoarding-Fact-Sheet.pdf.