What Defines A Hoarding Disorder?

People with hoarding disorders excessively save items or even animals that others may view as worthless or unhealthy. They have constant difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions, which will lead to clutter and disrupt their ability to use or function in their living or workspaces. Hoarding is not the same as collecting. Collectors look for specific items like model cars, stamps, quarters, and may organize or display them. Those who struggle with hoarding often save and store random items or animals haphazardly. Some cases, they keep items or animals that they feel they might need in the future, are valuable or have sentimental value. They may also feel safer being surrounded by those things they save. There is an estimated 2-6 percent of the population that struggles with hoarding and can lead to substantial distress and problems functioning. It is more common in adults age 55-94 than those aged 34-44 years old.

Hoarding can cause issues in relationships, social and work activities, and create an inability to perform daily tasks like cooking and bathing within the home. It can lead to family strain and conflicts, isolation, loneliness, and an unwillingness to have anyone else enter the house. Unlivable situations can lead to separation or divorce, eviction, and/or loss of child/animal custody. Some potential health and safety concerns can come with hoarding like fire hazards, tripping hazards, and health code violations.

What do symptoms of hoarding look like?

  • Inability to throw away possessions
  • Severe anxiety when attempting to discard items
  • Difficulty categorizing or organizing possessions
  • Indecision about what to keep or where to put things
  • Distress, such as feeling overwhelmed or embarrassed by possessions
  • Suspicion of others touching items
  • Obsessive thoughts and actions: fear of running out of an item or of needing it in the future; checking the trash for accidentally discarded items
  • Functional impairments, includes loss of living space, social isolation, family or marital discord, financial difficulties, health hazards

Mental health professionals may ask your permission to speak with friends and family members to help make a diagnosis or use questionnaires to assess the level of functioning. Some people may recognize and acknowledge that they have a problem with accumulating things, but others may not. Some people with a hoarding disorder can suffer from other issues like indecisiveness, perfectionism, procrastination, disorganization, and distractibility. They can suffer from other mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, ADHD, or alcohol use. An assessment for hoarding may ask questions like:

  • Do you have trouble discarding (or recycling, selling, or giving away) things that most people would get rid of?
  • Because of the clutter or the number of possessions, how difficult is it to use rooms and surfaces in your home?
  • To what extent do you buy items or acquire free things that you do not need or have enough space for?
  • To what extend do your hoarding, saving, acquisition, and clutter affect your daily functioning?
  • How much do these symptoms interfere with school, work, or your social or family life?
  • How much distress do these symptoms cause you?

There is no known cause for hoarding disorder, but there is research that suggests several risk factors. It is more common in individuals with family members who also have a problem with hoarding. Brain injuries have also been found to cause hoarding symptoms. It is associated with distinct abnormalities of brain function and neuropsychological performance, different from those seen in people with OCD or other disorders. A stressful life event like a death of a loved one can trigger or worsen symptoms of hoarding. Difficulty discarding things usually starts during the teen years. The average age for the onset of symptoms is around 13. If not treated, the disorder can be chronic and become more severe over time as more clutter accumulates. As with most disorders, early recognition, diagnosis, and treatment are vital to improving outcomes.

Treatment can help those with hoarding disorder decrease saving, acquire, clutter, and live a safer and more enjoyable life. The two main treatment types for hoarding is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication. In CBT treatments, they will learn to discard unnecessary items with less distress and diminish the exaggeration need or desire to save those possessions. They will also learn to improve organization, decision-making, and relaxation skills. Medication can also be helpful to some. If you or someone you know is experiencing hoarding disorder symptoms, contact Affiliated Family Counselors at 316-636-2888 or http://www.afcwichita.com if you are in the Wichita, Kansas area. Otherwise, please contact your doctor or mental health professional. Public health agencies may be able to help address hoarding problems and getting help for those affected. It may also be necessary for public health or animal welfare agencies to intervene in some cases.


  • If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.

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