Hoarding Disorders

What is Hoarding Disorder?

Hoarding disorder is a persistent, specific mental health condition that creates increasingly risky home environmental conditions, resulting in safety and health issues for the individual as well as emotional distress for others who may live with the person. Hoarding is estimated to impact approximately 1 in 50 adults over the age of 50, and is often not easily detected since the person may deny, be secretive or ashamed, and/or maintain an ability to hide the home conditions by keeping visitors from coming into the home or apartment. Hoarding is often not discovered or addressed until the home conditions are severe. Hoarding disorder is characterized by thoughts, emotions and behaviors resulting in the inability to discard of and/or increasingly adding possessions that have little or no value, resulting in cumulative disorderly and accumulated possessions negatively impacting living conditions. Severe hoarding situations often result in the inability to properly use areas of the living environment for their intended use, including bathrooms, kitchens, bedrooms and even general living quarters. Because of the result of clutter interfering with home use, even common pathways inside the dwelling can become blocked, creating other risks such as fire, mold, trip and fall hazards, and risk of pests or vermin. Persons who specifically hoard animals often feel that they are making an effort to protect the animals, but the person can quickly become overwhelmed and the home environment can rapidly deteriorate further due to animal feces and urine as well as the person's inability to properly care for and even feed the animals. Severe hoarding conditions can create a home that is unlivable and eventually uninhabitable. Hoarding of animals or hoarding of objects can result in housing code violations with legal implications.

Signs of hoarding disorder include the following:

  • Difficulty getting rid of items
  • A large amount of clutter in the office, at home, in the car, or in other spaces (i.e., storage units) that makes it difficult to use furniture or appliances or move around easily
  • Losing important items like money or bills in the clutter
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the volume of possessions that have "taken over" the house or workspace
  • Being unable to stop taking free items, such as advertising flyers or sugar packets from restaurants
  • Buying things because they are a "bargain" or to "stock up"
  • Not inviting family or friends into the home due to shame or embarrassment
  • Refusing to let people into the home to make repairs

Hoarding is not just clutter or collecting:

Hoarding is not just clutter in a home. A cluttered home may have many items occasionally or even chronically or severely littered around the rooms and living areas, or even in just a specific room or area; distinctions would include factors such as the garbage and trash being disposed of, surfaces being cleaned on some frequency, living spaces being used for their intended purposes, and egress around inside the home and to exists is generally clear. Hoarding is also different from collecting. Collectors generally have themes of item(s) collected, generally organize collections in a safe manner and the collection, or collections if there are many, do not generally interfere with routine living conditions and functions, or cause distress or harm.

There is hope:

Like many mental health conditions, persons with hoarding disorder may encounter face stigma about their behavior. It is a persistent condition that is often not well understood, frustrating to others who are impacted and requires targeted interventions and supports to successfully interrupt the hoarding behavior. If the person is unwilling or unable to participate in treatment, that creates barriers to improvements. However, it is still possible even with limited resources, to pursue some basic supports that may reduce the harm for the person and their home environment.

OCD Handout

A kitchen in the home of a person with a hoarding condition.

Clutter Scale Pictures..