Are You Aware of Hoarding Disorder?

Kitchen counter and sink piled up with appliances, utensils, and dirty dishes with no counter space left free.

While clutter could be seen as messy living or general untidiness, hoarding is more serious. (Image: Ingrid Balabanova via Dreamstime)

Hoarding is seen as a psychological condition where a person holds onto and stores an excessive number of items, usually in a chaotic manner that results in enormous amounts of clutter — cases of hoarding range from mild to severe. 

While clutter could be seen as messy living or general untidiness, hoarding is more serious.  

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Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty in throwing things away or letting go of possessions. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress or resistance to getting rid of items, irrespective of their value. 

Hoarding gradually develops over time, and the problem tends to be kept private by the individual. By the time people become aware of the situation, the environment is significantly cluttered. 

Signs and symptoms of hoarding include: 

  • Compulsively acquiring items that are not needed or that there is no space for. 
  • A build-up of clutter to the point that rooms or access ways become unusable. 
  • A tendency toward indecisiveness, perfectionism, avoidance, procrastination, and problems with planning and organizing. 

Hoarding is believed to start around 11-15 years of age, although it is older adults who more commonly experience hoarding. 

It is possible to develop hoarding disorder after experiencing stressful life events, such as divorce, losing a loved one, or eviction. In addition, many people with hoarding disorder may also experience other mental health challenges, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

Many people with hoarding disorder may also experience other mental health challenges.
Many people with hoarding disorder may also experience other mental health challenges. (Image: Dina Damotseva via Dreamstime)

Hoarding disorder creates a variety of complications 

  • Mobility issues caused by falling over clutter. 
  • Injury from falling items that may block the individual into an area of their home. 
  • Issues with family members over the way the individual lives.  
  • The health risks caused by dirty conditions. 
  • The real risk of fire. 

Other complications can include mold growth, bug infestations, and structural damage. 

A lack of living space is a common issue that hoarders experience as part of this disorder. A person is willing to live with broken appliances, without heat, hot water, bathroom or cooking facilities, or other necessary comforts. They prefer to do without rather than allow a stranger into their home who might judge them. 

Hoarding is a source of substantial conflict, causing anger, resentment, and depression among family members. It harms children’s social development as they cannot bring their friends home. The conditions of the home may lead to separation, divorce, eviction, and even loss of child custody. Hoarding can also lead to serious financial problems. 

 In addition, knowing what to say and how to talk to a hoarder can be challenging and leave a helper feeling uncomfortable. 

Another issue is animal hoarding. According to a Science 2.0 article titled Animal Hoarding Is Not Just A Psychiatric Disorder, It’s A Public Health Issue: “Animal hoarding is a psychological disorder where a person accumulates a large numbers of animals at home, usually cats and dogs, without providing them with a minimal standard of care.” 

Puppy chewing on the wire of their cage with other dogs seen in the background.
Animal hoarders typically have a large number of cats or dogs, but they do not provide them with a minimal standard of care. (Image: Oktober64 via Dreamstime)

The animals are neglected and end up in terrible conditions, which is when the authorities typically get involved. According to research conducted in Europe, once the animals are removed, if the individual’s underlying condition is not treated, the person is ready to start hoarding animals again. The solution is to create a multidisciplinary approach to looking after the individual.  

Understand that hoarding disorder is more than just the number of items stored. Many underlying factors and developed behavioral patterns need addressing first and delicately. 

There are various ways to help someone with hoarding disorder without enabling them. For example, you can help clean and re-arrange their home with their permission. However, do it alongside them instead of doing it for them. 

You can volunteer to help by researching therapists if they agree that they could benefit from professional help. You could also attend support groups and meetings with them to support them through their recovery process. 

Regardless of how big or small, acknowledging the positive is essential to help someone with a hoarding disorder. Baby steps in a positive direction should be recognized, as this will help encourage further and more significant changes. 

If you or someone you know needs help, there are a number of resources available to assist. Here are a couple to get you started: Hoarding Disorders UK or the American Psychiatric Association (APA). 

Helen London contributed to the report 

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