Hoarding is the compulsive purchasing, acquiring, searching, and saving of items that have little or no value. The behavior usually has deleterious effects—emotional, physical, social, financial, and even legal—for a hoarder and family members.
The descriptions below are typical of someone who hoards:
- Avoids throwing away possessions (common hoarded items are newspapers, magazines, paper and plastic bags, cardboard boxes, photographs, household supplies, food, and clothing)
- Experiences severe anxiety about discarding possessions
- Has trouble making decisions about organizing possessions
- Feels overwhelmed or embarrassed by possessions
- Is suspicious of other people touching possessions
- Has obsessive thoughts about possessions:
- Fear of running out of an item and needing it later
- Checks the garbage to see if an item was accidentally discarded
- May have functional impairments:
- Loss of living space inside the home (no place to eat, sleep, or cook)
- Social isolation
- Family or marital problems
- Financial difficulties
- Health hazards
People hoard for many reasons, among them the belief that their possessions will be useful or valuable in the future, have sentimental value, are unique and irreplaceable, or because they can’t decide where something goes, it’s better just to keep it.
Hoarding vs. Collecting
Hoarding is not the same as collecting. In general, collectors have a sense of pride about their possessions, and they experience joy in displaying and talking about their possessions and conversing. They keep their collection organized, feel satisfaction adding to it, and budget their time and money.
Hoarders generally experience embarrassment about their possessions and feel uncomfortable when others see them. Their clutter often takes over functional living space, and they feel sad or ashamed after acquiring additional items. Also, they often incur great debt, sometimes extreme.
Effective treatment is available from qualified mental health professionals, who can also help the affected family members.
Listen to a podcast about hoarding.
Find a therapist in your area who can treat hoarding.
Fugen Neziroglu, PhD, ABBP, ABPP, is the Clinical Director and Co-Founder of the Bio-Behavioral Institute, Great Neck, New York.