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Understanding Hoarding Disorder: What You Need to Know

Do you know that saving or storing material items of little worth can be a sign of a mental health problem? Hoarding disorder is a condition in which people have persistent difficulty letting go of things that are not useful and end up storing them unnecessarily.

What is Hoarding Disorder?

According to Mayo Clinic, compulsive hoarding, also known as hoarding disorder, is a clinically recognized mental health condition characterized by a continuous difficulty discarding or parting with items due to a strongly felt desire to keep them. Efforts to part with belongings or worthless objects can cause significant distress. The resulting mess and clutter fill the rooms of a house or apartment, making it difficult to use the living areas. The problem can result in hazardous clutter along with physical and mental stress.

Hoarding Disorder Myths

There are many significant misunderstandings regarding hoarding disorder, such as:

  • Hoarding happens because of laziness or disorganization: The accumulation of clutter in the living space is due to laziness or lack of time—False. Hoarding is not just laziness because laziness is a choice, and hoarding is a mental health condition that people can’t help.
  • Hoarding is another name for OCD: Hoarding disorder and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) are the same thing or related—False. Although some people have both disorders, only 1-5 people with hoarding disorder have non-hoarding OCD symptoms.
  • Cleaning can solve the problem: Cleaning will make the living space safe and habitable so it’s not an issue—False. Cleaning the mess does not address the underlying issue. The space will just fill up with more clutter unless the disorder itself is treated and managed.
  • Hoarding is a form of collecting: Hoarders are collectors who collect things for a hobby or want to hold on to keepsakes and tokens of past achievements—False. Collectors take pride in their collections, whereas hoarders often feel ashamed and try to hide hoarding.

Possible reasons for Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding disorder, by its nature, can have different causes, and determining if there is any specific one is challenging. Some of the possible reasons are:

  • Hoarding disorder often exists alongside anxiety or depression, which contribute to hoarding.
  • Some people develop hoarding disorder after going through a traumatic life event, such as losing a loved one, divorce, eviction, or losing valuable items in a fire.
  • Senior citizens who live in the same home for many years can surround themselves with unnecessary stuff and are not able to organize or dispose of it.
  • Hoarders may be born with cognitive differences or atypical processing methods. For instance, they might be born with a high sensitivity to visual details, which endows items with unique significance and worth.
  • Hoarding disorder can be hereditary. If a family member has had the disorder, others in the family are more likely to develop it.

Signs and symptoms of Hoarding Disorder

The first sign of hoarding disorder is when people start accumulating excessive amounts of items in their living space and do not seem to notice or be bothered by it. Other visible signs of hoarding disorder are:

  • Uncertainty, inadequacy, avoidance, procrastination, perfectionism, etc.
  • Holding on to items even if running out of space.
  • Isolating themselves and not letting anyone enter the house.
  • Difficulty parting with unwanted things and feeling upset when someone throws them out.
  • Anxiety about needing to keep items for possible future use.
  • Struggle to manage everyday activities or work.
  • Strained or poor relations with family or friends.

When should someone seek a doctor?

People with hoarding disorder do not consider it a problem and will probably not ask for help on their own. So if you feel a family member, friend, or loved one is struggling with this condition, contact a mental health professional for guidance. If the living environment becomes so cluttered that it is unhealthy or unsafe to live in, a therapist or a doctor should be contacted immediately.


Hoarding disorder can be treated in the following ways:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
  • Family therapy or group therapy
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Harm reduction
  • Self-care practices
  • Medications

Final words

Quality-of-life concerns include living in an unsafe environment and having clutter develop throughout the home. Stress, humiliation, and worry are just a few of the negative emotions that can accompany this serious mental illness. Addressing hoarding to enhance your family’s quality of life can result in a much happier home and improved health for all family members.

Remember, there is no harm in seeking help if you or anyone else in the family is struggling with this condition. Hoarding disorder treatments can help to reduce the worsening of the disorder.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Dr. Boris Vaisman, MD, is a Family Medicine Specialist in Woodland Hills, CA. He graduated from the Ross University School of Medicine in 2003. He is affiliated with West Hills Hospital & Medical Center and specializes in Emergency Medicine and Family Medicine. He has unique insight into mood and behavioral disorders. He also writes blog posts about mental health and addiction. He has contributed many resources and research to mental health treatment centers and social anxiety treatment centers.

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Image credit: Downtowngal, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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