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All About Compulsive Hoarding: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

By Edited Jun 1, 2014 0 2

What Is Hoarding?

Compulsive hoarding is a type of behavior where an individual collects an excessive amount of objects and refuses to discard many that seem to have little to no value. Hoarding can greatly inhibit the lifestyles of those in the household by taking up space so that people in the house cannot cook, clean or move around. Hoarding also prevents health and fire hazards and has sanitary risks.

Although there has been speculation as to whether or not hoarding is related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), results have down that this is may not be likely, given that patients with OCD are very aware of their disorder. Individuals suffering from compulsive disorder, however, are often unaware that it is a problem. This makes it much more difficult to provide therapy to patients that compulsive hoard.

It is estimated that around 2 to 5% of adults suffer from compulsive hoarding. Men and older adults suffer from compulsive hoarding moreso than young adults and women. Also, risk of compulsive hoarding is positively correlated with lower income.

compulsive hoarding
Interestingly, there are multiple types of hoarding. Although the most common form is where an individual simply keeps any objects that come his or her way in the home, such as old wrappers, newspapers, books and the like, there is also book hoarding and animal hoarding. Book hoarding, or bibliomania, is the collecting of books to the point that it creates a lack of space in the home and presents health and social threats to an individual. Animal hoarding is when a person keeps large numbers of animals in the home without the ability to care for them. This person does not realize that he or she cannot care for the pets and cannot let them go. Often, these animals may suffer physical injuries or diseases as a consequence.

Symptoms of Hoarding

As mentioned, victims suffering from hoarding often cannot see that they have an issue with hoarding. Thus, intervention from an expert in dealing with individuals that hoard is required. Nevertheless, here are some common symptoms of an individual that hoards:

  1. The individual has a tendency to hold onto many things that the average person would deem of little use. Specifically, this can include items such as junk mail, old newspapers, items that have never been used and will likely never be used, and items given for free.
  2. Mobility in the home is restricted due to the large amount of items in the home. This can include floors that are so full of objects that a person cannot walk into the room, beds that are full of things and cannot be slept in, hallways full of objects making it difficult to pass through or kitchens stacked with things to the point that they cannot be cooked in.
  3. The level of clutter and hoarding affects one’s own personal and emotional health, as well as relationships with others. For example, a person may be so embarrassed about clutter that they choose not to interact or invite others over, withdraw from the outside world due to embarrassment, or become depressed due to clutter.


Hoarding is difficult to diagnose because it is not a one-time event; rather, it is the accumulation over the years that leads to present-day cluttering. Often, the psychological mindset takes place long before the physical consequences in the home present themselves. If hoarders do eventually realize that they suffer from hoarding, they often perceive it as being “too late” because of the large mess and their embarrassment. Also, even though hoarding is present in the media through books, TV shows and other mediums, it is still not very widely spoken about, making it even more difficult for hoarders to come forward. Hence, it often takes a family member or a friend to point out the issue to someone who can help.

If you or someone you know may suffer from hoarding, you should answer the following questions:

  • Does the person find it hard to separate and discard possessions, even if they have little value or use?
  • If something that had little use/value were to be thrown out, how would the person feel about it? If the person feels very upset and refuses to give things up if they have little use or value, this could be an indication of hoarding.
  • Are there parts of the house that cannot be used or walked in because they have so many objects lying around?
  • Is the person embarrassed or depressed about the way their house looks in terms of cleanliness and/or sheer amount of things?

If, after answering these questions, there are a number of “yes” responses, this could mean that the person is a hoarder. However, it is important to understand that hoarding is not simply an issue of physical lack of cleanliness in the house. Compulsive hoarding is first and foremost, a mindset or disorder that manifests itself physically. Most individuals in a study reported that their hoarding symptoms appeared in their teenage years. 70% reported hoarding behaviors before age 21, despite the fact that hoarding did not become obvious until age 40 and over. This could be due to the presence of family members in the home preventing hoarding from occurring.

A hoarding mindset can be triggered by a number of factors. For example, if someone has had things taken by force, experienced abuse, or any other traumatic event, these could be factors that lead to hoarding.


Treating hoarding is important to helping an individual come to terms with any traumatic events they may have suffered from, and to also help their families, since families are negative affected by hoarding as well.

Drug therapy is one form of intervention. Antidepressants can be used to help control the negative emotions and symptoms of hoarding.

A commonly used type of treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy. This treatment tries to get into the mindset of the hoarder and to help the individual to learn how to let go of things, while also 

hoarding living room
decluttering the home. Often hoarders are placed into group therapy in order to reduce the social isolation that comes with hoarding and to provide motivation and encouragement.

However, there is still much to be done about treating hoarders properly. Unfortunately, hoarders often procrastinate, have poor-decision making skills, or are not motivated to change. Clinicians are looking towards more personalized plans and studying the behavior of hoarding more in order to provide better treatment.



Apr 5, 2012 6:21am
I have been to a few houses like this and seriously there is so much stuff like newspapers piled up, that you have to walk side ways through an alley way of rubbish.
Great article, clear and lucid.
Apr 5, 2012 9:24am
yikes! I know what you mean...been to one of those houses myself
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