Compulsive hoarding is a behavior described by excessive clutter and the inability to throw things away.  It affects a person's health, functioning, and relationships with family and friends.  If the home becomes very cluttered, space to cook, clean, or move about becomes very limited.   It can also be dangerous to the person because it increases risks of falls, fire, and cleanliness.

Compulsive hoarding is believed to be a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder.  It affects men more than women, and affects roughly 2 to 5% of adults.  Alcoholism, paranoia, schizotypal, and household income is also believed to play a role.  Hoarders typically do not see that they have a problem, so the behavior is hard to treat.

compulsive hoarding(93009)Credit: wikipediaSymptoms include:

Holding on to items of no worth, such as junk mail, old magazines and newspapers, clothes that no longer fit, or things that are broken.

The home becomes so cluttered that beds can't be slept in, kitchens can't be cooked in, or tables and chairs that can not be used.

The person stops inviting family or friends over, keeps curtains closed, feels depressed and anxious, and is at risk for infestation or eviction.

Emotional attachment to unnecessary items and anxiety or anger over throwing them away. 

Other types of hoarding include animal hoarding.  This consists of keeping several animals without having the ability or funds to properly care for them.   It is considered to be a disorder symptom instead of animal cruelty.  These people love their pets and don't want to give them up, and are unable to see that the animal would have a happier, healthy life if placed somewhere else.  They mean well, but just can't possibly take care of them all.  

Langley CollyerCredit: WikipediaBack in the early 1900's, two brothers became famous for their compulsive hoarding.  Homer Lusk Collyer and Langley Wakeman Collyer, also known as the Collyer brothers, lived in Manhattan and hoarded items such as books, furniture, musical instruments, and other things.  They had also set up booby traps in the home to protect their belongings.  Over the years people attempted to break into the home, because of rumors that the brothers had many valuable items.  The brothers boarded up the windows.  They eventually lost phone, electricity, water, and gas.   Later, they were both found dead in the home, surrounded by 130 tons of garbage.   Police received an anonymous phone call that there was a horrible smell coming from the home.  Police found Homer two hours of searching through the mess.  Homer died from malnutrition and cardiac arrest, but had just passed hours before.  So police continued to investigate what was causing the smell, but they did not find Langley. Later his body was found decomposed and partly eaten by rats.  Langley died trying to maneuver through the cluttered tunnels to take food to his paralyzed brother, and one of his booby traps fell on him.  Items auctioned off brought around $2000, and the estate appraised at $91,000.  Some items removed were baby doll items, bicycles, guns, books, pianos, and many other things.  Strange items such as the chair that Homer died in, went on display at a museum.

A recent example of animal hoarding happened in Danville, VA.  Dozens of cats were removed and the home condemned.  The owner, an 89 year woman, was forced to move into a nursing home, where she died two days later.  Some people claimed she died of a broken heart from her cats being taken away.  The cats were in horrible condition and unhealthy.  Her home was filled with feces, urine, and bugs.  It was the third time animal control had been called to her home, with more than 50 cats removed in 2006 and 38 dogs in 2003.

In March of 2012, a 85 year old man died from fire inside a home in Massachusetts.  The fire started in the basement, but the home was boarded up and the stairs were missing.  Fire fighters had difficulties getting into the home due to the excessive amount of storage items.  The fire was believed to be caused by an over heated extension cord under a large pile.

A&E airs a television show titled 'Hoarders'.  It is an American documentary about actual people who suffer from compulsive hoarding.  The show first aired in 2009, and is currently in its fifth season.   Prevention teams go in to try to help hoarders clean up their homes to make them clean and usable, usually to prevent eviction or to enable them to keep their children.  The show provides six months of funds to help pay professionals or major home repairs for each home featured on the show. 

TLC also airs a show titled 'Hoarding: Buried Alive'.  It is another American documentary about the lives of hoarders and how it has affected family members.  Treatment is provided by a therapist and a professional organizer, which help them go through their things and get rid of stuff.  The show began in 2010 and just recently finished airing season four.

A non profit organization, called 'Children of Hoarders', began in February of 2006.  The organization is made up of volunteers with the purpose of increasing awareness and understanding of the obstacles faced by children of hoarders.   Due to the embarrassment of major clutter, these kids typically are never allowed to have friends over, felt as if they were living a 'secret life',  and some parents blame the mess on the kids.  This group encourages kids to talk about it, get involved in sports or other activities, and to have fun.  They also remind them that their parents are not bad and help the kids to understand that it is a problem.  Children of Hoarders also teaches the kids that it isn't their fault and that they aren't alone.  The group is a good source of information for hoarders and how to get help.  They also offer counseling and workshops.

Not much is known about the cause of hoarding, so there's no prevention.   If you know someone who exhibits these behaviors it is best to seek help as early as possible.