A hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with a hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. This usually results in excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value.
Hoarding often creates such cramped living conditions that homes may be filled to capacity, with only narrow pathways winding through stacks of clutter. Some people also collect animals, keeping dozens or hundreds of pets in unsanitary conditions because they can’t care for them properly.
In the homes of people who have a hoarding disorder, the countertops, sinks, stoves, desks, stairways and virtually all other surfaces are usually stacked with stuff. And when there’s no more room inside, the clutter may spread to the garage, vehicles and yard.
Clutter and difficulty discarding things are usually the first signs and symptoms of hoarding disorder, which often surfaces during the teenage years. As the person grows older, he or she typically starts acquiring things for which there is no need or space. By middle age, symptoms are often severe and may be harder to treat.
Hoarding disorder affects emotions, thoughts and behavior. Some of the signs and symptoms may include:
- Persistent inability to part with any possession, regardless of its value
- Excessive attachment to possessions, including discomfort letting others touch or borrow them or distress at the idea of letting an item go
- Cluttered living spaces, making areas of the home unusable for the intended purpose, such as not being able to cook in the kitchen or use the bathroom to bathe
- Keeping stacks of newspapers, magazines or junk mail
- Letting food or trash build up to unusually excessive, unsanitary levels
- Acquiring unneeded or seemingly useless items, such as trash or napkins from a restaurant
- Difficulty managing daily activities because of procrastination and trouble making decisions
People with hoarding disorder typically save items because:
- They believe these items will be needed or have value in the future
- The items have important emotional significance — serving as a reminder of happier times or representing beloved people or pets
- They feel safer when surrounded by the things they save
Hoarding disorder is different from collecting. People who have collections, such as stamps or model cars, deliberately search out specific items, categorize them and carefully display their collections. Although collections can be large, they aren’t usually cluttered and they don’t cause the distress and impairments that are part of hoarding disorder.
If you think a loved one may have a hoarding disorder, check out these FAQ’s about hoarding that should hopefully answer any questions you may have.
CHILDREN OF HOARDERS: Informative web site for families and children of hoarders.
The Official Do and Don’t List for helping hoarders.