Hoarding is the act of collecting excessive quantities of unneeded items. It is generally classified as compulsive behavior and can have serious effects, both for the hoarder and for those around him. Physical effects of hoarding can include health problems as well as injuries from accidents. Psychological effects include increased compulsive behavior and, for those living with the hoarder, anxiety and depression. The most common social effect is isolation.
The physical effects of hoarding are usually the most obvious. Hoarders are often compelled to keep unsanitary or dangerous objects. This can include keeping foodstuffs until they decay, causing mold and other bacteria to grow and spread throughout the house. The sheer quantity of items in a hoarder's house often makes cleaning virtually impossible, so dust and particulates accumulate. All of these factors can cause or contribute to health disorders, such as respiratory infections and asthma.
Rodents and insects can easily become a problem in a hoarder's house as well. These pests often carry diseases that can be spread as they run through the home. Small children and pets, in particular, may be at risk of a bite from an infected rodent or insect. Fires also are a serious risk, as hoarders often collect highly flammable objects and also because the collections often impede the ability to escape from the house if a fire does start.
There are also psychological effects of hoarding. These can affect the hoarder, those living with him and those who care about him. For the hoarder, himself, satisfying the urge to hoard can actually intensify the compulsion to collect more things. As with a drug addict, the high experienced by acquiring something lessens as the activity is repeated. The hoarder is left chasing the feeling of satisfaction derived from the first acquisition.
For others living in the home, and for loved ones powerless to stop the compulsion, the psychological effects of hoarding can be profound. Spouses and children can feel as though they have lost the loved one to his compulsion. They may feel that the hoarder loves his collections more than his family. They can experience intense anger, confusion, grief, depression and anxiety. Young children can grow up believing that this is an acceptable or even common way to live and can be traumatized when they discover that this is not true.
Isolation is perhaps the most prominent of the social effects of hoarding. Friends and family often refuse to visit because of health and safety concerns. Neighbors may file complaints, fearing, often rightly, that the hoarder's home poses a threat to the entire neighborhood. In return, hoarders may eventually come to feel that everyone is against them and limit contact with the outside world as much as possible.