What Are the Effects of Hoarding?

Maggie Worth

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.

Hoarding can lead to a chaotic lifestyle.
Hoarding can lead to a chaotic lifestyle.

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.

Spouses of hoarders may experience anxiety and grief.
Spouses of hoarders may experience anxiety and grief.

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.

Excessive shopping can be part of obsessive-compulsive hoarding.
Excessive shopping can be part of obsessive-compulsive hoarding.

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.

Someone who is a hoarder may spend a lot of time at rummage sales.
Someone who is a hoarder may spend a lot of time at rummage sales.

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.

Hoarding may cause an infestation of rodents.
Hoarding may cause an infestation of rodents.

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Discussion Comments


@MrsPramm - I actually wonder if, in a perfect world, it would be better to just let people who want to hoard, continue to do so. It's not the hoarding that puts them in danger so much as the nature of the things that they hold onto (such as newspapers being a fire danger, or old food being a health hazard).

The only real problem I have with it is when the symptoms manifest in hoarding pets and animals, because it almost always turns out that the animals suffer a great deal from being kept in close proximity and without proper care.

If hoarders feel better when they can keep a lot of their stuff around them, then maybe they should be allowed to do that, within reason, but they shouldn't be able to let other creatures suffer.


@browncoat - I know that some behaviors can be taught, but I'm not sure that compulsive hoarding is one of them. Hoarding in general, maybe, but not compulsive hoarding.

People tend to make fun of hoarders because they don't understand how horrible compulsion actually is. I've seen hoarders sob uncontrollably and go into a panic when even a small amount of their hoard was taken from them. They aren't making the decision to hoard, it's a switch in their brain.

I don't think that can be taught, at least, not without significant trauma.


I think the problem with keeping children in an environment like this where hoarding is normalized is that they might develop the same tendencies. This is particularly going to be true if the child is involved in the hoarding, for example being told by the hoarder that they shouldn't throw something out, or even being disciplined if they do throw something away.

Unfortunately, it happens a lot with children who have grown up with someone who has a mental illness that they often end up with the same illness, not because it was genetically inevitable, but because children learn to act in the same ways as their parents and the other people around them.

Hoarding almost always seems to be an illness that affects people in their later years and I think it would be particularly tragic to grow up with those tendencies since it means they would never get a chance to have a normal life.

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