What is a Hoarding Disorder?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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Also known as compulsive hoarding, a hoarding disorder is an uncontrollable urge to collect and save all sorts of items, even when there is no apparent use for them. A disorder of this type may develop as the result of some sort of traumatic life event that mutates the desire to acquire items that are of use into an obsession that blinds the individual to the damage being done by the hoarding. Fortunately, a disorder of this type can be treated, allowing people suffering from this condition to once again enjoy life once more.

It is important to note that people who save items for future use do not necessarily have a hoarding disorder. Typically, saving items for a specific purpose that is anticipated to take place within a reasonable period of time is not considered a sign of any type of emotional or compulsive behavior. For example, someone who buys extra linens or appliances in preparation for a child moving out and establishing their own household in the next year or two would be considered a saver, but not a hoarder.


By contrast, a hoarding disorder is characterized by the incessant belief that it is wrong to throw anything out and that everything can eventually be used at some point. At times, hoarders may focus on one particular type of item, such as boxes. More often, a hoarder will purchase a wide range of items with the justification that the price was good and that the items will eventually be used someday. The problem is that when the hoarding takes over all available space within the home, it is impossible to find those items should a need for them ever arise.

People who develop a hoarding disorder often have experienced some sort of traumatic event in their lives. For some, the disorder is triggered by poverty, either as a child or at some point during adulthood, and is grounded in the fear of possibly becoming impoverished once again. Others develop a hoarding disorder after going through a divorce, the death of a loved one, or some other event that leaves an emotional hole in their lives. The obsessive collection of all sorts of tangible goods often brings momentary comfort, but ultimately begins to limit social interaction as hoarders refrain from having friends and relatives into their home, simply because every available space is taken up by useless belongings.

In order to treat a hoarding disorder, therapy to help identify the root cause for the activity is essential. Only when the hoarder begins to understand the underlying motivation is it generally advisable to begin attempting to clear the home of the clutter and junk. Even then, the process is normally managed in phases or segments, allowing the hoarder to grieve for the loss of the belongings even while he or she is regaining a sense of control of their homes and their lives. The duration of treatment will vary depending on the severity of the disorder, taking anywhere from a few months to a few years to fully overcome the compulsion to hoard.


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