What is Hoarding Syndrome?

K. Testa

Hoarding syndrome is generally defined as a compulsive disorder. It typically consists of two types of behavior: the obsessive collecting of items and the inability to discard anything, even if an object is broken, dangerous, or otherwise useless. Compulsive hoarding is usually considered more serious than just having some clutter or being disorganized, as it has several negative consequences. Hoarders often suffer damage to their mental health and their physical well-being. Obsessive hoarding can also be difficult for friends and family members to confront. There are, however, several options available to people who want to stop hoarding.

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

Although hoarding syndrome is typically classified as an anxiety disorder, there is disagreement in the medical community about whether it is a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or whether it should be identified as a distinct mental condition. Since hoarders tend to be secretive individuals and often live alone, it is difficult to estimate how many people actually suffer from the disorder. In the U.S., mental health professionals estimate that as many as two million people might suffer from hoarding syndrome.

There are various treatment options that may help manage compulsive hoarding behavior.
There are various treatment options that may help manage compulsive hoarding behavior.

People with hoarding syndrome might save a variety of items. Examples could include collectibles, books, food, animals, or any type of item that provides them with comfort or holds some meaning. The objects often have some historical or sentimental significance, or they might be things that the hoarder believes will be valuable or useful to them in the future.

Most compulsive hoarders are unable to make decisions, often leading to an inability to function normally in their own homes. Other common characteristics of someone with a hoarding disorder include avoidance, procrastination, and perfectionism. Many mental health experts believe, for example, that someone suffering from hoarding syndrome wants everything done a certain way. As a result, he or she may be unwilling to begin a task if it will not be completed perfectly.

Hoarding syndrome can sometimes be hereditary. Certain traumatic events, depression, and even aging can also trigger it. Some common examples of the psychological damage that the disorder can cause include guilt, frustration, and loneliness. Hoarders often alienate their family members and friends, contributing further to their sense of isolation. Relationships are usually damaged, especially since people may not invite others over out of shame.

Over time, many hoarders find themselves living in a home infested with vermin or mold. These physically dangerous conditions can lead to respiratory problems or allergies, for example. There is also a risk of injury from slipping or from being hurt by falling objects. Some people keep expired food in their homes or amass items in such a way that they become a fire hazard.

Compulsive hoarding can have financial and legal consequences as well. The damage done from clutter hoarding could lead to costly home repairs, for example. In many cases, however, hoarders are unable to arrange for such repairs because the clutter prevents workers from entering the house. People often face legal trouble as well, such as when a town threatens to evict someone from his or her unsafe home.

There are a number of treatment options for people with hoarding syndrome. Some examples of psychological remedies can include cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, or hypnosis. Along with addressing the mental health issues, many people also consult a professional organizer to assist with the clutter.

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Discussion Comments


There has been an increased awareness of this problem in the media recently, and I am sure that there has been hoarding help made available to many people who would never have sought out the help on their own.

It sounds like this would be a hard thing to come to grips with and that it would take the encouragement of close friends or family members to really make sure somebody got the help they needed. I do know that you do not help a hoarder by just getting rid of their things for them - it goes much deeper than that.


It seems that many people who live through a tough financial hardship may be more apt to hold on to things. I know there has been mention of people who lived through the depression and how they have a hard time throwing things away.

There were two old bachelor brothers who lived down the road from us, and as an example, they kept every container from every meals on wheels that was delivered to them. Their whole house was lined with these containers and old newspapers. This sounds to me like it is hoarding behavior, and it seems they lived most of their lives that way.

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