Symptoms of Compulsive Hoarding

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Definition of Hoarding

Many of us have watched the popular TV show Hoarding: Buried Alive,

but beyond the shock drama, we probably have not been in direct contact with a hoarder. But some of us have, whether it be in our own town or a family member. How do we know if someone is a hoarder? What is good hoarding definition?

By definition, hoarding is the extreme need to obtain items without the ability to let them go. Hoarding creates clutter in homes, that is often literally up to the ceiling, creating fire and health hazards. In some types of hoarding, they cannot say no to say no to stray animals, thus, having dozens of pets in their home without adequate facilities or resources to care for them.

Compulsive hoarding which is the subject of this article, may be a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) but does not have to be. Hoarders usually do not see it as a problem. It is family and friends who recognize the dangers of unsanitary living conditions and fire code violations.

Example of a collection just sitting in a box and not displayed.
Example of a collection just sitting in a box and not displayed. | Source

Do You Know a Hoarder?

  • Yes
  • No
See results without voting

What is a Hoarder?

Today the definition of hoarding is being over used.

We may have a friend who has an messy home or an employee who saves every file on their desk. Is that displaying hoarding behavior? No, probably not. Answer these questions to gain a better understanding.

  • Do you have a collection? For example, you may have a collection of Star Wars Toys. Are the toys piled to the ceiling in every room of the house? If not or if the collection just over runs a spare bedroom, you would not be considered one.
  • What happens when you run out of storage space? If you simply clean out the closet and get rid of the things you are not using, you do not have a hoarding problem. But if you start storing items in the hallways and stacking them on top of each other, and have no idea how to stop hoarding, you might have hoarding issues.
  • Have you drained your financial resources paying for objects that just sit in your home, often still in the boxes? Do you continue to shop when you have no money left money left from your paycheck? If yes, you may be in the beginning of hoarding.
  • Do you find yourself continually sneaking items into your house and hiding them? This is a sign of hoarding.
  • Do you rent a storage unit or several storage units without the families knowledge? This means you have a hoarding problem.
  • Are all your pets well-fed and visit the veterinarian regularly? Do you clean and dispose of their waste products? If you answer yes you may be experiencing hoarding issues.
  • What happens when you junk mail piles up? Are you able to throw it out? Do you understand some up it will not help you or is the concept of throwing out something important frightening to you?

Example of a hoarders home when many items start to pile up over the years. Often they cannot make decisions about what to throw away.
Example of a hoarders home when many items start to pile up over the years. Often they cannot make decisions about what to throw away. | Source

What Causes Hoarding?

The causes of hoarding are outlined below.

They may have difficulty in the following areas which causes their behavior:

  • Compulsive hoarders often have problems with basic organizational skills. It is very difficult for them to categorize items. They have major difficulty deciding what is valuable and what is worthless. The lines are very blurred, therefore they cannot decide what to do with possessions. They may have memory difficulties causing them to forget where items belong; so as a coping mechanism, they keep items in view.
  • People with compulsive hoarding have attachment issues. The have actual emotional feelings about the items that the accumulate. In other words, they are very dear to them and make them feel special. Because of these special feeling, there is a need to stay in control of the items so the idea of someone touching their stuff is very traumatic.
  • People with compulsive hoarding disorder experience actual distress when faced with getting rid of items. They are overwhelmed by the whole decision making process of letting things go. Saving the item allows them to avoid making the decision.
  • Compulsive hoarders see something that they want and think they can't feel better until they have it. .


Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Clutter, Hoarding, and Compulsive Acquiring
Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Clutter, Hoarding, and Compulsive Acquiring

Digging Out gives family members of hoarders true advice on how to help them.

 

Hoarding Behavior

Hoarders feel like they must save items. Often the collections of things are worthless to you and I. They will sometimes purchase used items at a thrift store or pick up things that people have left out on garbage day. Much time will be spent on moving items in the home around in order to fit more stuff in the living space. This consumes their time, so they often become anti-social. Sometimes well-meaning family and friends become preoccupied with fixing the compulsive hoarder; they become the enemy in their mind. A compulsive hoarder will feel a need to defend their belongings or fortress.


Saving old newspapers is a typical hoarding behavior.
Saving old newspapers is a typical hoarding behavior. | Source

Symptoms of Hoarding

The hoarder's need to acquire and keep objects, stems from their feelings and thoughts and are manifested through their behaviors. Typical hoarding symptoms are listed below:

  • A compulsive hoarder cannot discard items. They do not have the ability to decide which items to discard. Even with presented with basic logic of, "I will not need yesterday's newspaper", in the hoarder's mind, they might use it.
  • The compulsive hoarder spends much time in acquiring items. This may be anywhere from shopping online to attending garage sales or even sifting through piles of trash. They have a need to find that one treasure.
  • Hoarders are known for keeping old newspapers, magazines and junk mail. They simply may not have the capacity to know what can be thrown away.
  • Saving used garbage such as food containers and the boxes items come in can be habitual to the compulsive hoarder. They may come in handy some day.
  • A compulsive hoarder has a very messy living space because of the need to keep everything accessible in case it is needed.
  • Because of the disarray of the home. Independent living skills become virtually impossible. This negatively impact personal hygiene, proper nutrition, and physical health.
  • Hoarders are masters of waiting for tomorrow. Tomorrow they will clean up or stop buying unwanted items.
  • Hoarders have trouble making decisions. They honestly do not know what to throw out or the thought process behind it.
  • Hoarders are perfectionists. Sometimes spending hours on their piles making them fit or placing things in tidy little cubbyholes for easy access.
  • They have difficulty organizing items so they become overwhelmed and quit trying.
  • The hoarder connects to possessions while he slowly disconnects with people. Maybe people are not so nice to him and inanimate objects cannot talk back. Sometimes the world of a hoarder can be lonely by choice.
  • As the owner of items, the compulsive hoarder feel that he must protect his items. Not wanting them to be used or touched is very common.

If you know a person has some or most of these traits, please encourage them to get professional help.

There is Help for Hoarders!

Before and after pictures of a hoarder that successfully received treatment.
Before and after pictures of a hoarder that successfully received treatment. | Source

Hoarding Disorder Treatment

The treatment of compulsive hoarding is difficult, to say the very least. First and foremost, compulsive hoarders usually to not see themselves as having a problem and are not able to see its impact on their life, thus it is very difficult to know how to help a hoarder. And they cannot see how it is affecting their families whether they reside with them or not. Their possessions, collections or animals are providing them with comfort on some level. And if these things are taken away, they will often scurry to get more.

Often the compulsive hoarder will not seek treatment. And when they finally do, it is because of some impending doom. The fire marshal has ordered a clean up or a landlord is threatening eviction. In these cases, treatment is usually rushed or only sought as a temporary solution. Not to be negative, but many hoarders go back to the old behaviors after the emergency has ceased.

The best advice is to seek an experienced mental health provider who is equipped to provide a an appropriate hoarders treatment plan.


A Success Story

How to Overcome Hoarding

Most mental health professionals treat hoarders with cognitive behavior therapy. In this kind of therapy, the hoarder is encouraged to work on the following issues:

  • Discovery of why you feel the need to have so many items.
  • Oraganizing and placing your things in categories which ultimately leads to help you let go of some.
  • Work on your decision making. Provide concrete guidance on how to make good decisions along with learning the consequences of poor choices.
  • Physical on-site visits to the home by the therapist with reachable goals to make it habitable.
  • Learn new relaxation techniques to form better coping mechanisms.
  • Go to and participate in group or family therapy and outings. Learn to address these issues.
  • Educate yourself on the benefits of psychiatric hospitalization. Only encouraged in severe cases.
  • Having followup visits with your mental heath worker to maintain the healthy habits you have learned about overcoming hoarding.

In some cases antidepressants are prescribed but not all people are helped by this type of treatment.

Animal Hoarding
Animal Hoarding | Source

Conclusion

I have to confess this was a very uncomfortable article to write and research. In my job as a social worker, I did experience the homes of hoarders and homes with unsanitary conditions. It is my highest hope that after reading this article, you start to humanize these people in society and treat them with the decency and respect. Remember, the neighborhood cat lady is a person too.

Hoarding Treatment Centers

A marker112 Water Street, Suite 501 Boston, MA 02109 -
112 Water St #501, Boston, MA 02109, USA
[get directions]

The International OCD Foundation, Inc. is a non-profit organization providing information and services about hoarding.

More by this Author


Comments 44 comments

kat_thurston profile image

kat_thurston 4 years ago

Very informative article, I watch this show all time. I understand that people that have this problems there are other issues causing them to do this. But some of the episodes I've seen just make me cringe especially the ones with excessive amount of animals and not even knowing there were dead ones till they started cleaning. I just cant' imagine living like that. These shows are good though because when I watch them it keeps me motivatved to not be like that because I know I have to really watch myself because my mom was like this not with animals but with stuff which is just as bad.


Mom Kat profile image

Mom Kat 4 years ago from USA

Very well done! I don't know any hoarders personally, but my hubby works with one. That's where we got our dog. She gave him up to us because she couldn't feed her children, let alone all of the pets she had, and Shadow (our dog) was one of the "problem pets" for their family. He had a ton of energy and was constantly in need of attention.

Now, after we brought him home we wondered how on earth anyone could consider him a problem. He's a wonderful dog. He's loving, well behaved, and beautiful! He has energy because he's still a puppy. He's not even 3 years old yet. She wasn't giving him enough exercise to expend that puppy energy. She was only feeding him 1/2 of what his age and size demanded, and her family wasn't giving him the proper attention. How could they? They have so many cats and dogs that giving any of them what they really need is impossible. The other reason for her ability to let go of Shadow was that he wasn't really hers. An old roommate had left him behind when he moved. So the general attachment wasn't there.


carol7777 profile image

carol7777 4 years ago from Arizona

I am sure we have all known hoarders in different degrees. We had some renters who filled our home with so much stuff ....I am into minimalizing as much as possible. People hoard and often never use or look at stuff. I also know compulsive shoppers who load their closets with clothes and many tags are still on the clothes. This was absolutely excellent..I am FB sharing, tweeting and Voting Up.


teresapelka profile image

teresapelka 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

I came to control something of the opposite - I moved often when studying, but actually I did that before: threw 'everything' out.

Sometimes, later, I yet happened to want to be back with some of the pieces, so now I have a 'drawer' on my laptop desktop and 'everything' goes there before sorting. :)


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

It is a tough subject to tackle and I must say a little unpleasant to write. But I am happy that you took the time to read.


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

That was so kind of you and your husband to take in Shadow. Hope you have many years of enjoyment with him.


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

Thank you for the information. We help my Dad manage his apartments and sometimes we too get renters with hoarding tendencies.


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

Some people are thrower outers too. Thanks for taking the time to read.


Michele Travis profile image

Michele Travis 4 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

This is a very good subject. One of the problems hoarders can have is germs. They can get very sick, if they have cats or dogs that leave feces in the house. Or if there if food that decays, and bugs that come in. I have seen the show, where some people even put things in the bathtub, so they don't clean themselves up for a very long time. It can become a very bad problem for them to stay healthy.


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

It is sad. Thanks for your comment.


midget38 profile image

midget38 4 years ago from Singapore

A great subject, Lipnancy. My mom-in-law used to have a neighbor with a hoarding problem. She kept everything, even rotting rubbish, because she felt that it would be a waste to throw things away, and of course the smell was terrible. Luckily, my mom-in-law stayed a floor above in the apartment complex. Those who do hoard need help to sort of attachment and issues viz fear of waste..some do so because of poor backgrounds. Thanks for this! Voted up!


v1p3r 4 years ago

Great Information

Voted Up


Sharkye11 profile image

Sharkye11 4 years ago from Oklahoma

Very good hub. Glad to see that you made the differentiation between collectors and hoarders. Some people do have extensive collections that over-run most of their home. But honestly, if they have an otherwise clean house and don't stash other items, I can't see it as a problem. Only when they start storing garbage. Of course, even that could be misinterpreted if the person is a serious crafter who saves a lot of "trash" to upcycle for craft projects.

My grandmother, even before she became old, however, saved EVERYTHING. She would also beg for things or hint that she needed things that other people had, only to stash them away and never use them. Dishtowels, Tupperware, forks, aluminum foil, bread wrappers, food, flower pots, picture frames, fabric scraps. It was awful. And due to mildew, mold, and mice....the stuff was very unsanitary. So yes, hoarding can be a health risk. Like you said though, the term is just overused now that minimalism is trendy.

great hub. Definitely voting up and more.


unknown spy profile image

unknown spy 4 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

Nancy, yu've done a great job in this article.Very amazing write. I never knew anyone like this. thanks for the info :)


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

This hub was really an attempt to humanize hoarders.


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

Thanks for stopping by.


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

Thanks for your insight.


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

Thanks for stopping by.


b. Malin profile image

b. Malin 4 years ago

This is such an Excellent Hub on "Hoarding". It's so Sad to see this happen to someone. Lipnancy, you've done Excellent Research on this Hub. It seems to me, it should definitely be thought of as an Illness, but there is a Cure.

I now look forward to Following your Hubs.


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

Thanks b. Malin. Because the television show is so sensationalized, I just wanted to present them as human beings.


mts1098 profile image

mts1098 4 years ago from InsideTheManCave

While I am not a hoarder, I have seen homes of people that are...Perhaps I will forward the individuals to this informative hub :) ...cheers


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

Oh that would be wonderful. Thanks for reading.


ignugent17 profile image

ignugent17 4 years ago

Yes this is true and sometimes I don't understand it. I just respect them what they think will make them happy.

Enjoyed your information. :-)


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

@ignugent17 My only intention with this one is for people to have a little bit of empathy and understanding.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

Excellent article, Nancy. It's an interesting topic, and more than that, I learned something I did not know: that multiple animals in one home (cat lady) is a form of hoarding! I never looked at it like this. Thank you for sharing this article...well done. Up/U/I and sharing.


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

Thanks Denise. Your positive feedback means a lot to me.


Louisa Rogers profile image

Louisa Rogers 3 years ago from Eureka, California and Guanajuato, Mexico

Thanks, this was fascinating. Last year I was a speaker at a conference on "chronic disorganization" (another word for hoarding) on the theme of cultures & hoarding-- how hoarding differs cross-culturally. There was also a speaker who addressed the issue of grief and hoarding, and a 'mystery guest" who was a high-level public official but also a secret hoarder. A close friend of mine is a hoarder and her hoarding is linked with ADD and OCD. Thank you for pointing out that "hoarding" is an over-used word. It's one of my pet peeves that serious conditions become trivialized, and hoarding is one example. Voted up, useful, interesting.


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 3 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

@Louisa Rodgers I have been close to a few hoarders too. It is an illness. But I kept feeling like people were giving these people a label of laziness. So I decided to write about humanizing them.


Escobana profile image

Escobana 3 years ago from Valencia

Very interesting hub! To humanize hoarders seems a very logical reason for me to write this.

In fact, any person with a mental health issue is someone who should be included in society instead of excluded.

I don't know any hoarders but it seems to me a lonely way to go through life.

I am more of an expert in throwing out things. This comes very much in handy when you change apartments or when you emigrate to another country.

For being Bipolar, visual order in my house means peace in my head. I would go crazy really for having too much things in my house.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading your hub though it's a tough subject.

Well done, up, hit some buttons and shared!


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 3 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

@Escobana.Thanks I am glad that you enjoyed. For some reason I like writing about the tougher subjects


midget38 profile image

midget38 3 years ago from Singapore

Coming again to say that I'm sharing this again!


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 3 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

@midget38 Thank yo so much.


DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

I have watched the documentary and honestly was speechless about the how they had filled their good homes with so much junk. You have explained perfectly about hoarders. Voted up!


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 3 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

@DDE Thanks, I hope people can have a better understanding of them and not look down upon them.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

I have not seen the show you referred to, but I do have a friend who is a hoarder. She lives in a 6000 square foot home and it is difficult to move around in the house...I kid you not.

That is a sickness in my humble opinion. How much is enough?

Good job Nancy!


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 3 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

@billybuc I believe you. When I was a Social Worker, I saw everything. But it is truly an illness and I hope you see your friend as a person not a hoarder.


alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA

Thanks for the article. A friend of mine is a hoarder and I 'm sure this article will help her out!


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 3 years ago from Hamburg, New York Author

@alexandy. So glad you enjoyed.


Mayashappyplace profile image

Mayashappyplace 15 months ago from NY

Highly compassionate take on a highly debilitating condition for those affected. I do agree that there is much judgement of people with this disorder, however, that usually stems from the judge's judgement of themselves and their need to feel 'better than' an addict due to subconsciously low self worth. Would love to hear your take on the effects on children and family members...


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 14 months ago from Hamburg, New York Author

Great idea for a new hub. I will have to give it some thought.


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 14 months ago from USA

I used to do spay/neuter community outreach volunteer work and on occasion came into contact with animal hoarders as well as other hoarders (because we went into people's homes to assist with identification and transport). Over the years I even ended up with a couple of cats from really bad situations (where they were living in the walls of mobile homes of hoarders etc.). Definitely there is a mental illness involved. Seeing and smelling it first hand made me a big advocate of not eating people's homemade goodies. You just don't know what goes on in people's homes. Really. You cannot tell from the outside of the home.


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 14 months ago from Hamburg, New York Author

I had never made the connection between eating homemade goods and hoarding. I don't know if I should be thankful for that or not. LOL


kittythedreamer profile image

kittythedreamer 13 months ago from the Ether

Yes, I had a family friend who was a hoarder. She was always "renovating" or getting ready to "redecorate" or "spring cleaning", these were her reasons why there were things piled in the hallways and up and down the stairs...not safe at all! Anywho, I understand it is more of a mental illness than just a problem they can easily get rid of. Great article! And I saw your post in the discussion forum...if you'd be willing to review my book The Dream Canvas, I'd be eternally grateful and would reciprocate in the future. - Kitty (Nicole)


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 13 months ago from Hamburg, New York Author

Unfortunately, I feel that the word hoarding is misused and these people are grossly misunderstood.

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