ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Compulsive hoarding - Understanding hoarders and hoarding

Updated on March 18, 2012

What is compulsive Hoarding

Is hoarding a learned trait or is it a part of mental illness? While the debate goes on, there is not enough research to prove that either of these assumptions is true as they are not mutually exclusive in the real population. Hoarding, as a behaviour, is known to impair social, emotional and occupational functioning depending on the severity of the problem. Hoarding can be classified as simple hoarding and compulsive hoarding. Most people hoard something or the other in their life, but this may not really be a problem as long as they are in control of the situation. A compulsive hoarder acquires excessive amounts of items and saves them because they think that they will have need of it in the future. A hoarder sometimes saves them for their emotional value as a reminder of their loved ones or happier times in the past. However, the emotional value later becomes an emotional refuge for these individuals, as they feel safe only when surrounded by the objects that they collect. The other important thing about hoarders is that they seem to experience a high level of emotional distress when they are required to part with these items. It would be good to differentiate a hoarder from a collector. Unlike the hoarder, a collector collects only definite items, categorizing and organising them for easy access.

compulsive hoarding
compulsive hoarding | Source

When does a hoarder become a person with a problem

A hoarder becomes problematic to himself and others when he disregards his safety and that of the others. A compulsive hoarder usually makes his living space so cluttered that it is impossible to move around and function normally. Hoarding becomes a cause of concern for the hoarder and others when his habit leads to poor sanitary conditions, infested by pests or unclean living conditions, emitting a foul smell thus putting at risk the his own health and those of his neighbors. The real threat of fires and other dangers of poor maintenance may become a problem for others.

Understanding hoarding and the hoarder

Hoarders are generally unaware of the behavior as being problematic to others. Studies suggest that hoarders become insensitive to their own emotions and those of the others. They may even find their behavior reasonable. Compulsive hoarders start by collecting items because of their emotional value, but eventually become more attached to the items than to the people around them. They cut themselves away from the society and cling on to the hoardings. Compulsive hoarders are unable to keep their possessions organized and under control. Their problems also seem to stem from dysfunctional and exaggerated beliefs regarding their possessions. For example, ‘losing an item is akin to losing a friend’, or ‘no one has the right to touch my possessions’, etc. Hoarders are compulsive buyers, buying more than they need.

Certain core beliefs in the area of self-worth, vulnerability, likability and helplessness seem to be akin among hoarders. Hoarders seem to have difficulty forming bonds and attachments. Hoarding allows an individual avoid unpleasant or difficult situations that may challenge him / her in their daily lives. Hoarders hide behind their hoarding avoiding decision-making, making possible mistakes while making decisions, facing emotional situations like loss or grief, or just plain avoidance of keeping things organized. Psychologists suggest that this is a form of avoidance behaviour that keeps the individual from facing reality. People with information processing deficit seem to be more vulnerable to hoarding.

compulsive hoarding
compulsive hoarding | Source

Compulsive hoarding as a mental illness

Compulsive hoarding has been categorised as a subtype of OCD in DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), it has been proposed to include compulsive hoarding under OCD spectrum disorders in the new manual to be released in 2013. Compulsive hoarding (or pathological collecting) is provisionally named as Hoarding Disorder under DSM 5.

Symptoms for diagnosis under DSM 5 - To be diagnosed as compulsive hoarding it should be characterized by distress in parting with possessions regardless of their actual value, strong urges to save these items, accumulation to such an extent that it deters the free usage of space for designated purposes, clinically significant distress or impairment of social, occupational or other functions. This hoarding behaviour should not be caused by a medical condition.

Compulsive Hoarding in general population and in families

Studies strongly suggest that genetic and neuro-biological issues play a major role in compulsive hoarding. Statistics show that 2 to 5% of the population may be compulsive hoarders. This is significantly higher than the occurrence of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) or other disorders such as panic disorder or schizophrenia in the general population. Studies also show that there is a positive correlation between traumatic life experiences in childhood such as, being denied of possessions, physical and sexual abuse and hoarding behaviour.

Studies also point to the fact that OCD runs in families. Some studies suggest that hoarding is genetic. Compulsive hoarding is known to run in families and hoarding is more common among siblings. These studies have not been replicated enough to be stated as conclusive evidence. Data also shows that though compulsive hoarding starts early in life, it becomes more prominently noticeable in later years. Most people start hoarding from the age of 11 but it becomes problematic after the age of 40.

Common types of compulsive hoarding

People resort to various types of hoarding. The most common of these being hoarding of books and animals.
Hoarding of books or Bibliomania is collection of books until it becomes a social problem or a health issue. The hoarder has no use for most of the books and they may have no intrinsic value to a book collector. It may just be a need to hoard the books and an inability to get rid of them.
Another type of hoarding is animal hoarding where the individual collects a large number of pets though they are not properly equipped to take care of them adequately. These people are deeply attached to their pets but have one too many. Their intention though is not to be cruel, it is just that they do not realise that by not caring for their pets they cause them more harm. Psychologists say that such hoarding is due to attachment disorder or poor parent child relationship during childhood. These animals just fill in their need for love

Treatment of compulsive hoarding

The most effective treatment available today is Cognitive-behavioural therapy. The therapist helps the patient restructure their cognitive beliefs related to hoarding. This form of treatment may require homework with the therapist.
Motivational interviewing is another form of therapy that has its roots in addiction therapy. The focus here is harm reduction rather than addressing hoarding behaviour.
It has been found that the response to treatment is poor as most patients have very poor insight into their problems. It is difficult to help a person unless he wants to be helped and really come out of the problem. Most patients do want to get out of their problem, but do have an ongoing dilemma of not wanting to part with their possessions.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Haikutwinkle thanks for stopping by.. Wow that is an awesome quote... from the Inferno. It does say a lot about materialism and hoarding doesn't it? I really do appreciate this very much. Have a wonderful day!

    • haikutwinkle profile image


      6 years ago

      Good information!

      I'd like to add this quote from Dante's Inferno - The Hoarders and Wasters.

      Here saw I people, more than elsewhere, many,

      On one side and the other, with great howls,

      Rolling weights forward by main force of chest.

      They clashed together, and then at that point

      Each one turned backward, rolling retrograde,

      Crying, "Why keepest?" and, "Why squanderest thou?"


    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Victoria Lynn, Thank you so much for the visit and the comment. I am glad that you are a collector... and not a hoarder. I appreciate your views. Have a great day.

    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Cara, Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Well researchers do say that there might be a genetic predisposition to this illness and it is worth trying to the people behind the illness. I hope you are doing well with your challenge. Have a wonderful day.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 

      6 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Good job on this hub. You really covered the topic well. And I'm relieved to say that I'm just a collector and a packrat! :-) Seriously, great hub. Voted up, useful, interesting!

    • cardelean profile image


      6 years ago from Michigan

      Very well written and informative hub. I have watched some of the shows on tv with hoarders and it is very heartbreaking. I do believe that it is more of an illness than anything else. Great information!

    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Pandula77, Thanks for endorsing my views, as far as i have seen CBT seems to be the only effective form of treatment available at the moment. Have a wonderful day. God Bless.

    • pandula77 profile image

      Dr Pandula 

      6 years ago from Norway

      Very well written and informative hub! I have experienced few such instances of treating compulsive hoarding with CBT and it worked rather well for some.

    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      tlpoague, thanks for the inspiration. It has been a long time since I delved into research papers and this was an enjoyable time for me. I have diversified from the area of mental health into HR management and writing this article felt like home coming. I appreciate your comment very much. Have a beautiful day. God Bless.

    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Ruby, I agree with you, that show was an eye opener for me. Thank you for taking the time to read and leave a comment. I appreciate the effort from your side. Have a wonderful day. God Bless.

    • tlpoague profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      I agree with Always. I think you covered this subject well. Thank you for writing a hub to answer my question. I have seen some of my family members go from being frugal livers to hoarders. I have often wondered what could have triggered this. Interesting reading...thanks!

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I watched this episode about hoarding on Oprah's show. It is really a sickness with deep physiological factors. You have covered it very well Sophie. Thank you..Cheers


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)